The Regulation introduces a three-tier system:
- in the event of long delays (two hours or more, depending on the distance of the flight), passengers must in every case be offered free meals and refreshments plus two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails;
- if the time of departure is deferred until the next day, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation;
- when the delay is five hours or longer, passengers may opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket together with, when relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure.
In a ruling, November 2009, the European Court of Justice changed the interpretation of Regulation (EC) 261/2004 regarding flight delays, to include cash compensation similar to flight cancellations if the delay is three hours or longer at the destination. However, this unless the airline can prove that the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary’ circumstances.
Before the ruling cash compensation was only rewarded for canceled flights but not for delays.
Flight delays prior to the ruling gave the passenger the right to assistance free of charge as mentioned above. These rights still apply to the air passengers when faced with a delay.
This Regulation is applicable to all worldwide airlines when departure takes place within the EU and, in the case of flights from outside the EU to a destination within the EU, only to airlines licensed in a Member State of the EU.
Extract from Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 below.
Article 6 Delay
1. When an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure:
(a) for two hours or more in the case of flights of 1500 kilometres or less; or
(b) for three hours or more in the case of all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres and of all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres; or
(c) for four hours or more in the case of all flights not falling under (a) or (b),
passengers shall be offered by the operating air carrier:
(i) the assistance specified in Article 9(1)(a) and 9(2); and
(ii) when the reasonably expected time of departure is at least the day after the time of departure previously announced, the assistance specified in Article 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c); and
(iii) when the delay is at least five hours, the assistance specified in Article 8(1)(a).
2. In any event, the assistance shall be offered within the time limits set out above with respect to each distance bracket.
Article 7 Right to compensation
1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall receive compensation amounting to:
(a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less;
(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres;
(c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).
In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destination at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delay the passenger's arrival after the scheduled time.
2. When passengers are offered re-routing to their final destination on an alternative flight pursuant to Article 8, the arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival time of the flight originally booked
(a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1500 kilometres or less; or
(b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres; or
(c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a) or (b),
the operating air carrier may reduce the compensation provided for in paragraph 1 by 50 %.
3. The compensation referred to in paragraph 1 shall be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services.
4. The distances given in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall be measured by the great circle route method.
Article 8 Right to reimbursement or re-routing
1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall be offered the choice between:
(a) - reimbursement within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made, and for the part or parts already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger's original travel plan, together with, when relevant,
- a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity;
(b) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
(c) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger's convenience, subject to availability of seats.
2. Paragraph 1(a) shall also apply to passengers whose flights form part of a package, except for the right to reimbursement where such right arises under Directive 90/314/EEC.
3. When, in the case where a town, city or region is served by several airports, an operating air carrier offers a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that for which the booking was made, the operating air carrier shall bear the cost of transferring the passenger from that alternative airport either to that for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger.
Article 9 Right to care
1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall be offered free of charge:
(a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time;
(b) hotel accommodation in cases
- where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, or
- where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary;
(c) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).
2. In addition, passengers shall be offered free of charge two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails.
3. In applying this Article, the operating air carrier shall pay particular attention to the needs of persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them, as well as to the needs of unaccompanied children.
Article 14 Obligation to inform passengers of their rights
1. The operating air carrier shall ensure that at check-in a clearly legible notice containing the following text is displayed in a manner clearly visible to passengers: "If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance".
2. An operating air carrier denying boarding or cancelling a flight shall provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with this Regulation. It shall also provide each passenger affected by a delay of at least two hours with an equivalent notice. The contact details of the national designated body referred to in Article 16 shall also be given to the passenger in written form.
3. In respect of blind and visually impaired persons, the provisions of this Article shall be applied using appropriate alternative means.
Source: European Commission Regulation (EC) No 261/2004