EU rules say that passengers are entitled to receive compensation for problems with air travel. If the flight is overbooked or cancelled, the passenger is entitled to financial compensation. Airlines are always obliged to offer assistance.

Air travellers should be compensated when faced with problems

The EU has set minimum standards for air passenger rights to compensation and assistance in the event of overbooking, cancellation or long delay of flights. The rules apply to all flights, including charter flights and package holidays, starting from an EU airport. Both European airlines and airlines from other parts of the world covered.

The rules also apply where the flight takes place from third countries into an EU airport. In that case, however, requires that the flight is conducted by a European airline and that there are no local rules on compensation in the country of origin. The rules do not apply to overseas airlines flying to Europe from other parts of the world.

The right to financial compensation for overbooking and cancellations

At overbooking, the airline must first ask for passengers who are voluntarily willing to give up their reservations for a compensation, the carrier and the passenger may agree upon. Are there not enough volunteers the airline is obliged to financially compensate those who are denied boarding against their will. The amount of compensation depends on the distance.

  • EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less:
  • EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres
  • EUR 600 for all other flights.

The compensation shall be paid in cash, at the passenger's bank account, by bank transfer or by check. If the passenger accepts it, compensation may consist of travel vouchers or other services.

Note: Vouchers or other services may have a time restriction and may only be valid at a particular airline!

When downgraded, e.g. when a passenger receives a seat on the plane corresponding to a lower class of service than that of the reservation, the airline should reimburse between 30 and 75 percent of the ticket price, depending on flight length.

Financial compensation is also paid to passengers of a flight that is cancelled and has not been informed at least two weeks prior to travel. Travellers who are notified within the two weeks, are not entitled to compensation if the airline can offer a re-routing to the destination which is similar to the cancelled flight.

If the flight is cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances, such as security threats, the airline may not pay compensation.

The right to assistance in the event of overbooking, cancellations and delays

Travellers who are victims of overbooking or cancellations should in addition to the financial compensation receive assistance. The right to assistance also applies to passengers who face long delays. Depending on how long the delay, the right to assistance varies depending on the distance, from at least two hours for short flights to at least four hours for longer.

The right to assistance means that the carrier should, for free, offer:

  • Meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time
  • Hotel accommodation for overnight stay if necessary
  • Transport between accommodation and airport
  • Two free telephone calls or to send two telex, fax or e-mail messages.

Package tours are also covered by EU law

There are EU rules that provide protection when buying travel packages, vacation packages and the like. It applies to all packages purchased in the EU, even if the trip goes to a destination outside the EU.
The directive includes the following:

  • You travel itinerary should clearly state the destination, route and transport. This information is binding on the organizer. Before the trip the organizer should inform you in writing regarding times and locations for stopovers and connections
  • Consumers have the right to transfer their booking to another person.
  • Airlines may change the price if this is expressly stated in the conditions.
  • The tour operator is responsible for any breach of its terms. For example, the organizer shall act on the passenger's behalf against the airline.

EU rules on compensation and assistance for passengers facing denied boarding, cancellation or long delay also applies to package holidays. However, It only applies if the package holiday is interrupted because of a cancellation.

Enforcing your rights

If you believe that you have a valid complaint against an airline regarding denied boarding, downgrading, cancellation or long delay, you should first contact the air carrier that operated the flight or the tour operator.

How to complain

Your rights - A summary

You might be entitled to receive compensation for problems with air travel. If the flight is overbooked or cancelled, the passenger is entitled to financial compensation.

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