How to Get Compensated for Canceled European Flights

Image: Bruno Abatti on Unsplash

Few things are more frustrating than a canceled flight, particularly in the U.S. You can be strung along for hours, waiting with your increasingly agitated fellow travelers, only to be told you’ll have to wait until the next day to actually take your flight.

But if you’re traveling in, to or within the European Union, mandated compensation for a flight cancellation can take some of the edge off.

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Katherine LaGrave explains how it played out for her for Condé Nast Traveler. Detailing how a flight out of Frankfurt was delayed repeatedly and then eventually canceled, she writes that she “made” close to $750:

In my case, Delta immediately offered to refund in full the round-trip cost of my flight—a nice gesture, especially given that they were technically only required to refund me for the full remaining value of my ticket (in this case, a one-way). I accepted this refund, and then, when I returned stateside, filed an electronic claim with the airline’s customer care department via email, outlining the situation and asking for my due compensation. They complied, and a check was in the mail: no fuss, no back-and-forth, no disagreement.

That’s because of Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, a European Union regulation that stipulates passengers are entitled to between €250 (currently around $280) to €600 (around $670) in compensation when a flight reaches the destination at least three hours late, according to This Is Money (a UK-based financial website). Refunds depend on the length of the flight and how many hours your flight was delayed, which The Points Guy breaks down:

Should you qualify, your payoff varies by trip length. For a flight of 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) or less, you get €250. Intra-EU flights longer than that and other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km (2,175 miles) get €400, and longer flights get €600. A 2009 ruling, however, lets airlines halve the compensation for delays of under four hours.

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For canceled flights, “you have the right to take an alternative flight with the same airline to your destination, or cancel the flight and receive a full refund,” and the airline must also provide you with hotel accommodations, if you need them, and refreshments. You aren’t entitled to anything if the delay or cancellation occurs as a result of an “extraordinary circumstance,” such as weather or a worker’s strike.

Any airline that departs from an EU airport needs to comply with the regulation, regardless of whether it’s a European airline or not. But if you’re flying to Europe when the delay/cancellation occurs on a non-European carrier, it doesn’t count. Meaning if LaGrave’s flight to Europe from the U.S. on Delta had been canceled, the airline wouldn’t have had to follow the regulation.

But because she was delayed in the EU, she got a nice chunk of change back from the airline. “So hey, the next time you have a delayed flight in Europe, grin and bear it—and just think of all the money you’re making,” she writes.

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