Travelers to/from Europe should know that there are EU laws that protect your rights as airline passengers. If you’ve had a severely delayed or cancelled flight to/from Europe in the last few years, you may be eligible for 250-600€ in compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004. (This sounds so much like one of those serious/cringe-y PSAs on TV, oops…)
Unfortunately, many airlines will make it extremely difficult to get your compensation. I was on a Norwegian Airlines flight in August 2018 that got cancelled the day before, and it took me over a year to finally get my 600€ compensation. Here’s what I did, and what you need to know to get your compensation too.
Storytime: How I Got Norwegian Airlines to Finally Pay My 600€ Claim
The day before my trip from Boston to Paris in August 2018, I got a text that said my Norwegian Airlines flight was cancelled. The text said that there were mandatory inspections on a specific type of engine, and they had to take the plane out of service. But, I could rebook or refund my ticket at no extra charge.
I hopped online immediately to find the next available flight, but the same route was sold out for the next week. It was August 26th, and I was supposed to be in Dijon for work before September 1st. So, I called customer service and was luckily able to get a seat on the next flight, two days later. I made it to France with no problem on the second flight.
But I was upset that the disruption had caused so much stress, and I was skeptical about the reason for the cancellation—a mandatory inspection seemed like something that should’ve been planned well in advance. On the Norwegian Delays/Cancellations page, I learned that the EU has passenger rights laws that protect travelers and entitle them to compensation for disruptions like these. I was notified of the cancellation less than 14 days before, my flight was over 3500km, and the reason for cancellation should’ve been within the airline’s control, so I was entitled to600€.
So, I filed a compensation claim with Norwegian on August 28th, 2018. It was denied over a month later, on October 4th, with the airline citing “extraordinary circumstances” out of their control. Basically, while most technical problems entitle passengers to compensation, there are some instances where they’re considered extraordinary circumstances. Norwegian didn’t specify, however, why this situation specifically would be considered an extraordinary circumstance.
I called BS and filed a claim with a third-party flight claim management company, Flightright. These companies basically go through the legal proceedings for you to get your compensation, and then they take a 20-50% cut of your money. It’s a substantial cut, but I figured that some money was better than nothing. I heard nothing for 6 months before I was told that my case was being parked in April 2019—basically, it was being put on hold so that their team could study it more carefully.
I didn’t expect to see any money at this point. Luckily, I joined the Facebook group Norwegian Airlines Experiences From Hell in July 2019, and asked if anyone else had been successful in getting their money. Someone told me to file a claim with the French national enforcement body, the Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC). I withdrew my Flightright claim and submitted the DGAC form online in early July. I got an email from DGAC in late August saying that they asked Norwegian to reexamine my case and respond within the next 8 weeks.
In mid-October, I got an email from Norwegian’s Passenger Rights department saying that they’d compensate me, and that they just needed my bank information. I thought it was a scam at first and called to confirm that it was real. It was, so I sent over my info. In late October, they said that they’d sent the money, and that it’d be available in two weeks.
In early November, I FINALLY got the 600€, over a year after my cancelled flight.
This is all basically a long way to say that I’ve been through this process, and I want to help other people get their money. Here’s the info you need to know about getting your flight compensation.
Who is Eligible for Flight Delay Compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004?
First, your flight must either be:
- With an EU airline, if you’re flying to an EU country from a non-EU country
- Flying from an EU country (regardless of airline), or within the EU
For example, if your Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Madrid, Spain is cancelled, you wouldn’t be eligible; this is because Delta is not an EU airline, and you weren’t leaving from an EU country. But, if your Delta flight was from Madrid to Atlanta instead, you would be eligible, since you’re flying out of an EU country.
I want to also note that you can claim compensation even if you didn’t pay for the flight yourself—whether you used mileage, it was a business trip, or it was part of a vacation package. The law applies to all passengers of EU flights.
In Which Situations Must Airlines Compensate You? How Much Money do you Get?
You’re eligible for compensation if:
- You arrive at your destination 3+ hours late (this includes delays due to missed connections, even if the connecting flight was on another airline, as long as your ticket includes both legs of the flight; this won’t work if you booked the two legs separately)
- Your flight is outright cancelled, and you’re notified less than 14 days beforehand
- You were denied boarding when you did nothing wrong; most commonly, this is because the flight was overbooked (if you volunteer to be bumped though, you’re no longer eligible; this is because most airlines offer compensation upfront for this)
That said, you’re not eligible for compensation if the delay/cancellation is due to “extraordinary circumstances” out of the airline’s control. Examples of these include weather, strikes, security risks, political unrest, etc. Airlines LOVE to use this excuse to deny compensation, even if it wasn’t actually an extraordinary circumstance. If your airline uses this excuse, be sure to find out what the reason for the delay/cancellation actually was, and whether it was actually out of their control. Technical difficulties are generally NOT considered extraordinary circumstances. The coronavirus is, however, considered an extraordinary circumstance, so you would not be eligible for compensation. Most airlines are offering refunds at least, though.
The amount you’re to be compensated depends on the distance of your flight:
- Under 1500km – 250€
- 1500-3500km – 400€
- Over 3500km – 600€
As of writing, the Euro to USD conversion rate is 1.11, meaning you could be compensated $276 (<1500km), $442 (1500-3500km), or $662 (3500km+).
Note that if your flight is cancelled or delayed by 5+ hours, the airline must also offer you the option to book another flight at no extra cost, or give you a refund on the original flight.
If the airline is able to get you on another flight, and you arrive within 3 hours of your original scheduled arrival, you’re no longer eligible for compensation. BUT, if you take another flight with the airline, and you arrive 3+ hours later than your original arrival time, you can still get compensation. This is what I did—I took the next BOS-CDG flight with Norwegian, which was two days later, and I did this at no extra cost. I was still able to get compensation.
If you get a refund on the original flight, you are also still eligible for compensation, as the delay/cancellation still happened, and still disrupted your travel plans.
How Long Do You Have to File a Flight Compensation Claim?
You have anywhere from 1-10 years to file a claim, based on the country concerned. For France and Spain, it’s 5 years. For the UK, it’s 6 years (except Scotland). For Italy, it’s 2 years. Here’s a great article that lays out compensation timeframes for you based on the country.
Where Do You File a Flight Compensation Claim?
You should file your claim with the airline first. They usually have a dedicated webpage/form for delayed/cancelled flight compensation claims. For example, this is Norwegian Airlines’ form.
What to Do if an Airline Denies Your Compensation Claim
Before you pursue these below options, you MUST first submit a claim with the airline, and have it be denied. If you wait 8 weeks and don’t hear from the airline, you can assume that it’s denied, though they should explicitly tell you.
If you’ve determined that you’re eligible for compensation, but the airline denies your claim, you have a few main options:
1. Submit a formal complaint with the local government of the EU country you flew from/to
There are national enforcement bodies within each country that take care of matters concerning passenger rights. You can file a complaint with them if your compensation claim is denied, and they will put pressure on the airline to reexamine your case and respond. If successful, you’ll get 100% of your due compensation. This is what worked for me, and in a span of 4 months—from the day I submitted my complaint, to the day I got my compensation.
I am only knowledgeable about the French procedure, and I can direct you to the online form to fill out. While it initially looks like you have to mail in the form, there’s a button in the bottom left corner of the final page that says “envoyer en ligne,” or “submit online.”
If you want to claim compensation for a flight to/from another country, here’s a complete list of national enforcement bodies, thanks to this article from schengenvisainfo.com.
Some countries, like Italy, will have a form in English, but you might not be so lucky for other countries. For France, the form is entirely in French, for example. If the forms are in a language you don’t speak, you may need to ask a friend for help, or translate the form line by line with Google Translate (tedious, I know). You might also be able to take a picture of the form (you might have to print it to get a good shot) and get it translated through Google’s image translation feature, which would be quicker. Filling out the form is usually straightforward, as it’ll ask you yes/no questions and flight info, all of which don’t need you to translate your answers (though remember that dates are day/month/year in Europe, and they use the 24-hour clock!).
2. Use a third-party flight claim management company
As I mentioned, another option is to file a claim with a company that will go through the legal proceedings for you, then take a 20-50% cut of your compensation if they’re successful. If they don’t win your case, you pay nothing. A couple popular companies are AirHelp and Flightright. I personally tried Flightright and gave them 9 months before I withdrew my claim, as it seemed like my case was going nowhere.
I would absolutely try the national enforcement bodies/local government first, as you would get 100% of your compensation. They also were much more effective and efficient in my case, as Flightright hadn’t gotten a verdict in over 9 months, but the French government got me my money in 4 months. (Side note: if you’ve heard of the terrible inefficiency of the French administration, it’s mostly true, but this is one of the few times they’ve gotten things right, and I owe them one!)
3. Take it to a small claims court
While some people may recommend this step before flight claim management companies, suing the airline seems more complicated and time-consuming (to me, at least!). This is an option, however, and you can learn more about it with this guide by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Hopefully this gives you a better idea of whether you’re eligible for compensation, and what to do if your airline denies your claim. Remember that this process took me over a year, so approach this with a healthy dose of patience.
If you’ve taken other steps and were successful, please let us know in the comments! If you have any questions, let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂