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Summaries of EU Legislation

EU air passenger rights in case of denied boarding, a delayed flight or a cancelled flight

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EU air passenger rights in case of denied boarding, a delayed flight or a cancelled flight

 

SUMMARY OF:

Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 setting out common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE REGULATION?

It aims to ensure a high level of protection for passengers by setting common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights.

KEY POINTS

This regulation applies to:

  • passengers departing from an airport located in the territory of an EU country to which the EU treaties apply; and
  • passengers departing from an airport located in a non-EU country to an airport situated in the territory of an EU country to which the EC treaties apply if the operating air carrier of the flight is an EU carrier.

On condition that the passengers have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and, except in the case of cancellation, present themselves for check-in at the time indicated in advance or, if no time is indicated, not later than 45 minutes before the published departure time. This regulation establishes passengers’ rights if:

  • they are denied boarding against their will;
  • their flight is delayed;
  • their flight is cancelled.

It does not apply to passengers travelling:

  • free of charge or
  • at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public.

Denied boarding

When an air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding on a flight, it first calls for volunteers to surrender their reservations in exchange for certain benefits. If an insufficient number of volunteers come forward to allow the remaining passengers to board the flight, the air carrier may then deny boarding to passengers against their will, in which case it must compensate them.

Air carriers give priority to persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them.

In the event of a flight cancellation or denied boarding, passengers affected have the right to:

  • reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or a return flight to the first point of departure or re-routing to their final destination;
  • care (refreshments, meals, hotel accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails);
  • compensation totalling:
    • €250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
    • €400 for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
    • €600 for all other flights.

Delays

The regulation introduces a three-tier system:

  • in the event of long delays (2 hours or more, depending on the distance of the flight), passengers must in every case be offered free meals and refreshments plus 2 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 5 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 referral for a preliminary ruling (Joined Cases C-402/07 and C-432/07), the Court of Justice of the European Union clarified that when passengers reach their final destination 3 hours or more after the scheduled arrival time, they (like passengers whose flights are cancelled) may seek flat-rate compensation from the airline, unless the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances. According to the principle of equal treatment, passengers whose flights are delayed and those whose flights are cancelled ‘at the very last moment’ must be regarded as being in comparable situations as regards the application of their right to compensation, because those passengers suffer similar inconvenience, namely, a loss of time.

Cancellation

In the event of the cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned must be offered:

  • care (refreshments, meals, hotel accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails);
  • reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or a return flight to the first point of departure or re-routing to their final destination;
  • compensation totalling:
    • €250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
    • €400 for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
    • €600 for all other flights.

Compensation

Compensation is to be paid if the passenger has not been informed of the cancellation sufficiently in advance. It does not, however, have to be paid if the carrier can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Upgrading and downgrading

If an air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, the passenger must be reimbursed within 7 days, as follows:

  • 30 % of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
  • 50 % of the price of the ticket for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, except flights between EU countries and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
  • 75 % of the price of the ticket for all other flights, including flights between EU countries and the French overseas departments.

FROM WHEN DOES THE REGULATION APPLY?

It has applied since 17 February 2005.

BACKGROUND

For more information, see:

MAIN DOCUMENT

Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 (OJ L 46, 17.2.2004, pp. 1-8)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

Judgment of the Court (Fourth Chamber) of 19 November 2009. Christopher Sturgeon, Gabriel Sturgeon and Alana Sturgeon v Condor Flugdienst GmbH (C-402/07) and Stefan Böck and Cornelia Lepuschitz v Air France SA (C-432/07). References for a preliminary ruling: Bundesgerichtshof — Germany and Handelsgericht Wien — Austria. Air transport — Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 — Article 2(l) and Articles 5, 6 and 7 — Concept of flight ‘delay’ and ‘cancellation’ — Right to compensation in the event of delay — Concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Joined cases C-402/07 and C-432/07.

last update 15.10.2018

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