Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Delays: rights under EU regulations

Delays: rights under EU regulations


Delayed flights are regulated by the European Community Regulation EC 261/2004. This law sets how much compensation passengers are entitled to if they're denied boarding or if their flight is cancelled or delayed. It provides high levels of protection for air passengers, who can experience serious inconvenience when problems happen.

The regulation applies to flights:

  • departing from a European airport on any airline; or
  • arriving at a European airport on a European airline.

For this purpose, 'European' includes countries in the EU and the European Free Trade area, which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland

For information on flights that fall outside of EU law, see Cancellations and delays outside EU regulations.

Right to care

Your right to care depends on how long your flight has been delayed and the length of your journey, as set out in the following table:

Length of journeyLength of delay

1,500 km or less

2 hours

More than 1,500 km (flights between EU countries)

3 hours

1,500 km to 3,500 km (flights not within the EU)

3 hours

More than 3,500 km (flights not within the EU)

4 hours

If you qualify, you'll be entitled to a reasonable amount of food and drink (related to the waiting time) and 2 free telephone calls, emails, faxes or telex messages.

If the flight is expected to depart on a day after the original scheduled departure, you'll be entitled to free overnight accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.

Longer delays

If a flight is delayed by 5 hours, you'll also be entitled to abandon your journey and get a full refund for all unused tickets, a refund on tickets already used if the flight no longer serves any purpose for your original travel plan, and, if relevant, a flight back to where you came from.

Compensation for delayed flights

If a flight is delayed by 3 or more hours, you'll also be entitled to claim compensation, unless the delay was outside of the airline's control.

The following table sets out the amounts that will be payable based on the length of delay when you arrive at your destination:

Length of journeyLength of delayCompensation due

1,500 km or less

More than 3 hours


1,500 km to 3,500 km

More than 3 hours


More than 3,500 km

3-4 hours


More than 3,500 km

More than 4 hours


The airline isn't obliged to pay compensation if it can prove the cancellation was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances'. Extraordinary circumstances are those that couldn't have been avoided, such as bad weather conditions or security risks. This doesn't include technical problems that are normally associated with the aircraft. Problems with the flight crew not being available are also unlikely to count as 'extraordinary circumstances'.

Missed connections

The fact that the original scheduled flight has been delayed by less than 3 hours doesn't mean passengers won't be compensated for the delay.

The European Court of Justice has passed a judgment stating that it's no longer relevant how long the original scheduled flight was delayed by. What is relevant is the total time of the delay up to the time the passenger arrives at their final destination.

Therefore, if a delay has caused you to miss a connection, causing you 3 or more hours' delay in reaching your final destination, then you'll be entitled to compensation at the levels set out in the above table.

Consumer Rights Act

Passengers will also be protected by the Consumer Rights Act if the service they receive is not provided with reasonable care and skill. This includes:

  • flights that are delayed (including delays that are less than the time allowed under the EU regulations listed above)
  • services, such as meals and flight entertainment, that have been promised but not provided.

Airline operators who provide a poor service are liable to pay compensation under the Act. The compensation claimable includes the cost of the ticket and other losses that you may have incurred due to poor service, such as having to pay more for the same journey because you missed a connecting flight. You will need to prove your loss and that you kept it to a minimum. The airline operator cannot exclude or limit the amount you can recover to less than the ticket price.

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