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Denied boarding: rights under EU regulations

Denied boarding: rights under EU regulations


If your flight has been overbooked, or if you're told you can't board the plane for another reason, this is known as 'denied boarding'. Denied boarding rights are regulated by European Community Regulation EC 261/2004. This law sets the compensation that passengers are entitled to when they're denied boarding or if their flight is cancelled or delayed. Its purpose is to ensure 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.

Asking for volunteers

Airlines that expect that they'll need to deny boarding to some passengers must first find volunteers to give up their reservation. If there aren't enough volunteers, airlines can deny boarding to passengers who didn't volunteer.

Rights for passengers who have volunteered

If you've volunteered to give up your reservation, you must agree with the airline the compensation you'll receive, such as vouchers.

In addition, you'll be automatically entitled to your choice of either:

  • Another flight as soon as possible; or
  • Another flight at a later date that suits you;
  • A refund (if you choose not to fly) and a free flight back to the airport where you started your journey. The refund must be paid within 7 days and must include the full price of the ticket, and any unused tickets for parts of the journey that weren't made and any tickets that have been used (if the flight no longer serves any purpose in relation to your original travel plans).

If the airline offers a flight from another airport, then it must pay to bring you there.

If you're waiting for another flight, you'll also be entitled to the following:

  • Food and drink reasonably related to the waiting time
  • Overnight accommodation, such as a hotel, if you're delayed overnight
  • Transport between the airport and the place of accommodation (hotel or other)
  • 2 telephone calls, emails, faxes or telex messages

If the airline doesn't do this then you're entitled to claim an amount that is appropriate and reasonable for the costs you've incurred. Keep all your receipts.

Rights for passengers who haven't volunteered

Airlines must give boarding priority to passengers with reduced mobility and any people with them.

If you're denied boarding, you'll be entitled to the same rights as passengers who volunteered to give up their reservation. In addition, you'll be entitled to compensation, as described below. You must have a valid ticket and a confirmed reservation, and have been checked in by the deadline given by the airline.


Table 1 - if you haven't agreed to another flight

Length of journeyCompensation

1,500 km or less


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


1,500 km to 3,500 km (flights not between EU countries)


More than 3,500 km (all other flights)


Table 2 - if you have agreed to another flight

If you've agreed to another flight, you'll be entitled to the compensation outlined in the table above, unless the delay to your arrival time is within certain limits (see below). In that case, the compensation is halved.

Length of journeyHours over original scheduled arrival timeCompensation

1,500 km or less

Up to 3 hours


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

Up to 3 hours


1,500 km to 3,500 km (flights not between EU countries)

Up to 3 hours


More than 3,500 km (all other flights)

Up to 4 hours


For more information on flights that were delayed without being denied boarding, see Delays: rights under EU regulations and Cancellations and delays outside EU regulations.

Consumer Rights Act

Passengers may also be protected by the Consumer Rights Act if the service they receive is not provided with reasonable care and skill. This includes when flights that are cancelled or delayed because you were unable to board the aircraft.

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 using another form of transport. You will need to prove your loss and that you kept resulting costs 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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