We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

4 March 2021

Denied Boarding EU Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC)

It’s hugely frustrating if you’re stranded because of a cancelled or delayed flight. But you have rights to assistance and maybe even compensation - depending on where you’re flying from or to.
Which?Editorial team

Passenger rights

  • The Denied Boarding Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC) (the 'Regulation') applies to passengers departing from an airport within the UK or EU, whatever the airline is.  
  • The Regulation also applies to passengers departing from an airport outside the EU for an airport within the UK or EU, if the airline is based in an EU state.

Despite the title of the regulation, its impact is wider than just denied boarding, as it also covers cancellations and delays.

Flight cancellations

If a flight is cancelled, the airline must offer you the option of being reimbursed or rerouted (either on the next available flight or on an agreed date), and must also provide you with meals and telephone calls. 

If rerouting involves departing the following day or later, you are entitled to hotel accommodation if necessary. 

In addition, you are entitled to compensation, unless:

  • you are told of the cancellation at least two weeks before departure, or
  • you are told of the cancellation between one and two weeks before departure, and rerouting your flight will get you to your final destination no more than four hours late, 
  • rerouting will get you to your destination no more than two hours late.

There is an exception to the right to compensation if the airline can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken by the airline. 

Technical faults do not count as examples of extraordinary circumstances. 

Flight cancellation compensation

You are entitled to claim compensation if your flight is cancelled. The amounts stipulated are:

  • €250 for flights under 1500 kilometres (932 miles - short haul)
  • €400 for all longer flights within EU, and for all other flights between 1500 kilometres (932 miles) and 3500 kilometres (2175 miles - medium haul)
  • €600 for all other flights (long haul)

Distance is measured to the final destination.

Compensation is reduced by 50% if the airline gives you the option of re-routing your flights and the ultimate arrival time of the re-routed flights would be within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time for short-haul flights, within three hours for medium haul flights, and within four hours for long haul flights.

Compensation can be paid by cash, bank transfer or cheque. Only if the passenger agrees can it be paid in travel vouchers or other services.

Reimbursing you for flight cancellations

Where this right arises, you are entitled to reimbursement within seven days, of the full costs of the ticket at the price at which it was bought for the part of the journey not made (and the parts already made if they are then useless).  

Where relevant, you are also entitled to the earliest possible return flight to the point of departure or rerouting to the final destination at the earliest opportunity or, if you prefer, at a later date.

Flight delay assistance

To be entitled to meals, refreshments, phone calls and emails, a delay must be one of the following:

  • at least two hours for a flight of 1500 kilometres (932 miles) or less
  • three hours or more for all flights within the EU exceeding 1500 kilometres (932 miles)
  • three hours for all other flights between 1500 kilometres (932 miles) and 3500 kilometres (2175 miles)
  • more than four hours for all other flights

Such a delay will give you an automatic right to meals/refreshments and telephone calls. If a delay means your departure isn't until the following day, then you may be entitled to hotel accommodation.

Free refreshments, accommodation and calls

Where this applies you are entitled to the following:

  • suitable meals and refreshments
  • hotel accommodation
  • transport transfers to and from the hotel
  • two free telephone calls, faxes or emails

Carriers are required to pay special attention to the need of passengers with disabilities and unaccompanied children.

Flight delay compensation

Following a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in October 2012,  if your flight is delayed you may be able to claim compensation.  

But you can only claim compensation if the delay means you arrive at your destination more than three hours later than the original scheduled arrival time.  

The compensation to which you are entitled will range from between €250 and €600, depending on the length of your flight and the length of the delay. 

As is the case with cancellations, your compensation may be reduced by 50% if you are given the option of re-routing your flights and the re-routed flights would enable you to arrive at your destination between two and four hours of the original scheduled arrival time (depending on the length of the flight). 

There is an exception to the right to compensation 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. 

If a delay is at least five hours, then you are entitled to choose between being re-routed or reimbursed in the same manner as if your flight had been cancelled.

Overbooked flights

Where a carrier expects to have to deny boarding to one or more passengers, it must first call for volunteers to surrender their reservations. The volunteers may choose between being reimbursed for their tickets and being re-routed to their final destination at a later date of their choice. They may also agree additional benefits with the airline. 

If there are not enough volunteers, then the carrier can deny boarding to passengers against their will, but must then pay them compensation, and give them assistance. 

If your airline refuses to compensate you

In the event of either a cancellation or flight delay, the first thing you should do is contact the airline directly, and make it known that you'll be claiming compensation. 

If the flight operator doesn't resolve the matter, you should then contact the Civil Aviation Authority.

If your airline denies compensation for delay, you may wish to refer them to the October 2012  Court of Justice of the European Union ruling (joined cases C-402/07 and C-432/07), and tell your airline that you want them to reconsider your claim.

If they still refuse, you may wish to seek legal advice. You have six years from when your flight was delayed to make a claim, so there is no need to rush to court straightaway.

Package holidays

The Regulation also applies to flights that form part of a package holiday but the obligation under the Regulation will remain with the carrier.

If you're seeking reimbursement of your flight costs you will not be entitled to receive a full refund of your package holiday costs under the Regulation.

However, where the delay, cancellation or denied boarding constitutes a significant change to the package holiday as a whole, the rules under the Package Travel Regulations will apply.