Air travel

Is your flight delayed, overbooked or cancelled? Within the EU, there are regulations that offer you protection and possibly a right to compensation. These rules are found in European Regulation 261/2004. They apply to any flight that departs from an EU nation. Furthermore, they apply to all flights from European airlines that arrive in an EU nation.

On this page, you can read more about when you have a right to compensation and/or assistance from the airline. You can also read about your rights in the event of a problem with your luggage.

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Good to know

What information must an airline provide?

Airlines in the EU must inform their passengers about their rights in writing. If your flight is cancelled, if you have to be denied access to your flight or if there is an impending delay of more than two hours, there is a regulation for compensation and assistance. It must list the address of the organisation that oversees compliance with the regulation. In the Netherlands, this is done by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate.

The following announcement must be easily readable and posted near the check-in desk:

"If you are not admitted onto your flight, if it is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in desk or the boarding gate for the text that lists your rights, particularly pertaining to compensation and assistance.”

My flight is delayed. What are my rights?

The airline must offer you “care” free of charge. The nature of this care depends on the duration of the flight and the length of the delay:

  • For flights of 1,500 km or less with a delay of two hours or more;
  • For flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km with a delay of three hours or more;
  • For flights outside the EU of 1,500 to 3,500 km with a delay of three hours or more;
  • For flights outside the EU of more than 3,500 km with a delay of four hours or more.

While you wait, you have a right to the following care in the aforementioned cases:

  • Free drinks and meals in fair proportion to the length of the delay;
  • The opportunity to send two email, fax or telex messages free of charge;
  • Free hotel accommodation if you have to wait for the delayed flight for one or more nights;
  • Free hotel accommodation if your stay has to be prolonged as a result of the delay;
  • Free transport to and from the hotel accommodation and the airport.

In the event of a delay of more than five hours, you can cancel your flight in all cases. You have a right to a full refund of the cost of your unused ticket. If it concerns a return flight, the airline must offer you a free alternative return flight. If you are stranded at a transfer airport and it is not possible to continue your journey, you have a right to a free return flight back to the airport from which you departed.
 

Compensation in the event of a delayed flight

If you arrive - three hours or more - later than planned at your ticket’s final destination, you can claim a compensation for the delayed flight from the airline.

  • € 250 for flights up to and including 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights outside the EU between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
  • € 600 for flights of more than 3,500 km.

You can read the full text of the ruling on the website of the EU’s Court of Justice.

This compensation can be reduced by 50% if you accept an alternative flight and your delay is limited. If you were notified of the delay at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure, you have no right to compensation.

My flight was cancelled. What are my rights?

If the airline cancels your flight at the last minute, they have to offer you a flight to the same destination. If you have to wait for that flight, you have a right to the same free care as with a delay:

  • Free drinks and meals in fair proportion to the length of the delay;
  • The opportunity to send two email, fax or telex messages free of charge;
  • Free hotel accommodation if you have to wait for the delayed flight for one or more nights;
  • Free hotel accommodation if your stay has to be prolonged as a result of the delay;
  • Free transport to and from the hotel accommodation and the airport.

If it is not a case of force majeure, e.g. poor weather conditions or an unannounced strike, the airline must also offer you financial compensation. The following fees apply to the cancellation of a flight:

  • € 250 for flights up to and including 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights outside the EU between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
  • € 600 for flights of more than 3,500 km.

This compensation can be reduced by 50% if you accept an alternative flight and your delay is limited. If you were notified of the delay at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure, you have no right to compensation.

My flight is overbooked. What are my rights?

It is possible that your flight gets overbooked. In that case, too many tickets were sold, which means not everyone can come along. The airline will first ask people to voluntarily give up their seat.

If you are willing to voluntarily give up your seat, the airline must offer you certain benefits and/or a compensation. You must also be given a choice between an alternative flight or a full refund of the cost of your ticket. If there are not enough volunteers, the airline may refuse you access to the flight. In that case, you also have a right to an alternative flight or a full refund of the cost of your ticket.

If you opt for the alternative flight after voluntarily or involuntarily giving up your seat, you have a right to the same free care as with a delay:

  • Free drinks and meals in fair proportion to the length of the delay;
  • The opportunity to send two email, fax or telex messages free of charge;
  • Free hotel accommodation if you have to wait for the alternative flight for one or more nights;
  • Free hotel accommodation if your stay has to be prolonged as a result of the delay;
  • Free transport to and from the hotel accommodation and the airport.

When opting for an alternative flight, you also have a right to financial compensation:

  • € 250 for flights up to and including 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km;
  • € 400 for flights outside the EU between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
  • € 600 for flights of more than 3,500 km.

This compensation can be reduced by 50% if you accept an alternative flight and your delay is limited.

My luggage was lost. What now?

If your luggage was not brought on the flight or lost along the way, you have to fill out and hand in a PIR form (Passenger Irregularity Report) to the airline at the airport. Keep a copy for yourself, because you can use it to claim any damages.

If your luggage was delayed, you have a right to compensation of the costs of essential items such as toiletries and clothing. You can claim the reasonable expenses from the airline. Submit copies of your receipts, a copy of the PIR form and a cover letter or email to the airline.

If your luggage has not been recovered after more than twenty-one days after the scheduled date of arrival or if the airline announces before that time that your luggage was lost, you may have a right to compensation of up to SDR* 1,131 (around €1,250). File a complaint with the airline via letter or email within seven days of the loss of your luggage and add a copy of the PIR form. You have no right to compensation if the airline can invoke force majeure.

*SDR: Special Drawing Right is a unit of account that is calculated daily based on various international currencies

My luggage was damaged during the flight. What now?

If your luggage is damaged upon your flight’s arrival, you must fill out a PIR form (Passenger Irregularity Report) and submit it to the airline. Keep a copy for yourself, because you can use it to claim damages afterwards.

You have a right to compensation of up to SDR* 1,131 (around €1,250) if your luggage was damaged. File a complaint with the airline via letter or email within seven days of receiving your luggage and add a copy of the PIR form.

*SDR: Special Drawing Right is a unit of account that is calculated daily based on various international currencies.

My flight was upgraded or downgraded. What now

If you can only come along on a flight in a higher class than the one you paid for, the airline cannot charge you extra for this. If you are given a seat in a lower class than the one you paid for, you have a right to a refund of 30-75% of the cost of your ticket, depending on the length of the flight in kilometres.

How can I file a claim or complaint to an airline?

If you believe you have a right to compensation from the airline, you must submit a claim via email or letter. The conditions of the airline state the period within which you must do so. Whether you have a right to compensation depends on a number of factors, e.g. if it concerns a case of force majeure.

The air carrier should reply within 2 months to your claim. If you are not satisfied with the airline’s response, you can file a complaint with the national enforcement authority of the country where the incident took place. In the Netherlands, that is the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT).

See also:

My flight departs earlier than planned. What are my rights?

When an airline has made a change of the departure time of the flight it is known as a schedule change. Airlines mention in their terms and conditions that the time of the flight may be subject to change.

Based on the European rules you are not entitled to a financial compensation when a flight departs earlier than planned. In some cases you can cancel the trip and ask for a refund.

Do you have a travel insurance? Maybe it is possible to call on the insurance policy.

The airline rebooked me to an earlier flight. What are my rights?

Sometimes you are entitled to a financial compensation when an airline rebooks you to an earlier flight. You have been rebooked when it meets one of the following conditions:

  • You reach the destination, but the airline has changed the flight number;
  • You reach the destination, but you’ll fly with a different airline;
  • You reach the destination, but you travel via a different route.