Here are our most frequently asked questions about EU 261, the European consumer protection law for air travelers. You can find more FAQs here.
• What is EU 261?
• What are the main provisions of EU 261?
• I’m flying from the U.S. to Europe. Does EU 261 apply?
• I’m flying from the U.S. to Africa with a connection in Europe. Does EU 261 apply?
• I’m flying from the United States nonstop to a non-EU country. Is EU 261 applicable to my trip?
• I’m flying from a EU country to a non-EU country on a European carrier. Is EU 261 applicable to my trip?
• What about flights to and from Britain?
• My flight is a codeshare. Does EU 261 apply?
• My U.S. domestic flight was delayed, and I missed my connection to Europe. Am I covered?
• EU 261 contains an exclusion for “extraordinary circumstances.” What constitutes an extraordinary circumstance?
• I was downgraded from Business to Economy on my flight. Am I entitled to compensation under EU 261?
• My package tour was canceled because the hotel went out of business. Am I entitled to compensation under EU 261?
• After a flight delay, overbooking, or cancellation, how long do I have to apply for compensation?
• How do I file a complaint under EU 261?
• What form must compensation take?
• How much time does the airline have to reimburse me?
• What are the airline’s obligations to make passengers aware of their rights?
• What do I need to know about services that offer EU 261 compensation? Do you recommend any?
Formally known as Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, EU 261 (sometimes also referred to as EC 261) is a regulation promulgated by the European Parliament on Feb. 11, 2004. It establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. The definition of “long delay” depends on the distance to be flown.
For the full text of EU 261, see the European Parliament website.
EU 261 provides for assistance and monetary compensation to airline passengers in situations of overbooking, cancellation or delay of a flight. The type of assistance and amount of monetary compensation depend on the circumstances (e.g., cancellation or length of delay) and the distance between the flight’s origin and destination.
Remember, this is just a summary. See the full EU 261 text for all official definitions, provisions and restrictions.
In the case of flights terminating in an EU country, the regulation applies only to flights operated by an EU carrier. Thus, if you’re flying from Chicago to Frankfurt, EU 261 applies only if you’re flying on Lufthansa (or another EU carrier). If you’re flying in the opposite direction, it applies even if you’re on United, because the flight originated in an EU member country.
It depends on the carrier. For example, EU 261 would apply to a flight from Chicago to Johannesburg, South Africa, on Lufthansa, with a connection in Frankfurt. It applies to the Chicago-Frankfurt leg because it terminates in the EU and is operated by an EU carrier, and it applies to the Frankfurt-Johannesburg leg because it originates in the EU. If those same flights were operated by United Airlines, only the Frankfurt-Johannesburg leg would be covered under EU 261.
No. The flight neither originates nor terminates in an EU member country.
Yes. The flight originates in an EU member country. (Even if you were flying on a non-European carrier, it would still apply, because the flight originates in an EU member country.)
Until the U.K. “brexits” — which it hasn’t done yet — Britain is still part of the European regulatory framework. EU 261 will continue to apply.
The regulation does not explicitly address codeshares. However, the preamble states that the obligations created by the regulation “should rest with the operating air carrier who performs or intends to perform a flight, whether with owned aircraft, under dry or wet lease, or on any other basis.” (The regulation defines an “operating carrier” as “… an air carrier that performs or intends to perform a flight under a contract with a passenger or on behalf of another person, legal or natural, having a contract with that passenger.”)
In theory, this should mean that the regulation applies based on the carrier that actually operates the flight, rather than the carrier that sold the ticket. For a hypothetical flight between the United States and Europe, applicability would depend on the operator of the flight and the direction of travel:
From Europe to the United States:
- Ticket sold by Lufthansa, flight operated by United Airlines: EU 261 applies because the flight originates in an EU country.
- Ticket sold by United Airlines, flight operated by Lufthansa: EU 261 applies because the flight originates in an EU country and is operated by an EU carrier.
From the United States to Europe:
- Ticket sold by Lufthansa, flight operated by United Airlines: EU 261 does not apply because the flight originates outside the EU and is not operated by an EU carrier
- Ticket sold by United Airlines, flight operated by Lufthansa: EU 261 applies because the flight is operated by an EU carrier
All of the above, however, is subject to caveats. First, the regulation does not specifically address codeshare situations, and second, a codesharing flight often presents the airlines involved with an opportunity to engage in circular finger-pointing, leaving the traveler stuck in the middle.
EU 261 would not apply in this case, for two reasons. First, the delayed flight was entirely within the U.S. Second, even though the flight from the U.S. to Europe might have been covered under EU 261, that flight was not delayed or canceled.
EU 261 states that airlines’ obligations to passengers as set forth in the regulation are limited or excluded in “extraordinary circumstances,” which are defined as follows in the preamble:
(14) As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.
(15) Extraordinary circumstances should be deemed to exist where the impact of an air traffic management decision in relation to a particular aircraft on a particular day gives rise to a long delay, an overnight delay, or the cancellation of one or more flights by that aircraft, even though all reasonable measures had been taken by the air carrier concerned to avoid the delays or cancellations.
If the flight otherwise meets the criteria for applicability, you may be eligible for a refund of 30 to 75 percent of your ticket cost, depending on the length of the flight. (See Article 10 of EU 261.)
No. The regulation applies in the case of a package tour only if the tour is canceled because of a flight cancellation.
EU 261 is silent on deadlines for seeking reimbursement or compensation. However, it is always in the passenger’s interest to file a claim as soon as possible. It might be advisable to ask for monetary compensation on the spot. At a minimum, request the information described in Article 14.
The EU maintains a list of national enforcement bodies; however, it is generally better to address complaints first to the airline that operated the flight or flights in question. Most, if not all, EU airlines have information on EU 261 on their websites.
Article 7 states that compensation must be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, by bank order, or by bank check. The airline can compensate passengers with “travel vouchers and/or other services,” but in order to do so it must obtain the passenger’s signed authorization.
Article 8 states that reimbursement must be made within seven days.
Article 14 states that the airline must provide a “clearly legible” notice stating that passengers may be eligible for compensation in the event of denied boarding, delay or cancellation. In cases where such an event actually occurs, the airline must provide each affected passenger with a written description of their rights.
Two of the companies that offer assistance in filing EU 261 claims are AirHelp and EUClaim. AirHelp sells an annual membership that is advertised to carry benefits in securing compensation for flight delays, cancellations and overbookings that occur within a specific geographical area. It also advertises assistance specifically related to EU 261 claims; however, the link to the EU-related information on its website is broken.
EUClaim is a website based in the United Kingdom that offers similar services related to EU 261 claims, but apparently without an annual membership fee. The company does, however, take a commission from any compensation it may recover.
As a matter of policy, we do not endorse or recommend any third-party sites that offer assistance with EU 261 or other similar types of claims.
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