EU Regulation 261/2004 sets out the entitlement of passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled, or when they are denied boarding to such a flight due to overbooking.
When an airline cancels a flight, denies a person boarding, or incurs a delay exceeding two hours to a flight, it is obliged to provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out their rights under the regulation, and the contact details of the national body tasked with enforcing the regulation.
Before involuntarily denying passengers boarding, the airline is required to first seek volunteers to give up their reservation in return for whatever benefit is negotiated between the airline and the volunteers. Irrespective of such negotiation, such volunteers are also entitled to reimbursement or rerouting as described below.
If insufficient volunteers are obtained, the airline may then proceed to involuntarily deny passengers the right to board their flight. All passengers so denied must be offered all three types of compensation and assistance described below.
If a flight is cancelled, passengers are automatically entitled to their choice of either rerouting to the same destination at the earliest opportunity or a refund of the ticket as well as a return flight to the point of first departure, when relevant.
The airline is also required to pay cash compensation as described below, unless one of the following conditions applies:
- The airline notifies the passengers at least two weeks prior to departure
- The airline notifies the passengers between one and two weeks prior to departure, and reroutes passengers so that they can:
· Depart no more than two hours earlier than scheduled, and
· Arrive no more than four hours later than scheduled
- The airline notifies the passengers less than one week prior to departure, and re-routes passengers so hat they can:
· Depart no more than one hour earlier than scheduled, and
· Arrive no more than two hours later than scheduled
- The cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided by any reasonable measure.
The airline must also provide an explanation to passengers of alternative transport.
If an airline expects a flight to be delayed, passengers are entitled to refreshments and communication if the expected delay is more than:
- Two hours, A flight of less than 1500 km in distance Type 1 Flight
- Three hours, A flight within the EU of greater than 1500 km in distance, or any other flight of greater than 1500km but less than 3500 km in distance Type 2 Flight
- Four hours, A flight not within EU of greater than 3500 km in distance Type 3 Flight
Additionally, if the flight is expected to depart on the day after the original scheduled departure time, passengers are entitled to accommodation.
If a flight is delayed by five hours, passengers are additionally entitled to abandon their journey and receive a refund for all unused tickets, a refund on tickets used already if the flight no longer serves any purpose in relation to their original travel plan, and, if relevant, a flight back to their original point of departure at the earliest opportunity.
Compensation and Assistance
Airlines are not obliged to pay compensation if they can prove that a cancellation is due to "extraordinary circumstances" which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
There are three broad categories of compensation and assistance that may be required in the case of cancellations, delays, or denied boarding.
Cash compensation is a payment of:
- €250, for a flight of less than 1500 km Type 1 Flight
- €400, for flight within the EU of greater than 1500 km in distance, or any other flight of greater than 1500 km but less than 3500 km in distance Type 2 Flight
- €600, for a flight not within EU of greater than 3500 km in distance. Type 3 Flight
Where rerouting is offered and results in the passenger arriving within two/three/four hours of the scheduled arrival time for a type 1/2/3 flight, the compensation payable is halved.
This payment is strictly a compensation for the customer's inconvenience and does not replace or form a part of either of the following two compensation categories.
Rerouting or Refunding
Rerouting or refunding is, at the passenger's choice, one of the following three compensations:
- Repayment of the cost of unused flight tickets, and for used tickets where the flight taken no longer serve any purpose in relation to the passenger's original travel plan, and where applicable, a flight back to the original point of departure at the earliest opportunity .
- Rerouting under similar conditions to the intended final destination at the earliest opportunity
- Rerouting under similar conditions to the intended final destination at the passenger's leisure, subject to the availability of seats.
If a passenger's destination is an airport at a city with multiple airports and rerouting results in the passenger being taken to another of those airports, the airline must also pay for transport for the passenger to the original intended airport or an agreed nearby destination.
Refreshments, Communication and Accommodation
When passengers become entitled to these assistances, they must be offered, free of charge, Meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time two telephone calls, fax or telex messages, or email's Hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the hotel, if a stay of one or more nights, or a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary.
In the case of a delay, the airline may withdraw or abrogate these entitlement's if offering them would delay the flight further.