virgin atlantic a350 wing tip

Sometimes it’s fun to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, but other times – not so much.

Case in point: person A takes a flight with a European airline to Europe and gets delayed, and is then owed up to $650. Meanwhile, person B is equally delayed, but took a flight on an airline based outside of Europe, like the US, Middle East or Asia and they are entitled to the absolute sum of nothing.

This article promised you a simple but lucrative reason to choose a European airline over any other when flying to Europe, and hopefully that simple reason has clicked for you. Reason being, European airlines have to uphold European delay rules even for flights departing other countries, whereas other airlines don’t.

Tiny Earth globe over the surface covered with the multiple bank note billsEU261 Delay Rules

When a flight is delayed for at least 3 hours upon landing (not take off), and it’s the airlines fault as opposed to adverse weather or things they legitimately can’t control, all passengers are owed money when departing Europe regardless of where the airline is from.

That means if you’re flying Delta from London to New York, or Emirates from Zurich to Dubai you’d be compensated. Going the other way however, only European airlines are on the hook when things go haywire.

Compensation on delays over 3 hours, especially those over four hours can command $650 (€500) in actual cash, which the airline must remit to you by check at a later date. It’s not “play” airline money, it’s real money and even though they need to pay up, you still get to travel and they must get you all the way to your final destination. In some cases, it may be more than you paid to travel, and that’s still totally fine.

Of course, if you happen to be flying to Europe with a US, Asian, South American, Middle Eastern or any airline, you’re totally out of luck.

a screenshot of a flight scheduleThis Happens Every Day

Every day, somewhere, a plane goes “tech”, a mistake is made or something happens where an airline cancels or delays a flight where it’s their fault. We hear from so many passengers who have heard about the EU261 compensation laws, but are absolutely gutted when they find out that because they chose a US carrier to get them to Europe, they’re ineligible in that direction. Just to reiterate, leaving Europe every airline is liable.

The suggestion here, is that whenever possible, it can make sense to choose a European carrier for your trip to Europe, and any carrier for the trip back. For example, if you were flying United, you could fly Lufthansa to Europe, and United back.

If you love Delta, you could fly Virgin to Europe and Delta back. If you’re a Oneworld person, you could fly Finnair, Iberia or British Airways to Europe, and fly American Airlines back. In each of these cases, you’d be eligible if things go wrong in both directions, rather than just one.

Remember: even if you’re loyal to a US airline, you can still earn miles and status credit with that airline while flying one of their European partners, so you really don’t miss out on much..

How To Make Delay Compensation Claims

Know this from the get go: airlines will flat out lie to avoid paying out and some are worse than others. If you have an open shut case, simply submit your claim via the airlines standard customer service form, with details of the flight, date and reason given for the delay.

If however you are stonewalled, it can make sense to involve companies like AirHelp, Bott & Co and others, which handle all the legal work in exchange for a 25% cut. AirHelp can even crawl through old reservations, going back five years! As we often tell people, 75% of $650 is better than 100% of zero.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. How far back will this go? Lufthansa straight up lied to me after sitting on runway in Atlanta for 6.5 hours after FRA-ATL flight.

  2. What about code share flights, for example flying American JFK-LHR but sold by BA with a BA flight number…

  3. It’s worth noting that arrival has been defined by the courts as doors open, not touchdown. An important distinction if you’re right on the cusp of the X hour mark.

  4. Arrival is actually doors open plus the stairs or jetway connected and available for passengers to use. You have not, technically, arrived before that time. At least so far as EU261 is concerned. So if front door is open but something not connected that will let you leave, or something has to be done by airport or airplane personnel before passengers can pass through the airplane door to exit, you have not technically arrived.

    also pay attention to , time and note any announcements or statements made about the reason for the delay and who said it as it’s amazing how often the reason for delay can turn into one that is exempt from EU261 when (if) the airline responds to your claim.

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