water drops on a window
View from the airplane window in rainy non-flying weather rain

If you’re flying in the USA, you have very few rights. But elsewhere…

What’s fair and what you get are quite often on very opposing ends of the air travel spectrum. These days, doesn’t it always seem to feel that way?

Airlines have never been known for being overly generous when it comes to flight delays, cancellations or other mishaps, but depending on where you are, you may be able to read them the rulebook and get what you deserve, and perhaps – even a bit more for the trouble. Them’s the rules, after all!

Here’s a really simple breakdown of what you’re entitled to when your flight goes wrong, depending on where you are, why it happened — and how long until you reach your final destination.

We’ve got every destination and origin covered below, so scroll to where makes sense for you! Happy travels!

a plane flying in the sky

Flight Rights For Flights Departing The USA

This bit applies whether you’re going from state to state, or on an international jaunt to another country, as long as you’re not flying on a European airline. If you’re flying on an airline based in Europe, like Air France, your rights are much better than everyone else.

Passenger Rights In The USA

This will be by far the shortest part of the “your rights” part, because unfortunately the US Department of Transportation has laid out very few guidelines which airlines must abide by.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Transportation is so toothless with passenger rights, they haven’t even bothered to define what a “lengthy delay” is. Airlines could in theory claim that delaying you 10 hours isn’t “lengthy” — and that’s not great.

Whether the delay is caused by airline faults like mechanical problems, or weather, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the same. There’s no “automatic” compensation.

When Your USA Flight Is Delayed

If you’re on a domestic US or international flight on any airline but one based in Europe, you are sadly at the airlines mercy for US travel. In the USA, airlines are not obligated to endorse your ticket over to another airline which is flying, get you a hotel room for the night or even provide any vouchers.

Any of these things are done solely at the airlines mercy.

Even though you’re not entitled to anything, you can always keep track of reasonable expenses and file a claim with the airline, requesting these be covered. There’s no guarantee they will pay, but they often do when things are reasonable, such as…

  • reasonable overnight hotel costs (not five star).
  • taxi costs between accommodation and airport.
  • basic meal costs, without alcohol or tip included.

Be sure to engage all potential points of contact to get help from the airline about rebooking, a place to stay and otherwise using Twitter, Facebook, Phone Calls and airport agents. Remember: these nice people didn’t delay your flight, and anything they do for you is at their discretion, so be nice!

When Your Flight Is Overbooked

The one area where you actually have real support as a passenger flying in the USA is in regards to airline overbooking or denied boarding. When this happens airlines will try to ask for volunteers for a later flight, which can bring up to $10,000 in airline vouchers per person, even on short delays.

If that doesn’t work and you find yourself denied boarding, the airline owes you between 200-400% of the fare paid, depending on the length of the delay. They must show you in writing what you’re entitled to at the time, and failing to do so would result in a fine for the airline, so be sure to demand seeing the paperwork.

a tower with trees in front of it

For All Flights Departing Europe Or On A European Airline

Of all the regions around the word, Europe has passengers backs more than any other.

Not only are airlines obligated to put a roof over your head and keep you fed during any overnight delays, but they may also be on the hook for up to €600 per person in compensation for your wasted time, in addition to getting you where you need to go. It’s like a penalty for bad service.

In some instances, it means passengers practically get paid to fly, because the cost of the penalties is higher than the ticket purchased Let’s dive into the various factors…

Passenger Rights For European Weather Delays

Weather can’t be controlled by anyone, no matter how much we’d like it to be. If your flight is delayed leaving the European Union, or on a European airline, the airline must still take care of you, they just don’t owe you any money.

If your flight is delayed by two hours for short haul flights or more than four hours for long haul flights like London to New York, the airline must provide necessities like food and drinks. If the delay causes you to overnight, even though it’s not the airlines fault, they must provide passengers with…

  • Overnight accommodation
  • Transportation to and from accommodation
  • Standard meals and water
  • Two phone calls and or emails.

One thing you can also have the airline do if your flight is delayed or cancelled due to “weather”, is to endorse your ticket over to another airline. For flights from the EU, or on European airlines, it doesn’t need to be a partner airline either.

This is something you are absolutely entitled to, so don’t settle for the first response from an agent saying “there are no flights until tomorrow”. If you find a ticket in the same cabin for sale on another airline, they need to endorse you over to it. Just politely say you’ve found a flight you’d like to be endorsed over to.

If staff disagree, present them with EU law.

The airline is supposed to explain this stuff clearly to you and make sure you are kept informed. If you are not, politely demand more from the airline. If you need to get your own accommodation, be sure to keep all receipts and try to negotiate or get confirmation from the airline in advance of approved hotel options.

Passenger Rights For European Delays When Airline Is At Fault

Here’s where it all gets juicy.

Airlines love to claim that things are out of their control, even going as far as creating fake weather problems or air traffic flow issues to dissuade people from claiming what they are actually owed. Why?

Because when a flight is delayed by at least three hours, and especially over four hours, you’re owed anywhere between €250-€600, and the airline still has to fly you. And yes, it counts even if your ticket cost far less. This applies for…

  • Mechanical Delays
  • Flight Staffing Issues
  • Airline (but not ATC) Strikes
  • Tech Glitches, Like IT System Failures

A key to remember here is that a “delay” is measured by the difference in time between when you were scheduled to land and when you actually do. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you take off 5 hours late but land 2 hours 45 mins late, which can happen.

Flight Distance Delay Length (Based Upon Scheduled Landing Time, Not Take Off Delay)Compensation Due
Up to 1,500km3 hours or more€250
1,500km-3,500km3 hours or more€400
Over 3,500km3 hours or more & between 2 EU Member States€400
Over 3,500km3-4 hours€300
Over 3,500km4 hours €600

In some cases, this means the airline has actually paid you to fly, but hey – they were the ones that made you late, so it seems semi fair, right? A big key here is gathering data points and evidence in your favour, because as noted, airlines may tell you you’re not eligible, when in fact you are.

Gather info on other flights which departed on time and so forth. It can absolutely be worth engaging a top compensation firm like AirHelp to do it for you, since they take a 25% cut but handle any legal stuff to get you paid. 75% of €600 is better than 100% of zero. It’s worth filing a claim with the airline on your own first, but if that doesn’t work – hire a service like AirHelp.

Sunset aerial view through airplane window over wings. Flying at sunset and looking out of the window and enjoying the panoramic view. Travel and transportation concepts

Keep It Simple, Keep It Polite And Get What You’re Owed

Again, it’s absolutely crucial to remember that the person you’re dealing with at the airline is very rarely the same person who cancelled the flight, or put the wrong wrench onto the engine to cause a mechanical delay.

They are just hard working people trying to get their job done. Be polite, be precise and read up on these things in advance, so you know what you’re dealing with.

Agents typically have more discretion than they may lead on about, so help give them opportunities to help you by finding alternative flights that work, or asking for documentation of the reason for delay and other things which may help you if you need to file a claim at a later date. With any hope, you’ll never need any of this stuff – but knowing you probably will – it’s good to have. Happy travels.

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. great stuff. what are the rules when the flight is canceled a few days before and they rebook you to a flight that doesnt work for you? happened to me on AA earlier this week and information on my rights was kinda hard to find. i called and they rebooked me at a more convenient time but it shortened my trip by one night.

    1. For what it is worth my experience w AA is any time they make a change I have been able to call and get the flights I want (even a non-stop if I previously booked a connecting flight). I’m lifetime Platinum so don’t know if that applies to everyone or just elites. Worst thing is to do nothing since they assume you accepted the change

  2. It would be useful to know what compensation is required of Asian airlines departing from their home port to the US and EU destinations. Any idea?

  3. Which rules apply (US vs European) when you are on a codeshare flight to Europe on a European carrier but you bought your ticket from the US codeshare partner?

  4. Need to add what happens on flights where class of service is downgraded. Under EU261, they are required to reimburse 75% of the fare allocated to the downgraded leg(s). Under US rules, I believe they are required to reimburse the difference in fare, but it’s not clear whether this is the difference in full or discounted fares, so once again not consumer friendly if you bought a discounted fare.

    Since the UK has also incorporated EU261 into its laws (at least for now), I recently got a refund fairly quickly from BA on a JNB-LHR segment (of a US origin/destination trip) where they changed aircraft and no longer offered first class (on a deeply discounted first class ticket purchased at the height of the pandemic before things reopened). I got the refund in about 9 days, perhaps by threatening to file a USDOT complaint, which they really, really don’t like. I previously filed one after a long wait for a cancellation refund and hearing nothing from BA for a couple of months. I heard from them only a few days after filing that complaint – the first thing they said when they called me was that they really wished I hadn’t filed the complaint. I got the refund quickly after that call.

  5. Gilbert – a question for you: Since the delay is measured at arrival it would seem European airlines would be incented to list long flight times to allow for any delays and still meet the standard. I’m not sure there is anything that would stop Lufthansa, for example, from adding an hour to the flight schedule from Rome to Frankfurt to help avoid these payments. From your experience does this occur? Also I didn’t see weather, strikes or other items. You mentioned “out of their control” and assume even European airlines get a waiver in these cases


  6. Where it gets really tricky is a scenario I was faced with:
    A flight departing europe? TICK
    Delayed more than 4hrs? TICK
    Due to? Mechanical issue

    I flew Aeromexico from Paris to Sao Paulo via Mexico City. This trip was all ticketed on one single ticket in Business Class

    The flight from Paris to Mexico City went smoothly. However whilst in transit in MEX things became messy. Our flight Mexico City to Sao Paulo was cancelled and we were basically left to fend for ourselves until the following night. In total, our delay was 24hrs.

    We obviously lodged both a claim for our hotel costs and EU261 compensation. We heard nothing in reply. After repeated emails and calls we finally got a reply that the flight was between Mexico and Brazil, so not covered. Despite our single ticket originating in the EU.

    The claim is still ongoing.

  7. Hi there
    Just wanted to check if I can claim for items
    Purchased when my baggage went missing upon arrival in Singapore. Qantas – Syd-Sin. It was missing for five days of my holiday. I had to purchase some clothes in SIN. Many thanks for your help. Janet

  8. I had an international flight cancellation on AA during 4th of July weekend. Best they could offer was to depart Miami on Sunday, 4 days after my scheduled departure but I was coming home Monday. Lost my deposit on a hotel and charter fishing boat. Wrote to AA and they have been sending me auto responses every week apologizing for the delays and saying they will eventually look at my complaint.

  9. What if the airline (Iberia) drops you at an airport two hours by train from where your ticket states. We flew business class from Madrid to Hamburg. However we were dropped in Hanover. Iberia said it could not land in Hamburg because “there is an airplane on the runway” in Hamburg. We were dropped at the Hanover airport where Iberia has no presence. Only one of our two checked bags were delivered to us in Hanover. Iberia told us busses would take us to Hamburg. Several hours later we realized there would be no busses. We bought passage into Hanover. Several hours later we got train passage to Hamburg. Inquiries into our lost luggage said that our bag was located and being flown to Hamburg. We were told, for many days in a row, that our luggage would be delivered to our lodging. It never was. We had four more weeks of travel with 9 more stops so we asked for the suit case to be directed to our home address in USA. It has been five weeks. We do not think it will be delivered to us ever. Iberia says “It was out of our control” and that many people are having luggage problems at this time. Another way of saying “tough luck buddy” we owe you nothing! Any suggestions on how or with whom to file a claim(s)?

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