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 spectrum. When it comes to air travel, doesn’t it always 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.

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. Happy travels!

For Flights Departing The USA

This bit applies whether you’re going from state to state, or on an international jaunt to another country. 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. Whether the delay is caused by airline faults like mechanical problems, or weather, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the same.

If you are departing the USA on a European airline bound for Europe, skip this section, because all the info relevant to your flight is found under the flights departing the European Union bit, which are totally different.

When Your 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. In the USA they 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.

For 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 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. 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.

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 1,500km 3 hours or more €250
1,500km-3,500km 3 hours or more €400
Over 3,500km 3 hours or more & between 2 EU Member States €400
Over 3,500km 3-4 hours €300
Over 3,500km 4 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 conceptsKeep 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.

  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?

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