people sitting in a plane

Delayed flights can be the worst. Missed occasions, cancelled meetings and all that time spent at a third rate airport restaurant waiting it out just isn’t all that fun. When things go wrong in Europe there’s been remedy, and that remedy is expanding to the US and beyond.

If an airline delays a flight more than 3 hours and it’s their fault, rather than freak weather, they must pay you cash and must still fly you to your destination. It’s defined compensation for the inconvenience, based on the distance of your flight and length of delay.

In the USA and other parts of the world, airlines are left to dish out compensation as they feel appropriate, with no “guaranteed” obligations or legal requirements.

For the first time since the pandemic, that European delay coverage has been ruled to cover some domestic flights in the US, on US airlines. This follows on a previous ruling that saw airlines in the Middle East face the same music.

people sitting in a plane

Flight Delay Compensation: How It Works

Most airlines flying between the US and Europe have partnerships on either side, to help serve more destinations and provide more flights. That’s generally great for air travel, since it creates more non-stop, or one-stop possibilities.

Delta has Air France, KLM and Virgin, American has British Airways, Iberia and Finnair, United has Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian and so forth. Before we dive in, there are a couple things to note about European Delay Compensation — aka EC261.

  • EC261 applies to all flights and onward connections leaving Europe.
  • EC261 only applies to flights by European airlines when flying to Europe.
  • The longer the flight, the higher the compensation. Delays start at 3 hours.
  • Delays of 4 hours or more for long haul flights earn highest compensation.
  • Compensation counts on cancelled flights within 14 days of travel, too.
  • It doesn’t matter how you paid. Points or cash, the rules are the same.

As a matter of fairness and logic, airlines aren’t responsible to pay compensation when delays are caused by “extraordinary events” like weather or government shutdowns. If the delay is their fault, even if they try to claim it’s not, they are liable though.

Vitally, it doesn’t matter how you paid either. If you used miles for the ticket, you’re eligible to claim the compensation from the airline all the same as someone who paid in cash. There’s no distinction between the two.

If flights are significantly changed or cancelled outside of the 14 day window, there’s no compensation due in cash, but passengers still have rights regarding any changes and getting to their destination. Inside 14 days, any cancellations or major changes are due both compensation and fair changes.

an airplane with a logo on it

Domestic US Flights Subject To EC261 Delay Claim

When the European Union ruled that onward connections elsewhere which are part of the same ticket when leaving Europe count for delays, they significantly changed the game.

The initial “onward flight” case came in 2018 against Emirates, where a flight left Europe on time, but the onward flight from Dubai was significantly delayed by more than four hours. That opened the door a bit, but left many grey areas.

Then in 2019, Etihad was brought to court over onward delays, and that ruling tidied up the rules to where we are today, with the first case for a domestic US flight.

It was ruled that if someone is on a single itinerary — aka one ticket — the metric that counts is when they make it to the final ticketed destination. If that delay is more than 3 hours there’s compensation, and if its more than 4 hours, there’s more.

Basically, it does’t matter if the onward airline isn’t European, or the connecting flight was between two non-European places. When a trip is over 3500km, circa 2,174 miles, and is delayed by four hours, a passenger is due a whopping €600 — about $650 USD.

Tiny Earth globe over the surface covered with the multiple bank note bills

United And Lufthansa Face Delay Compensation Ruling

A passenger booked travel between Brussels and San Jose, California, with a flight connection in Newark. The passenger flew from Brussels to the US with Lufthansa and then from Newark to San Jose with United.

United’s flights ended up running 3 hours and 40 minutes late that day, and because the passenger was on a single ticket and reached their final destination with a delay greater than 3 hours, it’s been ruled that compensation is due.

Yep, even though it was United, a non European airline that created the delay and the flight was a domestic flight in the United States, it still counts. United was ruled to be liable for €600, or about $650 per passenger, even on this domestic flight.

A Big Reason For Airlines To Run On time

Airline partnerships aren’t always as friendly as many people would think. When one airline starts costing their partners significant sums of money, via significantly delayed flights, those “friendly” partnerships get even messier.

More consumers are experiencing painful delays and cancellations than usual right now as airlines struggle to meet unprecedented travel demand after scaling operations down.

UK based cancellations are up over 2800% in recent weeks, compared to the same time in 2019. The US hasn’t been quite as bad, but it’s not too far off. These last minute delays or cancellations are going to cost airlines eager to make their big comeback — big bucks — and with this recent ruling affirmed, perhaps even more.

And now you know, if you’re flying from Europe and have an onward connection that’s part of the same ticket, and you’re delayed more than 3 hours, it all counts.

HT: View From The Wing

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. Interesting. I have flights on BA out of LHR then onto QF at SIN to SYD and finally MEL QF domestic, all on 1 ticket. Given the issues Sydney have with getting people through security at the moment I wonder if they would pay out on a missed connection. The seemless transfer service isn’t running, just a lite version where you drop your bag off but need to go onto a landside shuttle instead of the airside shuttle that there used to be.

    1. Wishing you luck. I traveled most of the last two years and I can say this — when immigration needs to check anything other than a passport, the experience is painful. Some days were hours and hours because of test checks and what not. Hope it all goes smoothly but nice thing to know in your back pocket if things go south!

    2. I wouldn’t hold out much luck on your return to LHR ( if you in fact are) which has been, and remains, an utter sh*t show most the time.

      Apparently all those airlines and operators around the world demanding air travel was opened back up & restrictions lifted whilst their senior execs met repeatedly with applicable Gov heads of Dept seem to have missed the memo saying they’d need the staff to run their airplanes of airports

      If you arrive outside of peaks the you’ve half a chance but if you do then settle in for disorganized chaos lasting a couple hours easily

  2. How could would it be if this applied regardless of whether there was a European component? Like if you used BA miles to book an AA domestic flight. A guy can dream…

  3. It’s worth knowing a couple of things. First thing that these fixed payments are in addition to out of pocket expenses. Second that in the event of a claim, there is not a unified process. Example, I claimed recently, Feb 2022, for a flight delay on KLM that caused me to miss the last connecting flight, and I had to overnight in AMS. No KLM agent to be found so I walked to the nearest hotel and stayed there. I claimed the fixed payment for a 14 hr delay to final destination, plus the overnight expenses. To do so I hunted around and finally found and filled out a form on the KLM website. They paid reasonably promptly, within 4 weeks. So don’t overlook these out of pocket expenses, and don’t be deterred by the claim process.

  4. What is the rule if the ticket is issued by an American airline ( say Delta) but the flight is on an European airline ( say Air France). Does the rile still apply?

  5. And if that happens, should this payment be requested from a government agency? for the european airline? For the American airline? Probably one company will pass the responsibility to the other and it will be difficult for them to pay.

  6. Would a non-stop on a US carrier to an EU destination, if it was delayed 3+hrs, be awarded compensation?

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