15 March 2018

Regulation (EC) 261/2004 – Air passengers’ rights, in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights

It is a fact that the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights causes great inconvenience to passengers. However, in order to be able to claim your rights, you must first know your rights. Regulation (EC) 261/2004 protects passengers, who either depart from an airport that is located in a Member’s State territory, or from an airport that is located in a third’s country territory to an airport located in a Member’s State territory. In the latter case, the airline, which will operate the flight in question (hereinafter the “actual carrier), must also hold a valid operating license, granted by a Member State. In other words the airline that will operate the flight in question must be a “community carrier”. The passengers’ protection applies not only to scheduled flights, but to non-scheduled flights as well, incl. those that are part of package tours.

The Regulation does not protect helicopter passengers nor passengers, who travel free or at a reduced fare that is not directly or indirectly available to the public. It protects, however, passengers that travel with tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme or any other commercial programme of the operator or the travel agent. The Regulation shall not apply in package tours, which were cancelled for reasons not relating to the cancellation of the flight.

    • Denied Boarding

Denied boarding means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, given that the passengers have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and present themselves for check-in as stipulated at the time indicated in advance and in writing by the air carrier or, if no time is indicated, not later that 45 minutes before the published departure time, except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security or inadequate travel documentation. A passenger must be able to prove that s/he was denied boarding against their will and this is why denied boarding is hard to prove. In this context, we suggest you record and/or draft a report and/or collect the contact information of any witnesses, especially in cases of conflict between you and the operator’ staff. Operator’s Responsibilities When the operating air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding on a flight, it shall first call for passengers, who are willing to surrender their reservations in exchange for benefits (hereinafter the “volunteers”). The benefits shall be agreed between the passengers concerned and the operating air carrier. Volunteers’ Rights Additionally to the aforementioned benefits, the volunteers have also the following rights: 

      • reimbursement within 7 days of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made, and for the part or parts already made, if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel, a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earlier opportunity or
      • re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity, under comparable transport conditions or
      • re-routing to their final destination at a later stage at the passenger’s convenience, under comparable transport conditions, subject to availability of seats. In the case, where a town, city or region is served by several airports, the operating air carrier may offer a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that, for which the booking was made. In this case, the operating air carrier shall bear the cost of transferring the passenger from than alternative airport wither to that, for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger.

Insufficient Number of Volunteers

Sometimes the number of the volunteers is not sufficient and the operating air carrier may them deny boarding to passengers against their will (denied boarding).

Passengers’ Rights, in case of denied boarding

1. Right to compensation, the amount of which varies as follows: (a) €250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometers or less; (b) €400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers, (c) €600 for all flights not falling under (a) and (b) above. The abovementioned amounts may be reduced by 50%, in case the operating air carrier offers the passengers re-routing to their final destination on an alternative flight, the arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival time of the originally booked flight by: (a) 2 hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 or less; or (b) 3 hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers; or (c) 4 hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

2. Right to reimbursement or re-routing: the passengers are additionally entitled to: 

      • reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, within 7 days, of the full cost of the ticket at the price, at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made and for the part or parts already made, if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan together with a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity; or
      • re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or 
      • re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats.. In case, where a town, city or region is served by several airports, an operating air carrier may offer a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that, for which the booking was made, bearing the cost of transferring the passenger from than alternative airport either to that, for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger.

3. Right to care: the air carrier shall offer to passengers free of charge: (a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time; (b) hotel accommodation, in cases: - where a stay of one or more nights become necessary, or - where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary, (c) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other). In addition, passengers shall be offered free of charge 2 telephone calls, telex or fax messages or e-mails.

    • Flight Cancellation

Cancellation means the non-operation of a flight, which was previously planned and on which at least one place was reserved. A flight may be cancelled for various reasons, such as low number of passengers, internal organizational problems, technical faults that could be avoided with regular maintenance. The below provisions apply also in the instance, where the flight has been cancelled due to the cessation of the flight-company’s operations. The affected passengers under the European Regulation, are entitled to specific remedial actions, which are listed accordingly. 

1 inner

Passengers’ Rights in case of Flight Cancellation

1. Right to reimbursement or re-routing: the passengers are additionally entitled to: 

      • reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, within 7 days, of the full cost of the ticket at the price, at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made and for the part or parts already made, if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan together with a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity; or 
      • re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or 
      • re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats.. In case, where a town, city or region is served by several airports, an operating air carrier may offer a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that, for which the booking was made, bearing the cost of transferring the passenger from than alternative airport either to that, for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger.

2. Right to care: the air carrier shall offer to passengers free of charge: (a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time; and (b) 2 telephone calls, telex or fax messages or e-mails. In event of re-routing, when the reasonable expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned, then the passengers have in addition the following rights: (a) hotel accommodation, in cases: - where a stay of one or more nights become necessary, or - where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary, and (b) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).

3. Right to compensation, the amount of which varies as follows: (a) €250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometers or less; (b) €400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers, (c) €600 for all flights not falling under (a) and (b) above.

The abovementioned amounts may be reduced by 50%, in case the operating air carrier offers the passengers re-routing to their final destination on an alternative flight, the arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival time of the originally booked flight by: (a) 2 hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 or less; or (b) 3 hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers; or (c) 4 hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

The passengers do not have any rights to compensation, if: i. they are informed of the cancellation at least 2 weeks before the scheduled time of departure or ii. they are informed of the cancellation between 2 weeks and 7 days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more than 2 hours before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than 4 hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or iii. they are informed of the cancellation less than 7 days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more than 1 hour before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than 2 hours after the scheduled time of arrival or iv. the operating air carrier proves that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken. When passengers are informed of the cancellation, an explanation shall be given concerning possible alternative transport.

Case – law CJEU

The CJEU, in the case C-549/07, Wallentin – Hermann, has interpreted the Regulation and held that: if a flight is cancelled due to technical problems, the air carrier is obliged to specify the nature of the said technical problems.

    • Flight Delay

Passengers have also rights, in case their flight is delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure: (a) for 2 hours or more, in the case of flights of 1,500 kilometers or less; or (b) for 3 hours or more, in the case of all intra – Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and of all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers; or (c) for 4 hours or more, in the case of all flights not falling under (a) or (b) above.

Passengers’ Rights, in case of Flight Delay

1. Right to care: the air carrier shall offer to passengers free of charge: (a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time; and (b) 2 telephone calls, telex or fax messages or e-mails. In event of re-routing, when the reasonable expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned, then the passengers have in addition the following rights: (a) hotel accommodation, in cases: - where a stay of one or more nights become necessary, or - where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary, and (b) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other). 2. Right to reimbursement or re-routing: when the delay is at least 5 hours, the passengers are additionally entitled to: reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, within 7 days, of the full cost of the ticket at the price, at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made and for the part or parts already made, if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan together with a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity. In any event, the assistance shall be offered within the time limits set out above with respect to each distance bracket.

Case – law CJEU

The CJEU, in the cases C-402/07 και C-43207, Sturgeon v Condor/Bφck v Air France S.A. , has interpreted the Regulation and held that the air carrier is obliged to pay compensation, the amount of which varies from €125 - €600, in case the flight arrives with more than 3 hours delay, unless the air carrier proves that the delay was due to exceptional circumstances, such as the weather, volcanic ash, technical problems, which were not foreseeable etc.

    • Change of Seat

If the operating air carrier places the passenger in a higher class than that, for which the ticket was purchased, it may not request any supplementary payment. If, however, the operating air carrier places the passenger in a lower class than that, for which the ticket was purchased, it shall, within 7 days, reimburse: (a) 30% of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1,500 kilometers or less; or (b) 50% of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers; or (c) 75% of the price of the ticket for all flights not falling under (a) or (b) above, incl. flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.

    • General Explanatory Notes

Compensation Passengers, who hold a valid ticket, incl. children under the age of 2, are entitled to compensation, regardless of the cost of their tickets. It makes no difference, if the passengers have bought economy, business or first class tickets! The amount of compensation will be the same! The Regulation does not distinguish between low-cost or charter airlines. When compensation is due, it shall be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services. The Regulation applies without prejudice to a passenger’s rights to further compensation. Remember, however, that prior to submitting your complaint to the competent national enforcement body, you should have first submitted such a complaint to the airline operating the flight concerned and either the latter failed or it did reply, but you are not satisfied with their reply. Other Obligations of the Air Carrier The air carrier shall ensure that, at check-in, there is the following notice in a visible place: “If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least 2 hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the next stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance”. Furthermore, the air carrier denying boarding or cancelling a flight should provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out the rules of compensation and assistance in line with the Regulation. It should also provide each passenger affected by a delay of at least 2 hours with an equivalent notice. The contact details od the national designated body should also be given to the passengers in written form. The national designated body is responsible for the enforcement of the Regulation as regards flights from airports situated on its territory and flights from a third country to such airports. If among the passengers there are persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them, or unaccompanied children, then the operating air carrier should pay particular attention to meet their needs.

This article is intended to provide general information on the subject and does not constitute legal advice. For further information on the subject and for specific legal advice please contact Antonis Paschalides & Co LLC, (tel. +357 22661661, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).