flight delayAccording to the Court of Justice of the EU, in the event of flight delay passengers are entitled to assistance and compensation (from € 250 to € 600) if they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier, unless the latter can prove that the long delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances”.

Flight delay: air passengers’ rights

Although article 6 of Regulation 261/2004 does not establish a right to COMPENSATION in case a flight is delayed, such a right has been laid down by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ex multis, Judgment November 19, 2009, Joined Cases C‑402/07 and C‑432/07).

A) COMPENSATION in the event of flight delay (Reg. 261/2004, art. 7)

Passengers whose flights are delayed are entitled to compensation when they reach their final destination* three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier, unless the latter can prove that the long delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken, namely circumstances beyond the actual control of the air carrier (e.g. bad weather conditions, strikes or for safety and security reasons).

In light of the foregoing, a technical problem of an aircraft, poor aircraft maintenance or unavailable flight crew which lead to the delay of a flight are not covered by the concept of extraordinary circumstances.

Passengers can claim a lump sum depending on the distance of the flight and on the length of the delay, in accordance with the following chart:

 up to 1500 km 3 hours or more  250 
 between 1500 and 3500 km 3 hours or more  400 
 more than 3500 km 3 to 4 hours  300 
 more than 3500 km more than 4 hours  600 

The ‘arrival time’ is intended as the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened when it reaches its destination.

See how to request a refund and/or compensation in the event of flight delay**.

B) ASSISTANCE in the event of flight delay (Reg. 261/2004, art. 8 – 9)

When an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure in accordance with the following chart:

up to 1500 km2 hours or more
between 1500 and 3500 km3 hours or more
more than 1500 km with reference to intra-European flights3 hours or more
every other distance not included above4 hours or more

it shall offer passengers the following ASSISTANCE:

  • meals and refreshments in a reasonable proportion to the waiting time;
  • two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails;
  • hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, or where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary, and transport between the airport and place of accommodation (e.g. hotel or other), if applicable.

Moreover, when the delay is of at least five hours, passengers who do not intend to travel anymore are entitled to:

  • reimbursement within seven days of the full cost of the ticket for the unused part of it, such as the return flight***, together with a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity (if applicable).

The assistance shall be offered within the time limits set out above with respect to each distance bracket. The distance is usually shown in the flight confirmation, otherwise it is possible to find it on the search flight page on the airline company’s website or here.

In the event of a delay of at least two hours the air carrier shall provide each passenger with a written notice setting out the rules concerning compensation and assistance, and the contact details of the competent body responsible for the enforcement of Regulation 261/2004, which in Italy is the Italian Civil Aviation Authority – ENAC (Reg. 261/2004, art. 14).


“Final destination means the destination on the ticket presented at the check-in counter or, in the case of directly connecting flights, the destination of the last flight; alternative connecting flights available shall not be taken into account if the original planned arrival time is respected” (Reg. 261/2004, art. 2).
** In case the airline staff is unable or refuses to provide care and assistance at the time of the delay, cancellation or overbooking, passengers have the right to personally organize care and assistance for themselves, keeping all receipts in order to prove the expenses, and ask the airline company to reimburse them at a later date.

Besides the compensation in the fixed amounts determined by Regulation 261/2004, under art. 12 of  the same act, passengers have the right to claim further compensation, if applicable (e.g. if passengers incurred expenses for € 300 but are entitled only to € 250, they may request the difference of € 50). The compensation granted under this Regulation may be deducted from such compensation, unless passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservation.

Air carriers do not compensate passengers in case of security reasons or whose travel documents are not in order/correct/valid, nor do they pay the expenses for hotel, meals, drinks, etc. in case passengers re-schedule the flight at a later date at their own convenience.

*** Payments can be made by the airline company either in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders, bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services.


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