Understanding Passenger Rights: Flight Delays, Cancellations, and Overbooking in the EU

Travelling by air has become an integral part of modern life, offering convenience and efficiency for millions of passengers every day.

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However, flight delays, cancellations, and overbooking can disrupt travel plans, causing frustration and inconvenience for passengers. To address these issues and ensure that passengers are treated fairly, the European Union (EU) has established regulations that protect the rights of air travellers. In this article, we will explore the rights that flight passengers have when flying to or from the EU and encountering delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

1. Regulations Protecting Passenger Rights:

  • The main regulation governing air passenger rights in the EU is Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, commonly known as the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation.
  • This regulation applies to all flights departing from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, as well as flights arriving at an EU airport if operated by an EU-based airline.
  • It covers various situations, including flight delays, cancellations denied boarding due to overbooking, and instances where passengers are downgraded to a lower class of service.

2. Flight Delay Compensation:

  • In the event of a flight delay, passengers are entitled to compensation under certain conditions.
  • The compensation amount depends on the distance of the flight and the length of the delay.
  • For flights within the EU of less than 1,500 kilometres, passengers are entitled to €250 for delays of 2 hours or more.
  • For flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres, the compensation increases to €400 for delays of 3 hours or more.
  • For flights exceeding 3,500 kilometres and flights between an EU and non-EU airport, passengers are entitled to €600 for delays of 4 hours or more.

3. Flight Cancellation Rights:

  • If a flight is cancelled, passengers have the right to choose between a refund of the ticket price or an alternative flight to their final destination.
  • If the alternative flight departs significantly later than the original flight, passengers may also be entitled to compensation, depending on the circumstances.
  • Passengers should be provided with assistance, such as meals, refreshments, and accommodation if necessary, depending on the length of the delay caused by the cancellation.

4. Denied Boarding Compensation (Overbooking):

  • Overbooking occurs when an airline sells more tickets than there are available seats on a flight.
  • In the event of denied boarding due to overbooking, passengers are entitled to compensation, unless the airline can arrange alternative transportation that allows passengers to arrive at their final destination within a certain timeframe.
  • The compensation amount depends on the length of the delay caused by the denied boarding and the distance of the flight.


Responsibilities of Airlines:

  • Airlines must inform passengers of their rights in the event of delays, cancellations, or denied boarding.
  • They must provide passengers with written notice explaining their rights and the criteria for compensation, as well as information on how to file a complaint.
  • Airlines are also responsible for providing passengers with appropriate assistance, such as meals, refreshments, and accommodation, depending on the circumstances of the delay or cancellation.

How to Claim Compensation:

Passengers who believe they are entitled to compensation for flight delays, cancellations, or denied boarding can file a claim directly with the airline.

It is recommended to keep all relevant documentation, including boarding passes, tickets, and any communication with the airline, to support the claim.

If the airline rejects the claim or fails to respond within a reasonable timeframe, passengers can escalate the matter to the relevant national enforcement body or seek legal assistance with specialized service providers such as AirHelp.


Flight delays, cancellations, and overbooking are common issues that can disrupt travel plans and inconvenience passengers. However, the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation provides important protections for travellers, ensuring that they are fairly compensated and provided with assistance when faced with such situations. By understanding their rights and how to claim compensation, passengers can better navigate these challenges and advocate for themselves when necessary, ultimately promoting a more transparent and passenger-friendly air travel experience within the EU.

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