It may feel like airlines hold all the cards, especially if you’re facing a delay, cancellation, or are denied boarding. However, depending on where you’re flying to and from, you may have more rights than you know. Here’s an overview of air passenger rights so you know what you’re entitled to.

Overview of Air Passenger Rights

Air passenger rights differ from country to country, so it’s important to understand what your rights are and what that means for you. EC 261, the Montreal Convention, and Brazilian ANAC 400 allow you to claim compensation for your troubles, though just how much varies based on the type of issue, length of delay, and damages you incurred. You also have some rights when you’re flying in the United States, but these vary from carrier to carrier and tend to favor the airline because its based on their written terms rather than the United States Department of Transportation.

EC 261

EC 261 is a powerful regulation that helps protect passengers who fly in the European Union. Even if you only have one touchpoint in the EU, you are still able to file for compensation. This regulation strives to hold airlines accountable when planned flights are disrupted, and this includes flights that are cancelled or delayed, as well as when you’re denied boarding. As long as the circumstances are in the airline’s control, you can claim to be reimbursed for your inconvenience. Most recently, airline strikes have been included in these circumstances, so you can claim compensation for most types of inconveniences.

The only time when EC 261 does not apply is if the flight is cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances. This could be because of an airport strike, including baggage handlers, air traffic control, and more. Basically, anyone who is employed by the airport itself who are essential to daily operations. Additionally, if you’re facing extreme weather conditions, these also qualify as extraordinary circumstances. There are exceptions to the rule. The airline must do everything within reason to prevent the delay or cancellation, and in many cases, they do not, so it’s always worth it to check out the circumstances around your delay.

Ultimately, EC 261 hopes to make changes in the airline industry, helping them stay on time and be respectful of their passengers. The practices of the past no longer cut it when it comes to EC 261, so if an airline thinks they can get away with it, you know better! Depending on the type of issue, you could receive up to €600 in additional compensation. When enough people file a claim, their airlines will start to lose money which will impact their bottom line. At the end of the day, they want to turn a profit, so their practices will need to change.

What Flights Are Covered?

Your flight must have a touch point – point of origin, destination, or layover – in the European Union to qualify for compensation under EC 261. This also includes Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, as well as the outermost regions like French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, and La Reunion, Saint-Marin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canady Islands.

EC 261 covers flights that are delayed or cancelled, and your rights start to kick in after 2 hours. It also covers if you are denied boarding because of their airline’s fault, including overbooking. As long as it is an issue that’s under the airline’s control, then you should be eligible for compensation, though the amount will vary based on the circumstances surrounding your flight. You may also be eligible for compensation for lost baggage under this regulation, especially if you have to purchase items to get by in the meantime.

The time to file a claim varies on the country that you’re filing in, so you’ll want to understand what their expectations are. Typically, as long as you’re within three years of the original problem, you should be eligible to file a claim, though the sooner you can file a claim the better.

What Flights Are Not Covered?

Unfortunately, not all flights are covered, so you want to understand as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding your delay. Flights from outside the EU to outside the EU are not covered, even if you’re using an EU-based carrier. Similarly, flights from outside the EU to inside the EU using a non-EU carrier will also not be covered.

If your flight is impacted by extraordinary circumstances, you will also not be compensated for your inconvenience. This includes airport strikes, extreme weather, political unrest, and more. The airline must take all reasonable measures to prevent a delay, and this can be muddy legal territory, so you may still want to try your luck and file a claim. If other airlines demonstrate they were able to navigate the situation and serve their clients, then they did not take the appropriate measures as outlined under EC 261 and can still be held liable.

Flights that fall outside the statute of limitations will also not be covered, even if the circumstances apply, which is why it’s important to file a claim as soon as you are aware of an issue. That way, you won’t have to worry about your flight not being covered.

What Compensation Can I Get?

The amount of compensation you can get depends on exactly what happened with your flight. In general,  the breakdown of how much compensation you are entitled to is as follows:

  • Flights under 1,500 km: €250
  • Flights within the EU over 1,500 km: €400
  • Flights in or out of the EU between 1,500-3,500 km: €400
  • Flights in or out of the EU more than 3,500 km: €600

This includes if your flight is delayed or cancelled or if you are involuntarily denied boarding. As long as you are not at fault for the delay and the circumstances are within their airline’s control, you can file a claim. If you arrived at the airport late and missed your flight, you cannot claim compensation under EC 261. If you were denied boarding because of overbooking, then you can. It’s all about the cause of the issue when it comes to eligibility.

Rights start to kick in if you arrive at your destination more than 3 hours later than you originally planned, though you may be entitled to care sooner. Ask what accommodations can be made for you, as airlines will not offer up additional compensation unless prompted.

What Are My Rights?

You already know that you have some rights when it comes to your compensation, but what about when you’re waiting? You are entitled to basic care as you navigate these flight issues, including meals and refreshments, access to communication, overnight accommodations when applicable, transport to those accommodations, and more. These rights start to kick in from two to four hours, depending on the length of your flight and the destination.

In addition, once the delay exceeds five hours, you have the right to receive a full or partial refund of your original ticket, as well as a return flight to your point of departure if applicable. You can be upgraded free of charge, though if the airline can accommodate you at a downgraded status, they must reimburse you between 30 and 75 percent of your original payment.

You are required by law to be informed of your rights, and even if you get something from their airline for your inconvenience, you can still claim under EC 261. The only time you may not be eligible is if you voluntarily give up your spot in exchange for something or are at fault for the delay or cancellation.

Time Limit to File a Claim

Unfortunately, there is a time limit to file a claim, so it’s important to understand what these limits are so you can receive your compensation. They vary from country to country, and some have exceptions to the rule. For example, in Czechia, you may have three years to file, but only if you notify them of an issue within 6 months of the original issue.

The more timely you can file a claim, the more likely you are to receive compensation. If you wait too long, you may forget or lose the necessary documentation. File a claim while it’s still fresh for your best chance of winning.

COUNTRY LIMITATION PERIOD
Austria 3 years
Belgium 1 year
Bulgaria 1 year
Croatia 3 years
Cyprus 6 years
Czech Republic* 3 years
Denmark 3 years
Estonia 3 years
Finland 3 years
France 5 years
Germany** 3 years
Greece 5 years
Hungary 5 years
Iceland 2 years
Ireland 6 years
Italy 2 years
Latvia 1 year
Lithuania 3 years
Luxembourg 10 years
Malta No limit
Netherlands 2 years
Norway 3 years
Poland 1 year
Portugal 3 years
Romania 3 years
Slovakia 2 years
Slovenia 2 years
Spain 5 years
Sweden*** 10 years
Switzerland 2 years
United Kingdom 6 years

US Air Passenger Rights

Unfortunately, US air passenger rights tend to favor the airline when it comes to flights being delayed or cancelled. There are no overarching laws to govern these scenarios in the US like there are in other countries. Instead, it relies on the airline’s terms and conditions to outline passenger rights. Because of this, they tend to favor the company.

You are not entitled to compensation, but many airlines will offer good faith gestures, including refunds, free miles, and more. There are some cases where US law does protect passengers and their rights, including denied boarding, tarmac delays, and luggage issues.

Denied Boarding

Overbooking is a common practice in the United States – even more so than in Europe – but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. The airline should not have the option to bump you from a flight that you paid for because they do not have enough seats. Thankfully, US laws are catching up, and if you are denied boarding because of overbooking, you could be eligible for compensation of up to $1,350.

Now, there are some stipulations. For example, only denied boardings because of overbooking are covered. You cannot voluntarily give up your seat and expect to be compensated on top of what the airline already owed you. In the case of voluntary denied boarding, you’re likely already getting a refund, alternative flights, or other benefits. In addition, your flight must originate from the US, and these protections apply whether you’re flying nationally or internationally. The amount will vary based on the length of delay and type of flight.

Tarmac Delays

When you’re stranded on the tarmac, you also have rights when you’re in the United States, and they vary based on the length of your delay.

  • After two hours, you must be provided with food, water, and access to medical care and working bathrooms.
  • After three hours, you must be given the option to deplane, though keep in mind there are pros and cons to voluntarily getting off the plane. As long as it’s safe to do so, you can eventually get off the plane.

Now, if you do voluntarily deplane and the flight eventually takes off, you will need to manage the details of your replacement flight, working directly with customer service. They are not required to help you, though many will. If you are forced to deplane, then these details will be automatically handled.

You need to file a claim immediately, and the airline has 60 days to respond to you.

Luggage Issues

If you’re flying in the United States, you also have rights if your luggage is lost, damaged or delayed. The average compensation, in this case, is between $1,525 and $3,500, depending on the value of your luggage, so it’s essential that you file a claim. Make sure to keep receipts, including any incidentals that you had to purchase as a result of the lost or delayed luggage.

The best thing you can do is to file a claim right at the airport before you leave, especially if your luggage is damaged. The airline will either attempt to repair it, replace it, or otherwise compensate you.

What Flights Are Covered? (100)

Tarmac delays cover flights that begin and end in the United States, so if you’re stuck on the plane at any point in the US, you’re covered. Boarding denials only apply to flights on U.S. carriers that originate in the United States, so if you’re flying on United in Germany, you may not be covered under U.S. law, but you may be covered under EC 261.

Luggage issues must be on domestic flights on U.S. carriers. If you have a problem with your baggage on international flights that depart from the U.S., you should be covered under the Montreal Convention.

Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention is a treaty that’s been adopted in more than 130 countries around the world, banding together to protect passenger rights and establish airline liability when it comes to flight delays, cancellations, injury, or death as a result of a flight, and baggage issues. It’s been in place longer than EC 261, and it approaches flight issues a little differently.

Instead of offering flat-rate compensation amounts, you can file for damages and the amount of which varies based on what issue you face. It’s up to $7,000 for delayed, cancelled, or overbooked flights and up to $1,700 for baggage issues. You have to show receipts and documentation to prove your damages, so make sure to keep everything pertaining to your claim. If you intend on filing a claim, you need to do it as soon as possible. The Montreal Convention has strict time limits in place, so if you miss your window, you will not be eligible to claim compensation.

Some of the countries covered under the Montreal Convention also have their own rules, so you may want to check what is the best route to file a claim to get the most compensation.

What’s Covered Under the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention offers broad coverage when it comes to issues pertaining to your flights. These include but are not limited to the following.

  • Flight delays.
  • Flight cancellations.
  • Overbooking.
  • Injury or death caused as a result of a flight.
  • Loss of luggage.
  • Damaged luggage.

Keep in mind that the Montreal Convention focuses on the damages you incur as a result of these circumstances, not the circumstances themselves, and it can cover both financial and emotional damages. Because of this, the damages you can be awarded are more liberal than under EC 261 or US passenger laws.

It’s easier to quantify financial damages because you can present receipts that prove how much you had to spend as a result of your delay. These can include meals, transportation, accommodations, extra clothes, toiletries, and more. Emotional damages can be trickery. If you missed a first birthday or graduation, how can you put a value on that? You can file claims against emotional damages, so be aware of the full scope of your damages. It may be beneficial to seek legal representation before you claim so that you can get what you deserve.

In addition, your flights must be international to qualify for compensation. You must have touchpoints within member countries, though there are some exceptions to the rule if you have layovers in member countries. Typically, domestic flights do not apply, and you will need to consult local regulations to see if you are entitled to compensation.

You have seven days to file a claim against your damaged bags and 21 days for delayed baggage. If your bag is lost for more than 21 days, it’s considered lost, and you have two years to file a claim. The sooner you file your claim, the better since it requires a lot of documentation.

What Flights Are Covered by the Montreal Convention?

In order for the Montreal Convention to apply, you need to be flying within one of the member countries. There are more than 130 countries that are a part of the Montreal Convention, including the United States and many countries in the European Union. In fact, most major airline markets are a part of it, so you will likely be covered under the Montreal Convention if you are flying internationally. The most notable exceptions to this rule are Sri Lanka and Vietnam, though you’ll want to check the full member country list to be sure.

Your flight must be international to apply. Domestic flights, unless they have layovers in a Montreal Convention member country, will not apply. You must have touch points in member countries for the Montreal Convention to kick in. If you have a domestic flight, you’ll need to refer to the country’s regulations. You may still be able to claim something depending on their passenger protection laws.

Remember, the Montreal Convention doesn’t cover the actual flight, so you’ll need to take that up with their airlines. It offers broad coverage to the damages you incur as a result of the issue, including physical and emotional damages.

Brazilian ANAC 400

The Brazilian National Civil Aviation Agency Resolution No. 400, or Brazilian ANAC 400, protects passengers who are traveling domestically within Brazil. It covers flights that are delayed, cancelled, or rescheduled, detailing the compensation you can receive. Under Brazilian ANAC 400, you could receive up to €1,500 in compensation, as long as the problem was out of your control. This regulation works in tandem with Brazil’s consumer laws, so you may be entitled to additional compensation. This includes moral damages, so you may be compensated for wasted time, missed business opportunities, suffering, and more. You could receive an additional €1,500 in compensation on top of your physical damages.

Similar to EC 261, they have to be issues within the airline’s control, so things like airport strikes, weather, and more will not apply unless the airline does not take reasonable measures to address these issues. In the case that your flight is not eligible for compensation, you are still entitled to care under Brazilian ANAC 400. This law was put into place after EC 261, so it utilizes some of the same protections, holding airlines accountable for their missteps. Your time is valuable, and you can seek restitution for your inconvenience.

Passenger Rights

Much like under EC 261, you have rights, though they will vary based on the length of your delay. You are entitled to information as you wait, so the airline must promptly inform you of any delays or changes in your flight. Additionally, they need to inform you of your flight’s new expected departure time, as well as provide you with updates every 30 minutes following your delay. As documentation will be critical when you submit your delay, they also need to provide you with a written explanation of your delay.

You’re also entitled to basic standards of care during your delay.

  • 1 hour or more: Access to communication, including phone calls or Wi-Fi access as needed.
  • 2 hours or more: You should be given access to meals or meal vouchers that are appropriate for the time of day.
  • 4 hours or more: Once your flight hits 4 hours, it’s considered severely delayed. Now, you are entitled to reimbursement, rebooking, and accommodation until you can get to your destination. Keep in mind accommodation is required only if you are forced to wait overnight for the next flight. If you require transportation to the accommodation, even if it’s just back home, the airline is required to cover that as well.

These circumstances are stressful, and once you get to your destination, you can still file a claim for your moral distress. Just because you receive care as you wait does not mean that you are excluded from additional compensation.

Compensation

If you are traveling in Brazil and you had an issue with your flight, including delays, cancellations, last-minute rescheduling, and more, you can file a claim as long as these issues were within the airline’s control. If they were because of you or extraordinary circumstances, Brazilian ANAC 400 would not apply.

If you do meet the criteria, you can request compensation for the flight issue, expenses you incurred as a result of the initial issue, and moral damages under their consumer laws.

  • If your flight is delayed, you may be eligible for up to $1,800 per person.
  • If your flight is cancelled, you may be eligible for up to $1,900 per person.
  • If you are involuntarily denied boarding, you may be eligible for up to $690.

The amounts may vary if it is a domestic or international flight. Remember, this is on top of the $1,800 you can claim for moral damages under their consumer laws, so you may receive a hefty sum if you face issues while traveling in Brazil. Brazilian law strives to hold airlines accountable, compensating you for your time and inconvenience. Be aware if you voluntarily give up your seat, you may not be eligible for additional compensation.

What Flights are Covered?

Brazilian ANAC 400 covers issues that are out of your control but within their airline’s control, including delays, cancellations, and rescheduling. They cannot be extraordinary circumstances, though in some cases, airlines must prove that they took all reasonable measures to prevent the issue from occurring. For example, if there’s a bad storm and other airlines were able to re-route with minimal delays, then the airline could still be held accountable.

In addition, your flight must meet one of the following criteria to qualify for coverage under Brazilian ANAC 400.

  • Brazilian domestic flights that go from city to city within the country.
  • International flights that leave from Brazil. You must start your trip in Brazil.
  • International flights that arrive in Brazil. You must end your trip in Brazil.
  • Connecting flights through a Brazilian airport. You have at least one touch point in Brazil.
  • Flight tickets issued in Brazil. This counts even if your flight is operating internationally.

The common thread through all of these issues is that your flight is within Brazil or has something to do with Brazil to qualify for Brazilian ANAC 400, which makes sense since it is a national law. If it does, then you may qualify for compensation.

Time Limit to File a Claim

The faster you file a claim, the better it is for you. Not only will you be less likely to lose your important documentation, but you will also receive your compensation quicker, which is great, especially if you faced additional personal expenditures as a result of the flight issue. Because Brazilian ANAC 400 is domestic law, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of different time frames to file a claim. They make it simple.

  • You have five years to file a claim for domestic flights.
  • You have two years to file a claim for international flights.

If you do not make these windows, you will not be eligible to file a claim even if the circumstances surrounding your flight qualify you. You can also claim moral damages, which may be harder to prove, so consider seeking representation to get the most out of your claim.

How to File a Claim?

Just because the laws are in place doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to compensation. You need to file a claim to get it, and you can do that yourself or by working through a specialized company.

To file a claim yourself, you need to gather your documentation. The more information you can include, the better, and once you have it all, you’ll need to submit it to their customer service team. They will review it to see if you are eligible. If you are, they will compensate you. If you’re not, you will receive nothing, though you can appeal if you know your rights.

Because airlines can be tricky, it may be helpful to work with a specialized company that knows the ins and outs of flight compensation law. They will take a look at your case and only accept it if they know they can win. That’s because they take a flat fee off your winnings, so they only get paid if you win. They know the tricks airlines pull, so they are often more likely to win or settle.

Conclusion

Air passenger rights vary from country to country, so while it is disappointing when you face delays, cancellations, and denied boarding, what you are entitled to is not universal across the board. Study up on your local flight compensation regulations before you leave, and just know you often have more rights than you realize.