Updated on May 16, 2024.
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If you have been waiting on a flight only to find out it has been delayed (for whatever reason), you know how frustrating an unexpected delay can be. Not to mention, a delay can affect both your work and personal life. Flight delays are common, and you should know your rights in case such a thing happens to you.

In this article, we will look at how long the flight can be delayed before passengers can claim compensation and what sort of compensation passengers can expect. This article was updated in 2024.

Key Takeaways

  • Flight delays are common and can be caused by various factors such as bad weather, technical issues, operational reasons, and air congestion.
  • Airlines are liable to compensate passengers for delays of three hours or more, which may include meals, refreshments, and even accommodation in some cases.
  • Passengers may be eligible for a refund or placement on the next flight if the delay is more than five hours.
  • EU regulations state that airlines do not have to compensate for delays caused by extraordinary circumstances that are beyond their control.
  • Passengers should know their rights in case of flight delays and can seek help from companies specializing in airline compensations.

For How Long Can Airlines Delay Your Flight?

Since the duration of a flight delay can vary depending upon the reason for the delay, there is no time limit for how long a flight can be delayed. For example, once a flight was amazingly delayed by bees for up to four hours until a beekeeper was called to resolve the situation. Another bizarre example is of a flight that was delayed by a smelly carpet for 3 hours, until it was replaced by a newer one.

Reasons for Delayed Flights

While flights getting delayed by bees or a smelly carpet is out of the ordinary, flights usually get delayed for more mundane reasons and it can be frustrating.

Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons for flight delays.

Bad Weather

Bad weather such as storms, thunderstorms, extreme fog, and freezing rain commonly cause flight delays. Passengers cannot fly and are forced to wait for the weather to get better so they can fly to their destinations.

So, the duration of the flight delay depends upon the time it’ll take for the weather to clear up and the conditions to be safe enough for the aircraft to travel.

Technical Problems

Flights getting delayed due to technical problems also commonly happen.

Technical problems include maintenance of the plane, engine problems, electrical problems, hydraulic problems, leakages, issues in opening and closing of the landing gear and brakes.

The technical check is essential before the flight’s takeoff and takes time. So it can delay the flight for an hour to several hours until the problem is fixed.

Technical issues are pretty rare, but airlines are liable to pay compensation to their passengers if the delay is of more than 3 hours. The amount of compensation, however, depends upon the flight distance.

Operational Reasons

Operational reasons such as late arrival of aircraft, aircraft cleaning, absence of crew members, baggage loading, and fueling also cause delayed flights.

Each of these is important for safe and sound traveling. Therefore, the flight will not depart without any of these things missing.

Since it’s the airline’s fault that the procedure takes more time than expected, you are eligible for flight delay compensation according to the EU regulations 261 of 2004 if the delay is of three hours or more. And if the duration of the delay exceeds 5 hours, you can ask to be placed on another flight as well.

Air Congestion

A significant factor that causes delayed flights is air congestion.

Air congestion happens when too many flights are allowed to use the airport over time resulting in overcrowding. On-time flights have to wait in the airport area because of air congestion until the air traffic is reduced.

It is frustrating when your flight is ready to take off and, out of nowhere, you hear that it is stuck at the airport for hours due to air traffic.

Airlines should think about upgrading their air traffic control systems to avoid delayed flights and improve the flights’ flow by increasing their runway capacities and keeping up with the latest technology.

Compensation for a Delayed Flight

how long can an airline delay a flight?

Airlines are entitled to fully compensate you in case the delay is of three hours or more than that.

According to EU Regulations 261 of 2004, you can ask the airline for meals and refreshments. Some airlines also provide free hotels and transportation in case a flight has been delayed for several hours.

If you have somewhere important to go, you can even ask to be placed on the next flight if the delay is of 5 hours or more. You’ll need to think on your feet and act fast, if that’s the case. Because in situations like these, it is first-come, first-serve, and everyone else will also be running around trying to get on the next flight.

If you have booked your tickets through the state agency, you should call them as soon as possible. As they can help you book your ticket on the next flight.

Under the EU261/2004 regulation, the airlines do not have to compensate for delays caused by extraordinary circumstances (which cannot be controlled by the airlines). The compensation you will receive under this regulation depends upon how long your flight was delayed for and the distance from your location to your final destination.


Airline delays happen daily. Sometimes they are short. Other times they can last for up to several hours or even a day.

If you’re on a delayed flight, it’s helpful to know your rights as a passenger. In case of a several hour-long flight delay, airlines are liable to offer a refund if you want to cancel the flight. However, the duration at which airlines are liable to pay a refund changes from airline to airline.

Struggling with airline compensations in case of delays? Visit this page to find companies that can help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can an airline delay a flight?

There is no specific time limit for how long an airline can delay a flight, as it depends on the reason for the delay.

  • What are the most common reasons for flight delays?

The most common reasons for flight delays include bad weather, technical problems, operational reasons, and air congestion.

  • Can passengers claim compensation for a delayed flight?

Passengers can claim compensation if the delay is more than three hours, and the amount of compensation depends on the distance of the flight.

  • What can airlines do to prevent delayed flights?

Airlines can upgrade their air traffic control systems, increase runway capacity, and keep up with the latest technology to prevent delayed flights.

  • What compensation can passengers expect for a delayed flight?

Passengers can expect meals and refreshments, free hotels, and transportation in case of long delays. If the delay is of more than five hours, passengers can ask to be placed on another flight.


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