How to claim EU261 or UK261 flight compensation

These European and British consumer rights laws can help you claim up to $1000 from airlines for flight disruptions.

By Chris Ashton, June 29 2023
How to claim EU261 or UK261 flight compensation

Few things compare to that sinking feeling when you see ‘cancelled’ or ‘delayed’ on the airport departures board. It’s become a frustratingly common experience in recent months, especially across Europe and the UK, as global travel bounces back into chaos.

But two flyer-friendly consumer rights laws known EU261 and UK261 require that airlines pay for your inconvenience – and that compensation can be as high as $970 per traveller.

Here’s a rundown of what the laws are and how to make them work for you: the first section of this article covers EU261, and the second addresses the newer UK261 introduced for the UK in the wake of Brexit.

What is EU261 compensation?

EU261 (also known as Regulation 261/2004) is a “passenger’s right” rule dictating what airlines owe travellers in the event of cancellation or delay.

It applies to any flight departing from an EU member state – even if it’s on a non-European airline such as Qantas, Emirates or Singapore Airlines.

That compensation varies depending on the situation, but can include food, hotel accommodation (in the event of an overnight delay) and even transportation between the airport and hotel, if required – all of which airlines must provide to the passengers without charge as part of their ‘duty of care’.

In most instance, you can also request financial compensation – but the onus is on you to make that request, because even if you’re entitled to a claim, airlines don’t have to do anything until you approach them about it. 

In brief, the situations where EU261 applies are: 

  • flight delays of at least 2 hours
  • flight cancellations less than 14 days before the departure date
  • denial of boarding due to overbooking (also known as being ‘bumped’ from your flight)

Your entitlements also differ depending on the length of flight and the number of hours you’re affected. 

Which countries and airlines are eligible for EU261 claims?

The EU261 Flight Compensation Regulations cover journeys departing from EU member states on any airline – including the seasonal Qantas flight QF6 from Rome to Perth and Sydney – as well as flights to EU member states from abroad if those are operated by a European airline. 

The ruling applies in the following situations: 

  • when you’re travelling from an EU airport on any airline 
  • when you’re travelling to an EU airport on an EU-based airline 

For example, Singapore Airlines flight SQ25 from Frankfurt to Singapore would fall under the ruling, as it’s departing from an EU member state. However, SQ26 from Singapore to Frankfurt is not covered by EU261.

Passengers flying the same route with Lufthansa, on the other hand, would be covered in both directions between Singapore and Frankfurt, as Lufthansa is based in Germany, an EU country.

The same applies for flights between Singapore and Europe on Air France, Finnair, KLM, Swiss and other EU-based carriers.

Note that the operating airline is key here. Codeshares on non-EU airlines – travelling from Singapore to Frankfurt on a Singapore Airlines flight with an LH flight number and Lufthansa-branded ticket, for example – would not be covered.

If your flight lands several hours later than scheduled, you may be entitled to make a claim.
If your flight lands several hours later than scheduled, you may be entitled to make a claim.

How much is EU261 compensation for a delayed flight?

The amount of compensation you’re entitled to claim depends on the distance of the flight and how long the delay is.

And we’re talking serious delays, measured in hours – running 30 minutes late doesn’t cut it.

The standard way to calculate a delay is not based on when the plane lands but when the doors are opened and passengers are invited to disembark. If that’s more than three hours after the scheduled time, here’s what you could claim:

  • flights within the EU under 1,500km: you can claim €250 (AUD$419) for a delay of two hours or more
  • flights within the EU over 1,500km: you can claim €400 (AUD$670) for a delay of two hours or more
  • non-EU flights between 1,501km to 3,499km: you can claim €400 (AUD$670) for a delay of two hours or more
  • non-EU flights over 3,500km: you can claim €600 (AUD$1,006) from a delay of four hours or more – this includes flights from Europe back to Australia, either direct or with a stopover such as in Middle East or Asia.

Remember that the delay is calculated based on how late you reach your final destination, which includes missed connections.

For example, if your journey is Paris to Dubai to Sydney and a delay to your Paris-Dubai flight means you miss your onwards flight from Dubai to Sydney, forcing you to wait for the next Dubai-Sydney service, then if you eventually arrive into Sydney more than four hours past your original schedule, you’re entitled to cash compensation.

How much is EU261 compensation for a cancelled flight?

EU261 has several conditions around the cancellation of flights, covering eventualities such as:

  • if your flight is cancelled entirely
  • if you’re moved to a flight with a different connection which sees you departing significantly earlier than, or arriving much later than, originally booked.

In the event of a cancellation more than 14 days before the flight, there’s no compensation for any cancellations or re-routing, although you are entitled to a full refund or re-routing if desired.

If your flight is cancelled less than 14 days before its planned departure, you can claim compensation even if the airline changes your booking and re-routes you (such as changing London-Frankfurt-Singapore to London-Munich-Singapore) if that new flight departs earlier than planned by at least two hours, or arrives later than planned by at least four hours.

If your flight is cancelled within 7 days of departure and the airline re-routes you, you can claim compensation if the new flight departs earlier than planned by at least one hour, or arrives later than planned by at least two hours.

How much cash compensation you’re entitled to depends on the length of the delay at your final destination after re-routing, as follows: 

  • flights within the EU under 1,500km: you can claim €125 (AUD$202) for a delay under two hours or €250 (AUD$404) over two hours
  • flights within the EU over 1,500km: you can claim  €200 (A$323) for a delay under three hours or €400 (AUD$646) over three hours
  • non-EU flights 1,501km to 3,499km: you can claim  €200 (A$323) for a delay under three hours or €400 (AUD$646) over three hours
  • non-EU flights over 3,500km: you can claim €300 (AUD$485) for a delay under four hours or €600 (AUD$970) over four hours 
For Europe, compensation differs depending on the hours impacted and the distance of your ticketed flight.
For Europe, compensation differs depending on the hours impacted and the distance of your ticketed flight.

EU261 European flight compensation when you’re ‘bumped’ from a flight

If any flight which falls under the EU261 rules is overbooked and as a result you are offloaded – sometimes also called ‘denied boarding’ – the same compensation rates apply, based on the flight's distance.

However, EU261 doesn’t apply if you volunteer your seat and choose to be offloaded (or, of course, if you simply miss the flight).

What is UK261 and how does it differ from its EU equivalent?

With the United Kingdom no longer part of the European Union since Brexit, EU261 doesn’t apply to British carriers or airlines departing from UK airports.

However, the Brits now have their own EU261-equivalent ‘passenger rights’ rule: the 'Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019', more commonly known as UK261.

Similar triggers and equivalent stipulations apply: UK261 relates to UK airlines (such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet) as well as non-UK airlines departing from UK airports.

UK261 applies in the following situations: 

  • when you’re travelling from a UK airport on any airline 
  • when you’re travelling to a UK airport on a UK-based airline 

UK261 provides compensation under the following circumstances:

  • flight delays of three or more hours
  • flight cancellations less than 14 days before the departure date
  • denial of boarding due to overbooking

How much is UK261 compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

The amount you’re entitled to claim through UK261 in the event of a cancellation, delay or ‘bumped’ flight is more straightforward than the EU version.

It’s purely determined by distance travelled, as opposed to a sliding scale on the length of time you’ve been impacted. 

UK261 compensation amounts are as follows:

  • flights under 1,500km: you can claim £220 (AUD$404) 
  • flights between 1,501km and 3,499km: you can claim £350 (AUD$643) 
  • flights over 3,500km: you can claim £520 (AUD$956) 
Under EU261 and UK261, airlines have an immediate 'duty of care' for cancellations and delays which can include covering meals and accommodation.
Under EU261 and UK261, airlines have an immediate 'duty of care' for cancellations and delays which can include covering meals and accommodation.

Compensation for delayed or cancelled Qantas flights from London

Although Qantas isn’t a UK-based airline, delays or cancellations hitting its QF2 and QF10 flights from London Heathrow to Sydney (via Singapore) and Melbourne (via Perth) are included in the scope of UK261.

Because these flights are greater than 3,500km, a delay to departure of three or more hours or a cancellation made less than 14 days before the departure date would make Qantas liable to pay  £520 to every passenger.

Any passenger ‘bumped’ off QF2 or QF9 because it’s overbooked would also be eligible for £520.

In both cases Qantas would also be eligible for reasonable ‘duty of care’ expenses such as meals and in some cases overnight accomodation at a hotel (along with covering your transport to the hotel and back). 

Determining the distance of your flight

As compensation payments for EU261 and UK261 depend in part on the distance of your flight, you’ll need to know the distance between the two airports.

The easiest way to determine this is with the Great Circle Mapper website.

In the text box at the top left of the screen, enter the three-letter airport codes separated by a dash, such as FRA-SIN in the case of Frankfurt to Singapore, then click the Distance button.

Use the Great Circle Mapper website to work out the length of your delayed or cancelled flight, so you know how much compensation you can claim.
Use the Great Circle Mapper website to work out the length of your delayed or cancelled flight, so you know how much compensation you can claim.

This shows the distance of a flight between Frankfurt and Singapore as 6,389 miles; to convert that to km, multiply the number of miles by 1.6.

(You can also have the Great Circle Mapper show the route in km by scrolling down the page to the Controls section and under Distance and Time, change Units from statute miles to kilometres and click the Calculate button.) 

How to claim EU261 or UK261 compensation for delayed or cancelled flights

In an ideal world, the airline responsible for your delayed or cancelled flight will promptly notify you of your rights – especially with regards to any cash compensation. 

Of course, this rarely happens, leaving it up to the traveller to make their claim and chase down the appropriate compensation.

For that reason, always hold onto your boarding passes as proof of your booking, and try to get some documentation from the airline confirming the flight delay or cancellation, or denial of boarding (in those events airlines are required by law to notify you of your rights in writing at the airport).

Airlines should have a page on their website explaining the process of how to make a claim, as well as stipulations on what and when you are entitled to make a claim for compensation. The British Airways UK261 compensation page is a good example of this.

Airlines can deny an EU261 or UK261 claim if the delay or cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ – something out of the ordinary – such as extreme weather conditions (for example, a volcanic ash cloud, industrial action unrelated to the airline, and political or civil unrest.

But they can’t play this card if the reasons for a delay or cancellation include technical problems with the aircraft, conventional bad weather such as storms and snow, staff shortages or airline staff on strike.

All EU261 and UK261 claims must be directed to the operating airline in question, either by email or old-fashioned post.

It’s easy enough to find a template letter online, but there’s also the option of going through a ‘no-win, no-fee’ intermediary agent if you simply don’t have the time to make and follow up on your claim – although they’ll take a cut of the final compensation payment for their services (25% is not uncommon).

A typical claim letter should include:

  • all passenger details
  • your affected flight details, including booking reference number
  • state that you are claiming compensation according to either EU261 or UK261 (as relevant)
  • state the reasons for your claim, including what happened and how long you were delayed for
  • reaffirm that the delay was not caused by extraordinary circumstances or an ‘act of God’
  • the amount of compensation you are seeking, in line with the guidelines above
  • your payment details, and a reasonable deadline for when you want a response by

How each airline approaches the situation will differ. In less-than-ideal scenarios, some may offer you travel vouchers less than what you are entitled to – others may continue to cite ‘extraordinary circumstances’ or even ignore your letter outright. 

In those cases, it might be easier to try again through one of many third-party agencies and law firms that prosecute EU261 or UK261 cases in exchange for a slice of your airline payout.

Be aware that accepting any voucher or negotiated offer from the airline – whether at the airport when your flight is delayed or cancelled, or afterwards when you are chasing compensation – actually waives your rights to EU261 or UK261 compensation.

Addtional reporting by Brandon Loo and David Flynn

10 Nov 2020

Total posts 3

Maybe I should relay some real world experience claiming on EU261. Expect a really hard time if trying to claim on an airline like Ryanair - they will try every trick in the book to avoid paying. It may have changed, but they used to make you pay to use a premium rate line in order to lodge a claim. I've claimed against Etihad, and this was very easy and they were totally professional. Maybe platinum status with them helped, but there were no issues. A surprise was SAS Scandinavian, who I always assumed was a good carrier. I've needed to claim on them several times, and each time it was a real struggle even though I held Gold status and was in business class. Excuse after excuse. There is an Ombudsman scheme if you get nowhere, and the SAS one is based in Berlin. I had to escalate claims on 2 occasions to Berlin to get a ruling - in my favour of course - to get SAS to cough up. This costs the airline more money to go via this route, but all I can guess is that they figure its worth it as so many customers would just give up.

It should also be worth noting the rules re compensation with connections. I understand that someone took Emirates to court to get a ruling, and that ruling that it is that EU261 applies from the start to the finish of your journey. For example, if you are flying LHR-DXB-SYD, and the initial flight out of the EU is fine, but the connection in DXB is delayed, it is the delay in arriving in SYD that counts for compensation. EK tried to argue it was only for the initial ex-EU flight, but the court ruled otherwise.

There definitely needs to be a scheme in Oz. I was once bumped off a VA (old VA) flight from PER-SYD, and (eventually) re-routed PER-MEL-SYD with an overnight stay in MEL. VA originally only booked me PER-MEL for me to find my own way to SYD, then they relented after a stand-off, and booked me MEL-SYD for the next morning. VA refused to pay for an overnight hotel stay, but I managed to claim this back via letters. It shouldn't be that hard.

My latest drama is an upcoming SYD-HAN-LHR on Vietnam Airlines. They've rescheduled their HAN-LHR service so that the 3 hr connex is now an 11 hr overnight connex. With a week to run, VN still aren't confirming STPC for 2 business class pax despite multiple checks. Again, these sorts of things need to be much more straightforward.

10 Jul 2020

Total posts 7

I am still waiting for my compensation from Saudia for a delayed flight last July.  They’re really trying to argue the point, even with a third party agency that I’m using on my behalf. Next step is escalating it to court apparently. Is it even worth it? Saudia is definitely at fault as the more than 4 hour delay wasn’t out of their control 

25 Jun 2018

Total posts 43

A few years ago (pre Covid) BA voluntarily reminded us to claim hotel & taxi fares, when we missed a late evening flight from LHR due to a delayed flight from Nice.  This was due to delayed baggage loading, not BA’s fault.  Then reimbursed us for ‘replacement clothing’ when luggage was mislaid for 4/5 days.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Dec 2015

Total posts 3

I share koalahead's frustration with SAS. I have been trying since August for a cancelled July flight due to the SAS pilot strike. Until October SAS said my request was in the queue, then it was being investigated for three months!. SAS say they have sent the money on two occasions but refuse to give bank receipt details. Today SAS say they have sent AUD but previously it was SEK. SAS kept asking me for bank details for IBAN, routing number [both not applicable in Oz] and SWIFT code which they had been given twice! 

Their standard response is that the refund has been returned to them as the bank details are incorrect.

The SAS UK phone number's call centre in Cyprus does not handle refunds. They are done in India I understand. But you cannot talk to them, it is all by email.

In January I sent a physical letter by air mail to SAS President and CEO Anko Van der Werff and did not even get an acknowledgement. Also emailed the SAS Media Relations agent in Stockholm and no reply!

I looked at taking them to the Norwegian consumer body, it is very time consuming but I will go down that path if all else fails, which now seems likely. Because the flight was from Oslo to Tromso it falls under the Norwegian consumer body. 

They refuse to compensate for a rental car and other costs even though I am liable for reimbursement according to EU rules. I sent them details of the compensation rules, but to no avail. We had to drive in 24 hours from Oslo to Tromso at a cost of over $3000 to join our cruise ship. Great cruise though.

Can't see me using SAS in future.

Motto: Don't ever give up. This is what SAS hope.

It is a great pity that the Abbott government cancelled a similar scheme here to save red tape! Great for airlines but not consumers.

14 Oct 2021

Total posts 5

In 2010  travelling back from London via Dubai to Brisbane my  partner & I were stood down from  the connecting flight from Dubai to Brisbane .While waiting for next flight with Emirates was offered  hotel accomodation we opted to stay at relatives who  employed with emirates .Emirates offered return taxi fares & a return trip Brisbane to Dubai  to be taken within 12 months .Which we were happy to accept .On the delayed flight i then fell ill at 36 000 ft upgraded to first class to rest until plane arrived Singapore before onward journey to Brisbane we went to board & given buisness class seats for remainder of journey for myself & partner .Not sure which categery this came into but it was a journey well remembered .Any one else offered  a free return flight. Always  fly Emirates long haul from Australia .

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 11

Wish I knew about this had over a 24 hour delay on Qantas QF 9 last year, is there a time limit on claiming as in must be claimed within a certain time period?

There's actually a six year limit on claims so you're good! Qantas had a rash of QF9 delays last year, I know some people who were on a flew of the delayed flights and they have claimed UK261 compo.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Apr 2016

Total posts 22

Hi your flight is QF 009 from Perth to London Heathrow. Your flight originated from Perth Australia so Uk and EU laws regarding delay flights compensation do not apply in your case . I think the delayed QF 009 that you was subjected to back last year became QF 010 London Heathrow to Perth and was subjected to a 24 hour delay. In this case all passengers are entitled to compensation as although Qantas is a non British airline they have to pay as the law states Originated from a UK Airport. Sorry to be the barer of bad news . However I can say even with a UK no win no fee lawyer I have had no success getting compensation from Qantas . Consequently Qantas who are the first to get the law on their side should bugger off . After all there is plenty of other airlines.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2016

Total posts 7

I have had previous experience with claiming against BA for a cancelled flight and I engaged an English law firm to submit a claim on my behalf. They have a designated team to assist and take 10% commission. Being based in Australia it was a much easier process and well worth the expense. This EU penalty scheme is a must and if adopted in Aus would ensure that Australian airlines toe the line when it comes to the reimbursement of flight delays/cancellations.                              Jetstar - I’m looking at you.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2017

Total posts 24

One trick used by Wizz is to send you a £5 food and drink voucher as soon as they know they will subject to the delay compensation. If you use the voucher, then you no longer qualify for a payout. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Dec 2015

Total posts 3

Would neils2004 like to share the UK legal firm that made the claim? Or does anyone have a Swedish legal firm for refunds from SAS? I tried to put my problem on the SAS Facebook page but they take it down immediately and their chat box does not answer. Not surprising really. Any suggestions welcome.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2016

Total posts 7

Hi smrv, 

          Bott & Co.    UK Based - should come up if Dr Google is searched.

Sorry for the (much delayed) response.

Cheers

   

10 Nov 2020

Total posts 3

Re SMRV - see my original note above re this topic. I've had to take SAS to an Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) service on 2 occasions, and both times they ruled in my favour. They had to, it was UK/EU law and they were just being difficult to see if you'd just go away. It cost me nothing, and cost them a fee, so I figure making it difficult must pay dividends for them. I'm not surprised they have tried to shut down your comments, and ignore you. As I stated previously, I thought SAS were a top-tier carrier, but when things go wrong you really get to see what the airline is all about. But then you can see it in the service. A "business class" ticket means 3 x3 seating on a rammed narrow-body, no extra legroom, and a strange little box served to you which mostly is fish. If you say you don't eat fish and ask for an alternate, then you get the weirdest looks. It's rammed full, and there's nothing premium about it. But they do it that way because they can get away with it. The same with EU261 claims. At the time of my issues, this was handled by an ADR service based in Berlin, but has since moved to another ADR service. To get the latest ADR for each airline, check the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website caa.co.uk. This website now states that disputes with SAS are currently handled by CEDR, a non-profit organization and registered charity based in the UK.

28 Sep 2022

Total posts 7

Agree with Koalahead, expect a fight but on no circumstances give up, just won a claim against BA for three consecutive cancelled flights from LHR to Jersey CI, they claimed that one cancellation was for extraordinary circumstances and refused to pay, went to CEDR for adjudication, [centre for effective dispute resolution] part of CAA i think, they ruled in our favour and awarded compensation and out of pocket expenses for all three flights including taxi fares between airports, LHR & LCY, accommodation and meals etc, CEDR service is free provided all avenues have been exhausted with airline, downside, it has taken 12 months, do keep all receipts and cancellation notifications from airline, would I do it again, absolutely.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2016

Total posts 7

UK based law firm for claim/refund assistance I have used successfully is Bott & Co.

Sorry guys, but Bott & co are one of the dearest with fees of some 60%.  Clearly listed on their website under FAQ’s

No sure who is best, but there are a few offering 25% plus an addnl 15% if it goes to court


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