Delayed or cancelled flight within the EU. When is compensation due?


The COVID-19 pandemic remains the main cause of airport chaos. The airlines, in the midst of its cost-cutting efforts due to pandemic, were forced to lay off staff, the effects of which we see today. Staff shortages, as well as strikes and protests of air traffic controllers or airline crews, who demand better wages and working conditions, mean that flights are delayed or even cancelled.


It is important, first of all, to identify where there has been a delay, and this occurs when a flight departs or arrives at its destination later than the scheduled time.

Two legal acts will be useful in a situation where we encounter a problem with the flight:

  1. Act of November 24, 2017 on tourist events and related tourist services,
  2. Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of February 11, 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of delay, cancellation or refusal of check-in for a flight; repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 of 11 February 1991.

The Act  indicates that the traveller shall be entitled to compensation or redress for the damage or harm suffered as a result of non-compliance, and the tour operator shall promptly pay the compensation or redress. The regulation, in turn, indicates that airline passengers are entitled to financial compensation of €250/400/€600 from the airline for inconvenience caused as a result of delay, cancellation or denied boarding due to the airline selling more tickets than the number of available seats. It is important to remember that the aforementioned regulation applies to European Union airlines and allows compensation to be claimed for cancelled flights/sales of more tickets than the number of seats/delayed flights.

According to the discussed regulation, passengers have the right to apply for financial compensation from the airlines if they arrived more than 3 hours after the scheduled time.

The amount of compensation increases with the distance the aircraft has to travel:

  • EUR 250 up to 1,500 km
  • EUR 400 from 1,500 km to 3,500 km
  • EUR 600 over 3,500 km


Pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of February 11, 2004, a flight is cancelled when a flight which was previously scheduled and on which at least one seat was booked has not taken place. Passengers are entitled to compensation for a cancelled flight if they have not been informed of the cancellation at least 14 days before the scheduled departure time. The situation changes when the air carrier is able to prove that the cancellation or long delay of a flight is caused by unavoidable factors which could not have been avoided despite all reasonable measures being taken, that is, circumstances beyond the air carrier’s effective control.

Compensation for a cancelled flight – When determining the distance, the basis is the last destination of the flight to which the passenger will arrive after the scheduled arrival time due to a delay caused by denied boarding or cancellation of the flight:

  • EUR 250 for all flights up to 1,500 kilometres;
  • EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometres and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
  • EUR 600 for all flights not covered above


Extraordinary circumstances may also cause delays or cancelled flights. These are situations where airlines are unable to control flight disruptions, even if the air carrier concerned takes reasonable steps to prevent it.

Extraordinary circumstances that do not always ensure compensation:

  • Strike – A strike is considered an exceptional circumstance that cannot be avoided, resulting in the inability to claim compensation. On the other hand, if a flight delay can be avoided and other airlines can fly during the strike, there is the possibility of compensation.
  • Acts of God– Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes and hail are considered “acts of God” and therefore no compensation can be claimed. Compensation can be claimed, if the airline could have avoided it in some way.
  • Technical problems – They are considered exceptional circumstances where the airlines could not have foreseen or avoided the technical problem. This is not an exceptional situation if it could have been avoided in a certain manner.


It often happens that it is easier for people who are participants in a package travel to pursue their claims than for people who travel on their own. This is because the tour operator is responsible for the performance of the travel services covered by the package travel contract, regardless of whether the services are to be provided by the tour operator or by other travel service providers.

EC Regulation 261/2004 provides protection for tour packages, travel packages as well as holiday packages. This applies to all or those packages purchased in EU Member States, even though the journey is taking place outside the European Union. In accordance with the regulation in question, the tour operator is solely responsible for any breach of the terms of the contract. It also acts on behalf of the passenger and contacts the airline, as well as requests for compensation in case of an unfortunate event. The organiser should offer a full refund to the injured party within 7 days in cash, cheque or electronic bank transfer. It is also possible to get a ticket for an alternative flight to your destination.


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