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Brussels, 16 February 2005

Air transport: Europe reinforces passengers’ rights

As of 17 Febuary, citizens will enjoy new rights when flying. Thanks to a new Regulation applicable in all the Member States, greater protection is being afforded to air passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellation or long delays.

As Jacques Barrot, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Transport, has noted: “The boom in air travel needs to be accompanied by proper protection of passengers’ rights. This is a concrete example of how the Union benefits people’s daily lives. Competitiveness and competition in the air sector go hand in hand with guaranteed passengers’ rights.

Despite the efforts of the air industry, passengers sometimes have difficulty enforcing their rights when they encounter inconvenience during air travel. For instance, more than five million pieces of luggage were lost or damaged in 2004 by European airlines and 250 000 passengers were denied boarding in 2002.

The new Regulation[1] enters into force tomorrow, introducing very significant improvements to the protection of air passengers’ rights in the Union. It should help bring about a dramatic reduction in the frequency of denied boarding, for which airlines will have to pay compensation as a deterrent (€250 for flights of less than 1 500 km, €400 for flights of between 1 500 and 3 500 km and €600 for flights of more than 3 500 km). Passengers will be compensated for late cancellation and will receive assistance in the event of long delays. There is no right to compensation for cancellation if the airline can provide evidence of extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.

The Regulation applies to all flights, including charters, operated by European airlines from or to a European airport and to any flight departing from the European Union. The Commission is certain that the application of these new rights will considerably improve the quality of service that European airlines provide to their customers. This will make those airlines more competitive.

Passengers must be properly informed if they are to enforce their rights effectively. The European Commission has therefore decided to launch an information campaign at airports and travel agencies across the European Union. Airlines too are obliged to inform passengers about their rights.

The new Regulation also requires each State to set up an independent body responsible for dealing with passengers’ complaints and any disputes they may have with airlines, which will help to avoid long and expensive court cases.

To date, only 15 States [2] have established such a body: the Commission will refer the matter to the Court of Justice if the other States fail to comply. Furthermore, the Commission is ready to advise passengers and follow up cases where their rights have not been respected. Indeed, over the last 3 years the Commission has already looked into more than 2 000 complaints lodged with it.

See also DG TREN’s website for further information and documentation (leaflet, poster, regulations, etc.):

For the attention of audiovisual media correspondents:

A video produced by DG TREN, “Europe reinforces passengers’ rights”, is available from the Audiovisual Service of the Commission.

To obtain a copy (languages available: FR-EN-DE-ES-IT) please write to:

Daphné LEVEQUE : or

Regulation on Denied Boarding and Cancellations or Long Delays

Events 

Denied Boarding


Long Delays(3)


Financial Compensation

or Re-routing

≤ 1500 km
1500-3500 km
≤ 3500 km
> 3500 km
or Re-Routing
and Hotels

Existing Regulation

150 €
300 €


New Regulation
250 €
400 €
600 €
as denied boarding (1)(2)
included (4)

Footnotes :
Unless carrier can prove that it is not responsible (i.e. extraordinary circumstances cause the cancellation).

Unless carrier informs passenger of cancellation two weeks or more before departure or offers alternative flight that does not delay passenger more than 2 or 4 hours.

[2 hours delayed by re-routing when cancellation announced ≤ 7 days; 4 hours delayed by re-routing when cancellation confirmed between >7-14 days]

Two, three or four hours depending on distance flight.

When delay at least five hours

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]


1. What are the principal improvements of the new Regulation which enters into force on 17 February 2005?

The new Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delays of flights, will enter into force on 17 February 2005.
This Regulation replaces an earlier regulation of 1991 which gave rights to passengers only in the event of denied boarding. On one hand, the new Regulation increases passengers’ rights in the event of denied boarding, and on the other hand, it recognises for the first time the rights of passengers in the event of cancellation or in the event of long delays.

Here are some examples of the improvements:

1. The amounts of compensation to be paid to passengers by the airlines in the event of denied boarding are considerably increased and pass from:

a. from € 150 to € 250 on flights up to 1500 km,

b. from € 150 to € 400 for flights between 1500 km and 3500 km

c. from € 300 to € 600 for flights longer than 3500 km.

This compensation may be decreased by half if the passenger is not delayed by more than 2, 3 or 4 hours respectively.

2. Passengers’ rights are extended in the of cancellation: a right to the same compensation as in the event of over-booking, under certain conditions, and to assistance (meals, accommodation if the alternative flight proposed is the following day) and to the possibility of refunding or of rebooking to the final destination following the choice of the passenger. An airline is not required to pay compensation if it is in a position to prove that cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.

3. In the event of long delays, the airline has to offer meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation if necessary, and means of communication. If the delay exceeds 5 hours, it has to propose refunding the ticket (with, if necessary, a free flight to your point of departure).

4. The new Regulation now has a broader scope. Rights cover all types of flight by European airlines, whether charter, regular, or domestic, departing from an EU airport (including the French overseas departments), or departing from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport, when the flight is operated by an EU airline and the passenger has not received any compensation in a third country. As in the earlier Regulation, and still within the scope of the legislative text, these laws apply to all airlines, including "low cost" carriers.

5. Passengers will now be able to apply, if necessary, to national control organisations especially established to deal with their complaints and their disagreements with airlines. This procedure will be less long and less expensive than a legal procedure.

2. Is it true that an appeal has been lodged with the European Court of Justice against the validity of this Regulation? Accordingly will the application of this Regulation be suspended?

A British national judge has indeed put a preliminary question to the Court of Justice about the legality of this Regulation under a national procedure following an appeal by certain airline associations (IATA, the association "low cost" carriers and an association of insurers). The Court of Justice should, in theory, decide this year. Meanwhile, the Regulation remains entirely valid as the Court has not followed the request of these companies to suspend the effects of the Regulation.

3. Will the appearance of these new rights not cause any sharp increase in the costs of the airlines?

Better protection of passengers’ rights will contribute to improving the image of air transport and in particular of certain companies. The quality of service forms part of competitiveness and runs in parallel with guarantees of passengers’ rights. In particular, the rights contained in this Regulation will help to greatly reduce the problems caused to passengers by the practice of denied boarding, of cancellation or of long delays, which give a bad image to the airlines.

4. Am I protected if I fly with a non-EU airline?

Yes, but only if the flight (whether regular or charter) with this non-EU airline leaves an EU airport.

5. Why are passengers not covered when outside the EU?

The rights under this Regulation cover all types of flight by European airlines, charter or regular, even if the flight departs from an airport located abroad when this flight is to the EU and the flight is operated by an airline licensed in the EU, provided the passengers have not benefited from services or received compensation or assistance in the third country (as for example in the case of the United States).

The Regulation cannot cover flights by non-EU airlines departing an airport outside the EU (to an airport located in a Member State) because this would be an extra-territorial clause, extending rights and creating obligations for non-EU airlines, beyond the borders of the EU.

6. Am I protected if my ticket is issued under a fidelity or other commercial programme?

Yes, the rights under the Regulation are entirely applicable to passengers flying for example with standard "frequent flyer" programmes.

However, these rights will not apply to the passengers who travel free of charge or at a reduced tariff not available to the general public.

7. Am I also protected if I use helicopter services?

This regulation applies only to passengers of powered, fixed-wing planes.

8. Am I protected in the event of extraordinary circumstances?

Yes, passengers always are entitled to be assisted and to be informed, even in the event of exceptional circumstances, and can consequently enjoy the rights contained in the Regulation, except for the right to be compensated in the event of cancellation. In this case, it is up to the airline company to prove that the cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all the reasonable measures had been taken. For example, safety warnings or an unforeseen strike are circumstances that a company cannot avoid.

9. In the event of cancellation of a flight due to ‘force majeure’, how can I check that it is indeed an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken?

According to the Regulation, the company has to prove that it is indeed due to such an exceptional circumstance. The passenger can always require the proof. If the passenger is not satisfied with this information, he can refer the matter to the body designated by the Member State. One aim of this Regulation is to also give a means of redress to passengers faced with arguments that airlines sometimes use to justify cancellations.

10. If the problem is not of the responsibility for the airline (for example delays or cancellations due to the bad air traffic management, equipment not provided by the airport, etc), why should the airline have to be responsible for the passengers?

The objective of the Regulation is to give a high level of protection to passengers. The airline will be obliged, in these cases, to grant the passenger the rights provided for under the Regulation. The airline subject to cancellation or delay may always be able to request damages from the third persons responsible for the problem under the applicable relevant laws.

11. Does this Regulation also provide for rights in the event of problems with baggage, or in the event of injury or death following an accident?

The Regulation which enters into force on 17 February 2005 does not cover these aspects. However, other EU legislation provides rights for passengers in the event of problems with baggage and in the event of injury or death following an accident. The passengers of an EU airline will be well protected whatever their destination and whatever the flight taken, whether it is an international or domestic flight. International legislation also provides some other rights which can apply to passengers of non-EU airlines.

In particular, in the event of damage or loss of baggage, the responsibility of an airline is limited to 1000 SDR (1 SDR = € 1.18 30.09.2004).

12. What can I do if the airline refuses me my rights?

You should address a complaint to the national authorities designated by each Member State. For the names and the addresses of these, you can call the free-phone number: 00800 67891011, or send an e-mail to the following address:
The list of the authorities is also available on Internet at: .

13. Certain Member States have not yet designated the authorities to deal with complaints. What can I do then?

Indeed, despite repeated requests by the European Commission, 12 Member States have not yet communicated details of these bodies, leaving the passenger without protection.

For the Member States which have not yet designated the authorities, the Commission will use all means, including infringement procedures, to compel them to apply the provisions adopted. In such cases, passengers may address their complaints to a court.

Meanwhile, passengers can also notify the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy and Transport of their complaint, address: B-1049 Brussels (fax: 00(32-2)2999.1015, e-mail:

14. Under this regulation, do people with reduced mobility or children receive individual treatment?

1. People with reduced mobility and unaccompanied children must be provided with these rights as a priority. Non-sighted people and people with impaired vision must receive information on their rights from the airlines in an accessible format.

15. Cancellation, denied boarding or long flight delays cause a passenger damages above the compensation or the refund provided for under this Regulation: can they ask for additional compensation?

The rights recognised under the Regulation do not exclude the possibility of a passenger or third person claiming complementary compensation or compensation for damages (except in the case of passengers who voluntarily gave up their reservation following denied boarding), under applicable national law.

The compensation granted under the Regulation may nevertheless be deduced from any such compensation granted for damages.

16. Can the rights provided under this Regulation be limited or increased, in particular by an exemption or a restrictive measure appearing in the contract of carriage?

No. Such a clause would be pointless. If however these exemptions applied, the passenger could always seek complementary compensation through the courts or the competent authority.

17. In the event of problems, who will inform me of my rights?

First of all, all air carriers must post a notice at the check-in area announcing that in the event of problems you can receive a text stating your rights.

Moreover, in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or a delay of at least two hours, airlines are required to provide passengers with written notice of their rights.

Lastly, the European Commission has launched an information campaign in airports, travel agencies and with airlines to promote of passengers’ rights via posters and leaflets.

In addition, the web site of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy and Transport gives relevant information for passengers:

[1] Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91.


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