Know your rights. The European Union mandates compensation in the event of delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights.

Under European Union consumer protection laws, passengers are entitled to up to $680 for delays, cancellations, and getting bumped from a flight.

There are few things more frustrating than navigating the fallout of a delayed, canceled, or overbooked flight, especially when traveling internationally. But if the situation involves a Europe flight, travelers have an additional avenue for obtaining compensation that they may not have realized was available to them; it can ease some of the frustration.

The European Union’s consumer protection regulation, known as “Regulation EC No 261/2004,” is a sweeping legislation that applies to flights within Europe as well as to flights into and out of Europe, regardless of whether the airline is based in the European Union. According to the regulation, which dates back to 2004, if a passenger is denied boarding, their flight is canceled, or a flight is delayed, that person is entitled to various levels of recompense.

Passengers can claim 250 euros (or US$284) for flights up to 930 miles in distance; 400 euros (US$455) for flights between 930 and 2,175 miles; and 600 euros (US$682) for flights that are longer than 2,175 miles. For delayed flights, the delay must be two or more hours for flights up to 930 miles, three hours or more for flights between 930 and 2,175 miles, and at least four hours for flights longer than 2,175 miles.

Claims for compensation can be made directly through the carrier, such as through this form on the Ryanair website, or there are some intermediary companies, including Airhelp and Flightright, that will seek reimbursement on passengers’ behalf for a fee.

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This can provide some solace to travelers who are worried about flying with a low-cost carrier, for instance, especially in light of the collapse of Primera Air this past fall. It can help to know that they have some recourse if the airline leaves them high and dry.  

The E.U. rule can also come in handy for travelers who are involuntarily bumped from a flight, a scenario that does not automatically entitle passengers to compensation under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. For instance, if a smaller plane is swapped in for a larger airplane for operational or safety reasons, if it is a charter flight, if an aircraft carries fewer than 30 passengers, or if it is an international flight to the United States from which the passenger is bumped, the DOT does not require compensation.

But according to EC No 261/2004, if there are not enough volunteers willing to change their seats to another flight and the carrier is forced to deny boarding to passengers against their will, then the carrier is required to compensate them.

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