How airlines want to diminish air passenger rights


There are certain rights in the EU to protect passengers in the event of flight delays, cancellations and other flight irregularities and to compensate them for these inconveniences. However, airlines and various Member States believe that this regulation should be revised in order to protect the interests of airlines in a better way.


What are my rights?


The rights of passengers in the European Union are laid down in the EU Passenger Rights Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. This regulates the right to compensation in the event of certain flight irregularities. The most important rights are briefly summarized below.


My rights in case of a flight delay


For flight delays of more than 3 hours, passengers have a legally established right to financial compensation, which can be up to 600 euros per person. This right is laid down in the EU air passenger rights regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 and applies to all flights taking place within the EU or departing from the EU. In addition, this right applies to flights landing within the EU, provided that the operating airline has its headquarters in the EU.


The amount of compensation depends on the flight distance. The longer the distance covered by the flight, the higher the entitlement to compensation. The actual amount of compensation is divided into three groups and applies per person:


  • 250 € for flights with a distance of up to 1,500 kilometres
  • 400 € for all flights within the EU with a distance of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights with a distance between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres
  • 600 € for all other flights with a distance of more than 3,500 kilometres


The right to compensation applies to all passengers. This also includes small children, insofar as they have not been transported for free. However, for flights with a distance of more than 3,500 kilometres, airlines can reduce the compensation by 50% if the delay is between 3 and 4 hours.


In addition to the right to compensation, you have the right to assistance in the event of delays of 2 hours or more. These services must be provided by the Airline. This includes drinks, meals and access to means of communication (telephone and e-mail). If the flight delay extends to the next day and an overnight stay is necessary, the airline must also pay for a hotel stay including transport from the airport to the hotel and back.


My rights in case of a flight cancellation


Passengers also have a right to compensation in the event of cancelled flights. Just as in the case of flight delays, the amount of compensation is based on the flight distance of the cancelled flight and is a maximum of 600 euros per passenger. In the event of flight cancellations by the airline, passengers also have the right to substitute transportation, which must be organized by the airline. In the following cases, passengers additionally are entitled to compensation:


  • You were informed of the change fewer than 7 days before the scheduled departure: if your replacement flight now departs more than one hour earlier than planned, or arrives at its destination at least 2 hours later than planned, you are entitled to compensation.
  • You were informed of the change between 7 and 14 days before the scheduled departure: if your replacement flight departs more than 2 hours earlier than scheduled, or arrives at its destination at least 4 hours later than scheduled, you will be entitled to compensation.


If the airline has informed you of the cancellation more than 2 weeks before departure, unfortunately there is no right to compensation. In this case you will unfortunately have to accept the change of flight schedule. Such information can be provided by e-mail, SMS or telephone. It is essential that you receive the notification. If the travel agency is informed by the airline about the changed flight times, but fails to pass the information on to the passenger in time, you are still entitled to compensation!


In which cases am I not entitled to compensation?

Exceptional circumstances are defined as reasons for flight delays and cancellations which do not fall within the responsibility of the airlines. A classic example is bad weather. During heavy storms, aeroplanes often cannot take off and flights are delayed. Nevertheless, passengers have no right to compensation in these situations, as the airline is not responsible for the storm.


Some examples of exceptional circumstances are:


  • Bad weather conditions prevent the flight from being carried out safely
  • Passenger safety cannot be guaranteed due to sabotage of the aircraft intended for the flight
  • Terrorist attacks make it impossible to carry out the flight or pose a security risk
  • An official warning from the manufacturer, which testifies that the safety of an aircraft model is no longer guaranteed, has been issued.
  • The airport has been closed
  • A passenger onboard falls ill or has a medical emergency and the flight has to make an emergency landing or cannot take off
  • Strikes by airport staff or aviation security.


How could these rights change?


While passengers currently have a right to compensation for delays of 3 hours, this duration could change significantly in the future. The proposal for the revision of the Air Passenger Rights Regulation is that, in the future, passengers will only receive compensation for a delay of at least 5 hours. A change that would be extremely unfriendly to consumers.


More precisely, the length of the delay would be as shown below:



  • 5 hours for flights of up to 1,500 kilometres
  • 9 hours for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres, and for flights within the EU of more than 3,500 kilometres
  • 12 hours for flights outside the EU with a distance of more than 3,500 kilometres


Only after these periods have expired will passengers be entitled to compensation, which will continue to be awarded according to the distance covered by the booking. The three options are 250 euros, 400 euros and 600 euros. This represents a significant deterioration compared to the current regulation.


This proposed revision was initiated by airlines, which shows that they always and exclusively act in their own interest. This becomes evident when one considers that airlines are constantly trying to push through tax cuts for kerosene taxes and environmental taxes., therefore, tries to inform consumers about their rights and tries to show that these rights must be defended against the interests of the airlines.


The situation for passengers would also worsen in the event of flight cancellations. While there are currently various regulations in place to ensure that passengers would not have to accept excessive delays on replacement flights, the right to compensation in the following cases would no longer apply in the future:


  • Passengers were informed of the replacement flight more than 14 days before the scheduled departure. This is in line with the current legal situation.


  • Passengers were informed less than 14 days before the planned departure, but the replacement flight does not land later than:
  1. 5 hours after the scheduled arrival for flights of up to 1,500 kilometres
  2. 9 hours after scheduled arrival for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres, and for flights within the EU of more than 3,500 kilometres
  3. 12 hours after scheduled arrival for flights outside the EU with a distance of more than 3,500 kilometres


The right to assistance remains and applies in the event of delays of 2 hours or more. The distance of the flight does not matter. Passengers still have the right to meals and drinks and will have the choice between 2 telephone calls, fax messages, e-mails or other online messaging services. Should the delay extend overnight, passengers must still be provided with hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the hotel and back.


The proposed amendments will also include an exhaustive list of extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances which are not mentioned in this list are not to be considered extraordinary. Although this sounds good for passengers at first and provides more clarity, a closer look at the list shows that technical defects on the aircraft should be considered extraordinary circumstances.


Technical defects are one of the most common reasons for flight cancellations and delays. By introducing technical defects as extraordinary circumstances, airlines could avoid paying out numerous compensation claims. Since airlines are responsible for the safety onboard their aircraft, it is questionable why this reason should be added to the list of extraordinary circumstances. The interests of airlines are clearly being pursued here.


What does this mean for travellers?

The amended regulation would be very helpful to airlines - but at the expense of their customers. Already today, only 6.6 million of the approximately 892 million passengers who travel each year have a right to compensation. This is only about 0.74%. The changes to the air passenger rights regulation would ensure that only a fraction of these people would continue to have a right to compensation. It is estimated that there would be about 1.8 million claims per year. Based on this new version of passenger rights, only 0.2% of all passengers would still be entitled to compensation. 73% of all passengers that are currently entitled to compensation would lose their rights due to the increased length of delays and the fact that technical defects are considered extraordinary circumstances.


That this is a change against the will of EU citizens is shown by the fact that 91% of all passengers in Europe support the current EU air passenger rights regulation. 85% say that the new version is less consumer-friendly and a whole 75% even believe that delay times should be reduced rather than increased.


Why is a change in air passenger rights being discussed?


Airlines have been complaining for years about the exact conditions of the EU air passenger rights regulation and are trying to change them in their favour. Since January, Croatia has held the presidency of the European Council and would like to use this time to change EU air passenger rights in favour of airlines. The Presidency will continue until 30 June, when Germany will take over this role. Potential changes to air passenger rights would, therefore, have to be decided by then.


Airlines cite various arguments which show that the European air passenger rights lead to numerous problems for them. The most important arguments are:


  • The high number of claims leads to the insolvency of airlines
  • The costs of paying out claims are too high
  • The EU passenger rights regulation does not lead to airlines being more punctual and therefore does not bring any benefits for passengers


However, various studies prove that all these points are not true. The high number of claims has not led to a single airline liquidation in the past. The Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) found that in 68% of all cases between 2017 and 2019, bad management or the wrong corporate strategy was the reason for insolvency. Other reasons for the insolvency of airlines include strong competitors, external factors (e.g. Brexit), financial structures, kerosene prices or taxes. However, it was found that the high number of claims was not a reason for insolvency. This was confirmed in a report by consultancy agency Steer, which was conducted for the European Commission. It is also worth noting that only about 0.74% of all passengers in Europe are affected by delays or cancellations. This indicates that, compared to all flights operated, the number of claims for compensation is not high.

Steer's report explains that the cost of paying compensation claims equals to approximately EUR 4.40 per ticket. However, this includes the cost of care services and rebooking on substitute flights. APRA was able to confirm that the actual cost per flight ticket is only 98 cents. And even this estimate is still very much in favour of airlines because it is assumed that all passengers who have a claim for compensation will make this claim. However, only a fraction of all passengers even know exactly what their rights are. Furthermore, it can be assumed that of all compensation claims submitted, only about 20-40% will be paid out. Finally, one can assume that airlines include these costs in their ticket prices. Passengers hence pay their compensation themselves. Moreover, the high success rate of air passenger rights specialists such as, with 97% of cases won in court, shows that airlines are more likely to respond to professional requests than to address the concerns of their customers.


Even the statement that the air passenger rights regulation does not lead to fewer delays and therefore does not bring any advantages for passengers can be quickly refuted. A comparison with the current situation in the USA, where there are no comprehensive rights for passengers, shows that numbers of flight delays lasting less than 3 hours are about as high as in Europe. However, the number of delays of more than 3 hours is three times higher in the USA than in Europe. This shows that the Passenger Rights Regulation certainly leads to fewer delays. Furthermore, non-European countries, such as Canada, are introducing regulations that are modelled after the EU air passenger rights. This confirms the functionality of the current regulation in Europe.


How are airlines using the COVID-19 crisis to their advantage?


The current COVID-19 crisis has also not left airlines unharmed. Due to numerous travel restrictions, many airlines have had to completely or almost completely stop their flight operations. This led to enormous financial losses. Various airlines also consider it unreasonable to reimburse their passengers for the cost of tickets for cancelled flights. Instead, they prefer to issue vouchers which can be used for flights on another date. This way, the passengers' money stays with the airline for the time being and helps the airline to keep the company solvent. However, this does not comply with the current legal scenario. Within the European Union, passengers must always have the choice between a voucher and a financial refund. Nevertheless, often only vouchers are offered. In addition, various airlines are applying for state subsidies to ensure their survival during the crisis.


As a result, EU ministers are developing sympathy for the companies, making it easier to influence them in favour of the airlines in matters concerning a permanent change in EU air passenger rights. Airlines know this and are taking advantage of the moment. They argue that their financial means are currently not sufficient to pay the kerosene tax or the environmental taxes. With an increase in environmental tax, this issue seems particularly urgent and particularly important to the airlines.


However, it is important to note that the crisis we are currently experiencing will not last forever. Possible legislative changes could, however, be permanent. Airlines are aware of this and are therefore trying to use the corona crisis to their advantage in order to make more profit in the long term and on a permanent basis. believes that this is immoral and holds the view that consumer rights must be protected in the best possible way.

how are airlines trying to change your air passenger rights

Claiming compensation or a refund for a delayed or cancelled flight


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