The doors for mass compensation for long flight delays have been flung wide open today for huge numbers of passengers, following a landmark ruling.

Key Points

  • ECJ supports passengers' right to compensation
  • Up to £490 for 3-hour+ delays
  • Amount depends on length of journey and delay

A European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment means travellers can claim up to £488 for delays of three hours or more. It also allows victims to reopen claims put on hold pending today's decision. See the Flight Delays Compensation guide for more info.

Passengers can claim compensation if the following conditions are met:

  • The flight arrived at its destination three hours or more late.
  • The flight departed on 17 February 2005 or later.
  • The flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of airline, or was on an EU airline where the flight departed from or landed at an EU airport.
  • The delay was the airline's fault.

A number of carriers, including British Airways and Easyjet, had challenged a 2009 ruling that these passengers should be compensated if they are, or were, delayed by three hours or more.

The ECJ in Luxembourg today upheld the original decision. In the interim, all claims were on hold.

How much can I get?

The table below outlines the compensation available.

How much compensation am I due?

Flight length (i) Arrival delay Compensation due

Up to 1,500km (eg, Paris)

3 hours+ €250 (£204)
1,500km-3,500km (Istanbul) 3 hours+ €400 (£326)
3,500km+ (New York) 3-4 hours €300 (£244)
3,500km+ 4 hours+ €600 (£488)
(i) Example destinations from London

Today's ruling applies to goodwill compensation for delays, not a refund of any costs.

Archna Luthra, consumer products analyst, says: "This is great news for consumers and ends years of uncertainty. Everyone should check and grab the cash they're entitled to."

What if my flight was cancelled or delayed by over five hours?

If a flight is cancelled, or delayed by over five hours, you are entitled to your money back for the ticket cost, or re-routing if the flight has been cancelled (re-routing doesn't apply to delays), plus meals and accommodation in some cases.

You're also entitled to compensation of up to €600, which you can get on top of a refund for the ticket cost.

How do I know if my flight was delayed?

If you don't remember, check using the FlightStats website, although you'll need to register to use it.

When we typed in the details of a flight we knew had been delayed by four-and-a-half hours earlier this year, it came up with the correct details.

However, as you go further back in time, the site doesn't show the status of all flights, as we found when testing it for London to Malaga flights on 17 February 2005.

While the website seems to show delays, it doesn't tell you what caused them. And to claim compensation, it must be the airline's fault.

What if the airline is not at fault?

Where the delay is out of the airline's hands, you are not entitled to compensation.

These circumstances include:

  • Bad weather
  • Industrial action
  • Political problems
  • Security or safety issues   
  • Air traffic management decisions

You may still be entitled to your money back if the delay is more than five hours or your flight is cancelled, plus re-routing if the flight was cancelled.

How do I claim?

You need to contact the relevant airline to get compensation.

Check on its website or call its customer services line. These are the cancellation and delay compensation information pages for British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair.

Send in all evidence that you travelled and the airline will match that against its records.

A British Airways spokesman says: "We are aware of the ruling and will continue to comply with the regulations." will publish a full reclaiming guide on this topic next week. To ensure you get it, sign up for our free weekly email.

What proof do I need?

Acceptable evidence includes boarding passes, the original ticket or e-ticket or itinerary from the airline or travel agent. If you can't find these immediately, check your email inbox for e-tickets.

If you don't have any documents, then state whatever you can, such as the flight number, airports you travelled through and dates.

The more evidence you send in, the better.

What if my claim is on hold?

There are a number of compensation cases that were put on hold by airlines from 2009 pending this decision.

If you've got a claim in, contact your airline to get it restarted.