Changes to rules on claiming compensation for flight delays are one step closer after the European Union's Transport Committee backed 600 amendments to existing rules on air passenger rights.

Proposals to improve travellers' rights and to clarify grey areas in existing rules were originally put forward by the European Commission in March (see the Delayed air passengers need more rights, EU says MSE News story).

Now the EU Transport Committee has voted in changes which include clarifying that technical faults can't be used by airlines to get out of paying claims in most cases. The proposals also raise the thresholds which dictate when you're able to claim for a delay.

Changes would come into force from 2015 at the earliest, but the European Parliament needs to support them in a vote first. That's scheduled for 4 February (see our Flight Delays and Cancellations guide for help claiming compensation now).

Clarifying 'extraordinary circumstances'

At present, if you're on an EU flight and you arrive at your destination three or more hours late, you may be eligible to claim compensation – but only if it's the airline's fault.

But the committee's proposals clarify what is meant by an "extraordinary circumstance", an event outside the airline's control meaning compensation isn't due.

It's done this by including an exhaustive list of such events. For example, technical faults do not count as "extraordinary", except in the following circumstance:

  • Where they affect the flight's safety and have been caused by the plane manufacturer (such as Airbus or Boeing) – and are formally acknowledged as such by the manufacturer or a competent authority – and have been found during a maintenance check before the flight.  

New rules on when you're due compensation

As well as tightening the rules on when an airline is at fault, the committee has also backed changing the thresholds for when you're due compensation.

The commission had originally proposed raising the threshold for delays to five hours for short-haul flights, nine hours for medium-haul and 12 hours for long-haul.

But the committee opted for less drastic changes, which are outlined in the table below.

Proposed new rules on flight delay compensation

Flight length Arrival delay Compensation due
Up to 2,500km (all flights) 3 hours+ €300 (£250)
2,500km+ (flights within the EU only) 5 hours+ €400 (£335)
2,500km-6,000km (flights between an EU and non-EU airport) 5 hours+ €400 (£335)
6,000km+ (flights between an EU and non-EU airport) 7 hours+ €600 (£505)
Sterling figures based on the mid-December 2013 exchange rate of €1.19 to £1


Current rules on flight delay compensation

Flight length Arrival delay Compensation due
Up to 1,500km (all flights) 3 hours+ €250 (£210)
1,500km+ (flights within the EU only) 3 hours+ €400 (£335)
1,500km-3,500 km (flights between an EU and non-EU airport) 3 hours+ €400 (£335)
3,500km+ (flights between an EU and non-EU airport) 3-4 hours €300 (£250)
4+ hours €600 (£505)
Sterling figures based on the mid-December 2013 exchange rate of €1.19 to £1.

Under the proposed rules, those who've flown a shorter distance will be better off as they'll be due €300 for flight delays, as opposed to €250 under existing rules.

But those on longer flights will lose out. For example, someone who's flown 3,500km+ can claim €600 for a four-hour delay at present. Under the new rules, that person won't be eligible for any compensation unless their flight's been delayed by at least five hours.

Further improvements for passengers

The EU's Transport Committee has also proposed other changes to help delayed passengers, which include:

  • Passengers should be able to leave their plane after a three-hour delay on the runway. Currently there are no rules giving passengers the right to leave a plane.
  • Airlines should have to set up contact points at airports where staff can tell passengers who face disruption or delays about their rights and choices, and help them by taking immediate action.
  • If an airline doesn't respond, in full, to a complaint within two months, then it'll be deemed as having accepted the passenger's claim.