5 things you need to know about EU Regulation 261/2004

In 2004, the European Union adopted tough new airline passenger rights regulations, and ever since then, it seems that air carriers have been trying to reinterpret the law to their advantage. As a result, I’ve received more than my fair share of questions about the rule, called Regulation (EC) No 261/2004.

Here are a few things you need to know about rule 261:

1. It applies to any EU airline flying from and to Europe. I’ve heard some airlines tell passengers that EU 261 doesn’t apply to them because they started their trip in the United States. Nonsense. Paragraph 6 states, “The protection accorded to passengers departing from an airport located in a Member State should be extended to those leaving an airport located in a third country for one situated in a Member State, when a Community carrier operates the flight.”

2. Charter or scheduled? It’s all the same. Another favorite loophole for airlines is to say it was a charter flight. Not so in Europe. See paragraph 5: “Since the distinction between scheduled and non-scheduled air services is weakening, such protection should apply to passengers not only on scheduled but also on non-scheduled flights, including those forming part of package tours.” (But see paragraph 16 for an important exception.)

3. If your flight is canceled, you’re owed a refund — or a flight you like. I’ve heard from some passengers who say airlines try to give them vouchers when a flight is canceled. That’s not how it works. See paragraph 13: “Passengers whose flights are canceled should be able either to obtain reimbursement of their tickets or to obtain rerouting under satisfactory conditions, and should be adequately cared for while awaiting a later flight.”

Related story:   3 secrets to avoiding a vacation rental scam

4. No surprises! Is your flight on time? Was it canceled? Who knows! EU 261 says you airline has to tell you. Carriers must, “inform passengers of cancellations before the scheduled time of departure and in addition to offer them reasonable rerouting, so that the passengers can make other arrangements,” according to the rule.

5. You have the right to know. Often, airlines like to keep passengers in the dark about what their rights are. But that’s wrong, according to EU 261, paragraph 20. “Passengers should be fully informed of their rights in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, so that they can effectively exercise their rights.”

If you’re flying on a European carrier, consider making a printout of this important rule. Don’t let the airlines — or even me — tell you what’s in EU 261. Read it yourself.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Leslie_barber

    My student daughter flew from UK on a KLM / Delta code share to US. Connecting flight was cancelled due to Hurricane warning and she was delayed for 2 nights at her expense before she could get on another flight to her booked destination…is that right?

  • what if a flight was purchased with EU-carrier (KLM, from Guatemala through Panama to Amsterdam), but the first leg was serviced by COPA (Non-EU carrier, but KLM partner), and the denied boarding/”lost reservation” happened on that part of the journey?

  • One way to avoid the baggage rules is to buy on arrival… check before you fly!

  • Khan

    PIA flight PK757 from Lahore to London on 1 September 2012 was cancelled several hours after its scheduled departure time. They that tried to shrug off all responsibility – even refusing to give a written notice of the reason to passengers who expressly asked. It was just ‘pick up your bags and go home as we’ve booked you on a flight to London on the 4th September 2012’ Shameful!

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.