Passengers must now be compensated when a flight in Europe leaves early due to a schedule change

Dec 22, 2021

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The European Union’s generous passenger compensation rules just got even more generous.

The 27-nation bloc’s top court on Tuesday ruled that compensation is now due when a flight departs more than an hour earlier than originally scheduled. When that happens within 14 days of departure, the flight is considered canceled under those rules, known as EU261.

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“Where a flight has been brought forward in this way, passengers are unable to use their time as they wish and to organize their trip or holiday in line with their expectations,” the EU’s Court of Justice said in a press release.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, frequent, close-in schedule changes have created headaches for travelers worldwide.

TPG’s extensive guide to EU261 compensation can be found here. In short, the rules apply to flights that are within the EU or departing the EU — not flights that arrive into the EU from outside of the bloc. (The United Kingdom recently left the EU though it has a similar set of rules to EU261. However, this new development does not apply to the U.K.)

Compensation for a delayed or canceled flight under EU261 is based on the distance of the flight, TPG’s Juan Ruiz reports:

Compensation Distance
250 euros per passenger 1,500 kilometers or less
400 euros per passenger More than 1,500 kilometers within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers
600 euros per passenger More than 3,500 kilometers


Under EU261, carriers can reduce the compensation that is due to passengers by 50% by rerouting them without delay. In Tuesday’s ruling, that is explicitly not an option.

More: TPG’s guide to understanding EU261 flight compensation

So what should you do if you receive a late notice that your flight is leaving over an hour early? You should file an EU261 claim with your operating airline. The specific rules and deadlines governing EU261 compensation are based on the country where the airline is headquartered. Each carrier subject to EU261 has a website or information page regarding this delay. They range from massive European players like Lufthansa and Ryanair, to U.S. network carriers like Delta Air Lines, to Middle Eastern giants like Qatar Airways.

Featured photo by Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images.

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