Air passenger law: What are extraordinary circumstances? - Flightright

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Air passenger law: What are extraordinary circumstances?

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Extraordinary circumstances
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The most important facts about “extraordinary circumstances”

  • Extraordinary circumstances are events that are beyond the airline’s control.
  • The airline is responsible for the flight disruption. (Example: technical problem or sick flight crew)
  • After 2 hours waiting time at the airport, you are already entitled to drinks and snacks from the airline.
  • However, under certain circumstances, passengers are entitled to care services such as meals and hotel accommodation.
  • Furthermore, the flight in question must not have taken place more than 3 years ago in Germany and 6 years ago in the UK.
  • Courts have ruled that technical problems do not generally constitute extraordinary circumstances.
  • Airlines should provide passengers with clear information in the event of extraordinary circumstances.
  • Under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, you may be entitled to compensation of between €250 and €600 if your flight is delayed by 3 hours or more, canceled, overbooked or if you miss your connecting flight.
  • Air passenger rights are protected by EU regulations and national laws.
  • Legal support from Flightright is recommended in case of difficulties.

Did you have a flight delay or cancellation? Check your rights now and increase your chances of compensation

Many passengers have certainly experienced it before. You are looking forward to a holiday or a short city trip, and then you wait for hours for the plane to finally take off due to bad weather or a storm, or the flight is cancelled completely. In aviation, these events are called extraordinary circumstances. But what exactly counts as extraordinary circumstances in aviation, and what rights do passengers have when something like this happens? Find out here in our blog article.

What are EU air passenger rights?

Like many other issues affecting aviation in Europe, extraordinary circumstances are set out in the EU Air Passenger Rights and its accompanying Regulation. The EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation was developed to protect air travelers from the inconvenience resulting from long waiting times or flight cancellations that the airline could have avoided. The full name of the regulation is: “Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council, establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights”. Among other things, this established a system of compensation as a basic protection for passengers, which should encourage airlines to avoid delays and cancellations where possible.

Based on the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, your flight must meet some conditions to be eligible for compensation. The flight must either depart from the EU or the airline must be based in the EU and the flight must land in the EU. The affected flight must also have taken place no more than 3 years ago. It is not relevant for the validity of the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation whether the flight was part of a package tour or a business trip.

What exactly is enshrined in the Air Passenger Rights Regulation?

  • Your rights in case of denied boarding against your will, cancellation and delay of your flight.
  • When you are entitled to compensation payments of €250 to €600
  • What services the airline must provide
  • When you are allowed to cancel and rebook your flight in the event of cancellations or long delays
  • How you must be informed about cancellations and your rights

What are “extraordinary circumstances” in the case of flight cancellations and delays?

When travelling by plane, many things may not go as you would like. Especially the weather or even strikes can cost passengers a lot of nerves and even more patience. But what are unavoidable extraordinary circumstances? And are extraordinary circumstances also refundable in the case of flight delays? If the airline is not responsible for the flight delay, it does not have to pay compensation according to the Air Passenger Rights Regulation. This applies in the case of so-called “extraordinary circumstances”. These include

One exception: the airline could have avoided the problem. If, for example, the airline did not stock up sufficiently on de-icing preparation when winter set in, it may be responsible for the flight delay – especially if other airlines’ planes were able to take off on schedule. This means that airlines are not automatically exempt from paying compensation. Passengers may therefore have a claim if the airlines did not take all reasonable measures to minimise the consequences of the extraordinary circumstance.

EU Regulation 261/04: Exceptional circumstances

Exceptional circumstances can require a lot of patience, as they usually involve situations where passengers have to wait a very long time or cannot fly at all. But how exactly are extraordinary circumstances described in the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation, which since 2004 has ensured that passengers can be compensated up to €600 in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or a long delay of flights? The term “extraordinary circumstance” is not defined more precisely in EU Regulation 261/04. However, if we go by the wording, it is the case that the circumstances are extraordinary and can lead to a lapse in the compensation obligation. In other words, they are outside of what is usual in the course of passenger transport. This refers to external events that can impair the scheduled performance of air traffic or make it impossible, such as a technical defect or bad weather.

How do I assert passenger rights?

Are you also affected by flight delays or cancellations and do not know how to assert your passenger rights? We have prepared a short checklist for you, which is the easiest way to get your rights:

You may be entitled to compensation of between €250 and €600 under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation if your flight is delayed for 3 hours or more, cancelled or overbooked, or if you have missed your connecting flight.

After waiting 2 hours at the airport, you are already entitled to drinks and snacks from the airline.


  • You have checked in on time. (Normally up to 45 minutes before departure)
  • Your problem flight was no longer than 3 years ago
  • The airline is responsible for the flight disruption. (Example: technical problem or sick flight crew)
  • Your flight either departed from the EU (any airline) or landed in the EU (airlines based in the EU)
  • You have a valid ticket and booking confirmation.
  • The type of booking, e.g. individual, business or package holiday, does not affect your right to compensation.

It is often difficult for passengers to claim compensation on their own. Many airlines block, ignore, put off and misrepresent the facts in order not to have to pay compensation. Passengers quickly find themselves on their own. We help passengers to get their rights and campaign for their compensation. Since we know what tricks and excuses the airlines use and what arguments and evidence are necessary to successfully enforce compensation, we have already been able to win over 350,000,000 euros for our clients. Simply use our compensation calculator for a free check of your flight. If you are eligible for a compensation payment, you can instruct us to enforce your claims with just one click.

How long can one claim for flight delays?

In Germany, you can assert your claim against the airline up to 3 years after your problem flight. Incidentally, the deadline here is calculated at the end of the year. This means if you experienced a flight delay, cancellation or other flight irregularity in 2023, you can claim compensation or ticket reimbursement until the end of 2026. Other countries have different rules: in France, you have 5 years to file your claim, in the UK it’s 6 years to claim compensation or a ticket refund for a flight cancellation following the EU regulation.

What are the deadlines for flight delay compensation?

The time limit depends on the country in which you wish to enforce your claim. While a time limit of 3 years applies in Germany, it is 6 years in the UK again. You can find out more about flight delay compensation deadline here.

When does an airline not have to pay compensation?

An airline does not have to pay compensation if there are unavoidable extraordinary circumstances. Then the airline is not responsible for the flight delay if the airline took all reasonable measures to minimize the consequences of the extraordinary circumstance. If, for example, the airline has stocked up on enough de-icing fluid and is therefore well-prepared, and the flight is still cancelled, it may not have to pay compensation.

This might also interest you: Truly exceptional circumstances.
Flying during thunderstorms – What should I bear in mind? Flight detour due to night flight ban
What are my rights in the event of a flight delay? When will I get my PNR number?

How can Flightright help you?

Your trip is booked but now the airline is getting in the way of your vacation happiness? Is your flight overbooked, delayed or canceled? Has your luggage been delayed or lost?

Tip: Flightright can help you enforce your air passenger rights! You can check your claims with us free of charge.

As experts in the field of air passenger rights, we enforce your right to compensation against the airline!

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