Getting United to Pay EU Compensation for a Flight Delay
Hilary Stockton

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Getting United to Pay EU Compensation for a Flight Delay


TravelSort Reader Betsy writes "While traveling on a United Airlines flight from Barcelona to Texas, our flight was delayed overnight due to mechanical issues. It was delayed the next day for 6 hours due to mechanical issues as well causing an overnight delay in Newark. Needless to say, I was over 50 hours delayed. United is saying that i do not qualify for cash compensation because i am not a EU citizen. is this true?"

United's response is wrong, but unfortunately not surprising, since United and most other airlines often won't pay the compensation that EU 261/2004 stipulates, without a fight. But first, a review of what the EU regulation is:

The European Union’s Regulation 261/2004 applies if:

  • Your flight is departing from an airport located in an EU Member State; or
  • Traveling to an EU Member State on an airline based in an EU Member State
  • You have a confirmed reservation on the flight and arrived in time for check-in, UNLESS you’re travelling on a free or discounted ticket (does not include a frequent flyer ticket; so you are still covered by EU 261/2004 on an award ticket).

There are three components of compensation: cash compensation, rerouting or refunding, and refreshments/communication/accommodation.

Cash compensation for cancellations or delays that result in arriving more than 3 hours later than scheduled depends on the length of your flight:

  1. Flight of <1500 km: 250 EUR
  2. Flight within the EU >1500 km; OR any flight >1500 km but <3500 km: 400 EUR
  3. Flight not within the EU >3500 km: 600 EUR

Rerouting or refunding

The passenger may choose one of these three options:

  • Airline reimburses the cost of the unused flight tickets, and for used tickets where the flight taken no longer serves any purpose for the passenger’s original travel plan. In the latter case, the airline must provide a flight back to the original point of departure at the earliest opportunity.
  • Airline reroutes passenger under similar conditions to the intended final destination at the earliest opportunity.
  • Airline reroutes passenger under similar conditions to the intended final destination at the passenger’s leisure, subject to the availability of seats

Refreshments, Communication and Accommodation

The airline is required to provide to delayed passengers, free of charge:

  • Meals and refreshments in proportion to waiting time
  • Two phone calls or emails
  • Hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and hotel, if a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary

The airline may only reduce or withdraw these entitlements if offering them would delay the flight further.


According to EU 261/2004 Article 5, Paragraph 3 "The Airline is not obliged to provide cash compensation in the case of extraordinary circumstances which could not have been foreseen even if the airline took all reasonable precautions."

So in Betsy's case, United could try to claim this, although recent cases have indicated that mechanical problems do NOT constitute extraordinary circumstances. See the first two paragraphs of this article, bolding mine:

"The European Court of Justice has upheld a decision made last year, that entitled passengers to financial compensation, unless the delay was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances'.

The ruling also confirmed that mechanical problems do not fall in to that category."

Also see this link describing European Court of Justice Judgments on Regulation No. 261/2004, in particular point 3:

"Article 5(3) of Regulation No 261/2004 must be interpreted as meaning that a technical problem in an aircraft which leads to the cancellation or delay of a flight is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision, unless that problem stems from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control."

And in the case of Friederike Wallentin-Hermann v. Alitalia

"The fact that an air carrier has complied with the minimum rules on maintenance of an aircraft cannot in itself suffice to establish that that carrier has taken ‘all reasonable measures’ within the meaning of Article 5(3) of Regulation No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and, therefore, to relieve that carrier of its obligation to pay compensation provided for by Articles 5(1)(c) and 7(1) of that regulation."

So Betsy, based on her account of a United delay that meant an overnight in Barcelona and another 6 hour delay the next day, has a claim--the problem is getting United to pay it. While it can be time consuming and there's no guarantee of getting what you're owed, here's what I'd recommend based on this account from Flyertalk member jcs27, who actually did get cash compensation for a cancelled flight and having to leave earlier on a different flight:

1. Fill Out the United Customer Care Form with All Your Contact Info and the Flight Details

Make sure to include your United MileagePlus number, all of your contact information, Flight details including ticket number, flight number, origin, destination, date etc. 


2. When Stating Your Case in the Customer Care Form, Stick to the Facts and the Compensation You Are Owed

While it may be tempting to cover all the excruciating ramifications of your delay or cancellation, it's best to keep your statement succinct and stick to the facts. In Betsy's case, each person in her party was delayed for X hours (total of the overnight delay + 6 hours) at Barcelona, on an international flight of over 3500 km departing from an EU member country,  and the arrival was over 3 hours, so each person is due 600 EUR in compensation. 

Don't forget to make a copy of this Customer Care Form, both for your records and so that you can include it if you have to follow up with the regulatory authority in the EU country you flew from (or to).


3. United Should Email You a PDF Form to Fill Out and Mail to the EU Airport Where Your Flight Was Delayed or Cancelled

Keep in mind that even for the Flyertalk poster, this wasn't quick--it took about a month for United to send this form.


4. Fill Out the PDF Form, Requesting Compensation in the Form of a Check, and Mail to the Airport

Note that United's office in the airport in question will be responsible for processing your claim and cutting and sending your check, which will be denominated in Euros.


5. If You Don't Receive a Satisfactory Response from United, Send a Complaint to the Regulatory Authority of the EU Country

Here's the EU Complaint Form. It advises including a copy of what you already sent to United

And here is a pdf with the list of National Enforcement Bodies for EU 261/2004

It won't hurt to send a copy of this to United as well.


If you've claimed EU compensation for a flight delay or cancellation, what was your experience?

Related Posts

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights - What Are Flyers' Rights for Delays, Cancellations and Reroutings?

How to Complain to Airlines and Get Compensated

Which Travel Rewards Credit Card to Redeem on Any Airline?

Best and Worst U.S. Airlines: Late Flights, Cancellations, Lost Luggage

Tips to Avoid and Deal with Lost Luggage 

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Picture?type=large Krys T. commented 23 Mar 2013
I greatly appreciate your detailed analysis of the situation. I will follow your guidance and keep you posted on my fight with United.
Picture?type=large Betsy K. commented 23 Mar 2013
Thank you for writing this detailed report regarding my ongoing battle with United for EU Compensation for a delayed flight. I am going to follow your recommendations and keep you posted on the process. ~ Betsy
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 23 Mar 2013
Betsy and Krys, I really hope you manage to get the compensation you're owed from United. I was somewhat heartened by the experience of jcs27, in that he actually did finally get the compensation he was owed even though the process wasn't quick.
Picture?type=large Riley M. commented 05 Jul 2013
Hi, I am in the final stages of my claim with United for a flight on May 3, 2013. I submitted my initial mail through their online contact form which was replied to by post. They initially rejected my claim stating that the circumstances around my flight delay did not come under this piece of legislation. I replied back insisting that it was with details of the delays and my experience as well as quoting a bit of the legislation and confirming that I would not hesitate to take them to small claims court over it. I received an email a few weeks later with a claim form and advising me to send it to their office at Heathrow which I did yesterday and am now just waiting on the bank transfer. It was a bit drawn out, but I was successful. Good luck everyone!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 05 Jul 2013
Riley, glad that your persistence is paying off! Getting U.S. carriers to pay EU compensation for flight delays is often like pulling teeth, but hopefully you'll receive your compensation soon.
Picture?type=large Riley M. commented 26 Jul 2013
Good news since my last post. The transfer from United arrived in my account yesterday which was about 2.5-3 weeks after submitting the claim form. All in all the process took just over 2 months from initial request/complaint to final payment.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 26 Jul 2013
Fantastic! So glad you received your compensation, and thanks for sharing your experience, as it will help others also seeking EU Compensation from United know what to expect.
Picture?type=large Betsy K. commented 26 Jul 2013
Great news Riley! After following Heather's advice, United sent me the compensation forms. Last week I received the money. I did the same for everyone in my itinerary and as of today we have all received the compensation. Thank you again Heather!!!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 26 Jul 2013
Wonderful, glad you and your companions received the EU compensation you were due!
Picture?type=large Krys T. commented 26 Jul 2013
Hilary's advice not Heather. I apologize for the confusion!!
Picture?type=large Yacoub O. commented 03 Jan 2014
i need help but don't really know where to start .Hillary please.
Picture?type=large Elaine W. commented 18 Jan 2014
Thank you so much for this page and directions. I had a delay over the holidays due to the luggage being mis-loaded onto the plane. My flight was from Chicago to Belfast City through Heathrow. My final landing ended up being 5.5 hours after I was scheduled to land, which meant missing some of my family members who had to leave. It was a terrible way to start the holidays. I hope that I do not have to fight United and this goes smoothly. I'll keep updating here to let you all know.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 18 Jan 2014
Elaine, glad the post was helpful, and fingers crossed that you receive compensation or a gesture of goodwill. While EU 261 doesn't apply if this was a United flight from Chicago (it would have to be an EU carrier for it to apply for flights *from* the U.S.) it would apply if you had a separate flight LHR to Belfast that arrived >3 hours after scheduled: 250 EUR per person, as LHR-BFS distance is <1500 km. Good luck!
Picture?type=large Nathan H. commented 28 Jan 2014
Does any one know if this rule applies to flights that cause you to miss a flight in a nonEU country. My flight from Heathrow to Vancouver by 28 hours because the flight from Heathrow was delayed causing me to miss my connecting flight in Chicago. I couldn't get another flight until the next day. They only offered me a $250 voucher. Is this because I was technically delayed in Chicago not London?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 07 Aug 2014
Nathan, sorry I missed your earlier comment. I'm not clear on how your flight was delayed 28 hours if the Heathrow flight wasn't also delayed. And if your flight from London Heathrow was delayed, you should be able to claim compensation assuming it wasn't delayed due to an extraordinary circumstance, such as weather.
Picture?type=large Mike B. commented 07 Aug 2014
We had a flight cancelled due to maintenance issues this week from Heathrow through Washington Dulles on United. They did provide an apology in the form of a $300 voucher by email. When the flight was cancelled again (after we had all checked in and had out luggage loaded again) on the second day, they sent me another $300 voucher. They had given us a decent hotel, transport and meals the first night. On the second we ended up getting on Virgin flight later in the day. I expect my companion to get similar vouchers. After all that, does it seems that they may still be on the hook for the 600 Euro for each of us? Or will they argue that this was sufficient?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 07 Aug 2014
You could refuse the vouchers and hold out for the 600 EUR you're each entitled to, but of course United is banking on the fact that most passengers won't want to deal with the protracted battle with United to secure this, and will just accept the vouchers. Good luck with whichever you decide.
Picture?type=large Katharina S. commented 24 Aug 2014
We are stuck at Newark, having missed the connecting flight to Europe due to mechanical problems on the incoming flight (delayed 3 hours) and will get home to Sweden 24 hours later than planned. Since we have a ticket bought in Sweden, do we qualify for EU compensation? Katharina
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 24 Aug 2014
Katharina, unfortunately, if you're on a United flight, you don't have a claim. Coverage doesn't depend on where you bought the ticket. If you were flying an airline based in an EU member state, such as SAS, Lufthansa, British Airways, etc. then you would be covered when flying to an EU member state. You're always covered when departing an EU member state.
Picture?type=large Wouter Z. commented 01 Oct 2014
Hi Hilary, We are from Holland and booked a flight from Amsterdam to San Jose, Costa Rica. On our way back the plane had mechanical problems wich resulted in a 8 hour delay. Because of this we missed our flight from Houston, Texas to Amsterdam and they had to rebook us to the next day. They payed for the hotel and gave us vouchers for 2 meals. I started emailing to United and they first offered me a fly certificate of € 50. I declined this offer and filled in a complaint form. Now they offer me a fly certificate of 300 Dollar. Today i sended them a mail that i decline and would like to file a claim. Do i have a case here? Wouter.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Oct 2014
Wouter, very sorry to hear of your delays on your return from Costa Rica to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, EU 261/2004 does not apply for your return flight, because even though you were traveling to an EU Member State, United is not an EU airline (see the eligibility criteria noted in the post: "Traveling to an EU Member State on an airline based in an EU Member State"). While ALL airlines including United are liable for any delays when *departing* from the EU, only EU airlines are liable for delays on return flights to the EU.
Picture?type=large Wouter Z. commented 01 Oct 2014
So the advice is to just take the 300 dollar fly certificates? According to the EU 261/2004 i have no rights. Is here not a way to file a claim of some sort through American legislation?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Oct 2014
Wouter, unfortunately the U.S. has no legislation that gives you any claim--all you're owed is in the airline's contract of carriage, which typically just obligates the airline to get you to your final destination on a future flight or refund you the portion of the unused ticket, with lodging/meals provided. See United's Contract of Carriage, specifically Delays, starting on p. 33: There is no compensation, so the best you'll get is the $300 certs or whatever other "goodwill gesture" you're able to negotiate with United. You may want to at least try for United miles instead of certificates, since you could then use United miles to fly a different Star Alliance partner instead of United next time. Here are examples of the type of goodwill gestures United has granted for various delays and other inconveniences:
Picture?type=large Wouter Z. commented 01 Oct 2014
Ok thanks for the information. I just got an email back that they can offer me a) a 300 dollar certificate, or B) 15,000 miles + the miles from the flight we took (we don't have a miles account yet) so i don't know if 15,000 is a better offer then the 300 dollar, not knowing how the mile system works, but you'd advise me to take the miles then ?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Oct 2014
Glad United offered you a choice. A $300 certificate vs. 15,000 United miles is a bit of a wash (it basically values each United mile at 2 cents each) but I'd recommend only taking the $300 certificate if you definitely plan on flying United within a year, since they typically expire in 1 year. Miles can expire as well, but you can keep them alive (see You can either earn more United miles by crediting Star Alliance partner flights to United, in order to redeem for a longer flight, or redeem 15,000 United miles for a short economy flight within Europe, e.g. AMS to FRA on Lufthansa, ZRH-MAD etc. Often those flights aren't $300, but if you weren't planning to fly United in the future (who could blame you given your recent experience) a free short flight that you can use is better than a certificate that ends up expiring unused.
Picture?type=large Elle O. commented 26 Dec 2014
I was on a United flight this summer from CDG back home to SFO, non-stop. I actually ended my vacation early so I could head back and pick up some work I was offered, but due to the extreme delay (4+hours) I missed the work. I'm trying to get the money out of United that I am due under Regulation 261, and I will fight them until I do, or until I refer it to one of the many agencies who fight these claims successfully. United has claimed they are not responsible under the law, but they haven't given me a reason why they aren't, and I'm in the middle of filing a complaint against them with the EU regulatory body. Fortunately my sister speaks fluent French, so that's a big help when contacting authorities in France. ...but yeah, will fight them until I get was is owed me-- which still won't cover the money I lost from the work I wasn't able to do. Will update when I'm successful, and let you know how I did it. I must admit I'm very tired of airlines holding passengers hostage with absurd rules and fees. it's especially infuriating considering that those same airlines refuse to honor laws that put any onus on them when their mistakes affect passengers. Double standards are so not cool, United!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 15 Jan 2015
Sorry to hear Elle, and assuming that the reason the United flight was delayed was not weather or other "extraordinary circumstances" hope that you're able to get the EU 261/2004 compensation you are due.
Picture?type=large Magnolia P. commented 15 Jan 2015
I have a bad situation with USAIR/ The new American Airline. My flight US air 717 ex MUC was can on dec14th, 2014 and they reboked me 19 hrs later. The MUc crew advised that I was entitked due to mechanical of the plane of Euro 600.00 and to claim this to contact USAIR in the USA. I did so and after 15 contact via phone, email, fax, certified letter, they send me a 200.00 travel voucher without comment. they claim that mechanical is out of the airlines control and they are not liable. Any suggestions. USAIR and the new AA as well throw the ball to each other and claim each other airline of the merger is responsible and that merger issues are resulting in this. What baloni. They just do not want to pay.I would love to hear if any body has gotten compensation for can flight fro AA or USAIR under EU261/2004.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 15 Jan 2015
Magnolia, ugh, sorry to hear of your long delay and that US Air is giving you the old mechanical excuse as to why they aren't liable under EU261/2004. EU Cases have established that a mechanical problem is *not* an extraordinary circumstance. I would file a DOT complaint ( and write back to American citing the cases I mentioned in this post, that a mechanical problem is not an extraordinary circumstance for purposes of the EU regulation. A last resort is Small Claims Court or one of the sites that fight your case for you and take a percentage of the paid claim.
Picture?type=large Magnolia P. commented 17 Jan 2015
Hi Hilary, I complained to the DOT and to the german LBA already, and wrote AA back. the issue with AA is that there is no direct contact , the webmail form the are using goes into a self lauding NEW AA email with an auto response.No email address, no reply, no phone number. AA is trying to tire passengers out so they have not to pay. This is a totally other case in itself.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 17 Jan 2015
Magnolia, sorry to hear that all this has been in vain so far. I would consider small claims court if you want to pursue this yourself, or one of the sites that take a percentage of any recovery if you don't have the time. As an example, this poster on Flyertalk took KLM to NY small claims court and prevailed:
Picture?type=large Paul C. commented 19 Feb 2015
I understand compensation is only possible when the company is based in the EU. I had a flight last Sunday with UA from Houston to Amsterdam with a 5 hour delay. Agents told me I am not liable for compensation. Sincerely, Paul
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