Court Rules US Domestic Flight Delays Can Be Subject To EU Compensation

If an airline plays stupid games, it’s going to win stupid prizes.

Like many carriers, United Airlines and Lufthansa operate a ‘joint venture’ where they share revenue for their operations across the Atlantic. There’s not supposed to be any difference between traveling on a United flight or a Lufthansa flight. Both airlines put their flight codes on the other carrier’s flights. That means United sells Lufthansa flights as though they were United flights with a United flight number, and vice versa.

But if Lufthansa is going to sell United flights as though the fights were their own, then those flights become subject to European consumer protection rules. Specifically, EU compensation applies when a flight originates in Europe and the itinerary connects in the U.S. according to a new court ruling.

EU travellers who book flights through a European airline can claim compensation in the event of a major delay of the connecting flight — even outside Europe, a court ruled on Thursday.

In its judgement, the European Court of Justice said that the entirety of a journey that was subject to a single reservation fell under the EU’s rules on flight delays, even if the flight was operated by a non-EU airline.

The case involved a journey booked through German carrier Lufthansa for three passengers from Brussels to San Jose in California, with a stopover in Newark.

A 3 hour 43 minute delayed arrival traveling United Airlines Newark – San Jose triggered EU compensation liability. But since the trip started in Brussels, United was liable for 600 euros per passenger.

What You’re Entitled To For European Flight Delays

EU regulation 261 (2004) requires airlines to compensate passengers between €250 and €600 cash for flight delays of over 3 hours, for cancellations, and for involuntary denied boardings due to overbooking. The amount depends on the distance of the flight.

This applies to flight departures from EU countries, and it applies to flights headed to the EU on airlines based there. It also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. And it applies to award tickets not just paid tickets.

Compensation even applies to cancellations that happen in advance, not just the day of departure. In fact if the cancellation happens within two weeks of departure an airline has to pay compensation unless they can provide transportation more than two hours earlier that arrives no more than four hours later than originally scheduled. The rules get more stringent within a week of departure.

Handling A Claim Yourself

You can simply write to the airline’s customer service something to the effect of,

I am writing regarding flight NUMBER on [date] from AAAA to BBBB with scheduled departure time of XX:XX. My record locator is ZZZZZZZ and ticket number 0000000000.

This flight arrived TK hours late [or “was cancelled and I arrived on flight ABC at XX:XX on Y date.”] Therefore I am requesting compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004.

The flight was XYZ kilometers therefore I am seeking €[amount].

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to your reply within 14 days.


To be clear, if you file a claim and the airline doesn’t honor it, you cannot sue in a U.S. court. There are several third party services that will take your claim and try to collect for a portion of the fee. But you do bear some risk.

(HT: Alan Z)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So if an America, living in America, flying out of America, books a flight on United Airlines, but uses the Lufthansa codeshare, you can get compensated if there’s a delay?

  2. That’s what I was to know.

    With AA there is a likelihood of getting more LP’s by flying on partner flight # but with AA FF#. (Even if the flight itself is AA metal)

    That would just be added bonus to have the EU rules apply.

  3. This will hurt AC. Their OTP is 40%-70% (in a good month)

    Every other flight is delayed.

  4. So I guess British Airways is going to owe a lot of passengers compensation for the many flights they canceled recently…..

  5. Don’t quote this as gospel, but I believe the relevant portion of this is “when a flight originates in Europe”. Not sure this would apply if your first point of departure were in the US, even if bought on an EU airline that is flying US metal. There are a couple ways to interpret that origin statement, but the least likely one seems to be starting in the US. It’s possible that if the return flight were delayed, after an outbound leg started in Europe, but more knowledgeable posters will have to clear that up. Also not clear, but I think it is covered, would be flights from the EU on US or UK airlines – which gets to @Zebraitis question. I (or someone else) would have to look up the rules for non-EU based airlines with flights operating out of Europe. I did look it up once when we had a flight delayed out of Dublin on AA, but it fell past the filing period, so I didn’t bother to read the rules carefully.

    Now that I’m booking my business class flights out of Europe on Oneworld partners to get much cheaper fares and more LPs, it would be good to know exactly how this works. (Often half the price or less, double the LPs.)

  6. A BA flight we were to fly from AMS – LCY canceled while we were asleep. BA provided a taxi for us to fly from RTM & a nice $600 each. That was much more than we had paid for the flight & we arrived LCY only a couple hours later.

  7. @rjb the UK adopted the same rules and branded them UK261. They adjusted the compensation to be more or less in line with what it was before, just officially stated in GBP instead of EUR. Of course BA departures from the EU would still be subject to EU261, as are all foreign carriers.

  8. EC 261/2004 type regulation applies to ticketed flights for EU, Schengen and UK airline-coded flights and for flights departing those areas.

    Glad to see such consumer protections be in force for relevantly coded flights too, even as it seems that most people who could make a claim under such kind of regulation never seem to do so.

  9. I am confused. I thought under the current rule, any airline even foreign carriers are subject to EU261 if departing from EU, which is the case in this case. What am I missing here? I think the significant implication of this ruling would be the non-eu airline departing from non-EU airport but landing in EU airport (or any other airport in the world) if the ticket is sold by EU airline. One example is what Thing 1 said but I think it would apply even broader cases like USA-EU-Middle East or Asia, UA&singapore operated flight ticketed by LH….

  10. What court ruled this? You didn’t cite the case nor the court. Is it a United States based court, a European court?

  11. A European court.

    There are AA-operated, UA-operated and DL-operated flights that depart from US airports with passengers flying under EU/UK airline codeshares from US airports (on domestic and international flights) that are subject to the rules under EC 261/2004 type regulation.

  12. 4 yrs ago our Aer Lingus BOS-DUB flight was canceled. We flewout next day. Airlines will never tell you to file, but we did and got 600 euro each. And CSR insurance covered our Hyatt Logan overnight, and dinner.

  13. C_M, you’ve fined tuned to the case correctly.

    The judgement from the EU Court of Justice refers to the case as summarized this way. The case is about “compensation to air passengers in the context of flights with connections departing from an airport situated in the territory of a Member State [EU member country] and involving a connection at an airport situated in the territory of a third State [non-EU member country] and having as their final destination another airport in that third State [non-EU member country].

    So, regardless of EU regulations, THIS PARTICULAR RULING doesn’t cover,
    1. Flights from the U.S. that have delays in the U.S.
    2. British Airways flights that originate in the UK because while the UK has adopted the same rules as are in the EU, this court ruling only refers to the EU rule as they don’t have jurisdiction in the UK.
    3. Passengers who board the flight in the U.S. and fly on it only in the U.S. because the ruling only refers to passengers who boarded the flight in the EU.
    4. U.S. domestic flights on any airline as they aren’t originating in an EU member country.

  14. IF a flight originates in the U.S, but flies to EU, or vice versa, the EU rule applies, whether American or EU plane. The case in point was heard by the EU Court of Justice. Just roll with it people. At least the EU believes passengers are entitled to be treated like humans.

  15. The word coming out of Philadelphia City Hall is that the mask mandate will be ending in Philadelphia on Friday, April 22 as hospitalizations have dropped substantially this week within the City.

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