The Realities Behind Extraordinary Circumstances

Have you ever had your flight delayed and later discovered it was caused by something beyond the airline’s control?

You may have the right to compensation in certain cases.

The EU Regulation 261/2004 specifies situations that would exempt airlines from providing compensation to affected passengers. If you are affected by an airline delay or cancellation, read this article to understand when can you claim compensation for your delayed or canceled flight.

What are Extraordinary Circumstances?

When understanding your rights, the first step is understanding what “extraordinary circumstances” are, as defined by EU Regulation 261/2004.

Extraordinary circumstances refer to situations outside an airline’s control, so they don’t have to compensate affected passengers.

Four criteria must be met for a flight problem to qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.

  1. Unforeseeable: Was the cause of disruption outside of anyone’s control?
  2. External: Did the issue occur outside the airline’s sphere of influence?
  3. Unavoidable: Did all necessary precautions to prevent the disruption occur properly?
  4. Unexpected: Was the cause due to something unpredictable?

Extraordinary circumstances can range from air traffic control delays and safety-related reasons like bird strikes or bad weather conditions to political unrest or natural disasters all scenarios where it would be unreasonable to hold an airline liable.

It’s also important to note that airline staff or technical difficulties do not count as extraordinary circumstances and do not exempt airlines from providing compensation.

Which Situations Qualify as Extraordinary Circumstances?

So, now you know what EU Reg. 261/2004 applies to, but which situations qualify as extraordinary circumstances?

Under the regulation, airlines are not responsible for paying compensation when:

  • Weather events such as volcanic ash clouds prevent flight.
  • Air traffic control restrictions make operating a flight impossible.
  • Political decisions by a government prevent the airline from operating its flight (e.g., a rapidly changing political situation that requires the airlines to switch airports or cancel flights)
  • Security risks for passengers, if the risk of further harm is severe enough that traveling is unsafe
  • Unforeseen technical problems that arise suddenly and can’t be avoided by the maintenance
  • Strike actions taken by cabin crew, airport personnel, or air traffic controllers—provided that it was unforeseeable or outside the airline’s control.

In these situations, an airline would not be obliged to pay any compensation for delayed or canceled flights. Knowing your rights ahead of time can help you adequately prepare and avoid miscommunication between you and your airline.

How Much Compensation for a Delayed Flight?

Flight delay compensation amounts vary between 250 Euros to 600 Euros. It depends on the route distance and the length of the delay.

Here’s the table below to understand “how much compensation you may get for a delayed flight

Recievable Amount Route Distance Length of Delay
250€ less than 1500 km 3+ hours
400€ between 1500 to 3500 km 3+ hours
600€ more than 3500 km 4+ hours *

* When EU borders are not crossed, the amount may get reduced by 50%, i.e., you can get up to 300€ for a distance of over 3500 km.

Was your flight delayed? You may be eligible for compensation

Has your flight been delayed for more than 3 hours or even canceled? Don't worry, you may be eligible for compensation up to 600€ under the EU Regulation 261/2004.

Check if You're Eligible

We offer "No Win - No Fee" Services, so claiming is Risk-Free!

Which is the best company to claim flight delay compensation?

ClaimFlights is the best flight delay claim company when it comes to the payout after their 25% service fee. Through ClaimFlights, you could get 75% of the receivable compensation.

The following table gives you a direct comparison of flight delay compensation claim companies.

Your payout* (as Flight Delay Compensation)

for less than 1500 km for 1501 to 3500 km for more than 3500 km
ClaimFlights 187.50 € 300 € 450 €
Flightright 125.75 € 201.20 € 301.80 €
AirHelp 125 € 200 € 300 €
ClaimCompass 125 € 200 € 300 €
SkyRefund 125 € 200 € 300 €

* Source: Price comparison of flight delay claim companies, as of 27th May 2021.

Definition of Extraordinary Circumstances

These are extraordinary events that are:

  • Beyond the control of the carrier
  • Could not have been avoided even if the carrier had taken all reasonable measures
  • In particular, weather conditions are incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned.

The Impact of a Worldwide Pandemic on Air Travel

We’re all familiar with the disruption to travel caused by the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. But how does COVID-19 affect passenger compensation claims
under EC 261?

The European Union has published guidelines determining if extraordinary circumstances apply to claims under EU law.

The fact that aviation has been greatly impacted by the pandemic and the wide-reaching travel restrictions placed by governments worldwide means that airlines can claim their situation is extraordinary.

That means airlines are not liable for compensation for lengthy delays, cancellations, and denied boarding due to the impact of the pandemic on air travel and safety—even if they were responsible in some way.

This exemption applies to any flights that have seen disruption since February 2020 and continue until the end of 2021.

The reality is that flight cancellations and delays caused by the pandemic are exempt from compensation.

That’s why it’s important to stay informed about regulation changes, so you can understand your rights when traveling by air during a global health crisis.

The Considerations for Refunding Affected Passengers under EU Law

When an airline cannot provide the expected service due to extraordinary circumstances beyond its control, they are usually not liable when refunding affected passengers.

While it might sound unfair, the good news is that certain EU law allows for some leniency in these cases.

In particular, EU law EC 261 provides a framework for airlines to understand what does and does not constitute extraordinary circumstances.

The considerations for refunding affected passengers under this law can be divided into three groups:

1. Unavoidable situations

These are unavoidable if they cannot be avoided or reasonably predicted. Examples could include:

  • Security risks.
  • Air traffic control issues.
  • Bad weather conditions make flights unsafe or significantly disrupt schedules.

2. Unforeseeable circumstances

Unforeseeable circumstances are unpredictable like medical emergencies or technical problems with the airplane that couldn’t have been fixed in time. These might include strikes by external staff, which create flight cancellations and delays beyond the airline’s control.

3. Unusual circumstances

The last group of considerations is more complicated- these scenarios don’t fall into the above categories but still warrant exemptions from compensating passengers.

Examples could include unexpected high levels of disruption caused by significant events such as natural disasters or civil unrest in foreign countries.

Travelers should be provided with alternative compensation forms, such as those listed above, without relying on full denial of receipt of compensation under EU law.

Alternatives to Denying Flight Compensation under EU 261 Regulation

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, have you been denied flight compensation due to extraordinary circumstances? Airlines often use the phrase “extraordinary circumstances” to deny passenger reimbursement.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

What falls under Extraordinary Circumstances?

The EU Regulation 261/2004 outlines what constitutes “extraordinary circumstances.” These are exceptional events or situations beyond an airline’s control, such as serious labor disruptions (i.e., strikes), air traffic control limitations, and extraordinary weather conditions.

You cannot claim damages if the delay or cancellation of your flight is due to some of these extraordinary events.

Alternatives Options to Compensation That Fall under EU Law

Rather than denying reimbursement, an airline may offer alternatives to passengers affected by extraordinary circumstances.

Such benefits could include flight vouchers and discounts on future flights with the same airline, free accommodation or meals provided at an airport during delays or cancellations, and fast-track access through security and passport control when available at airports.

Furthermore, airlines should always help passengers contact their families or reach their final destination with alternative transportation options (where applicable).

By providing travelers with alternatives, such as these forms of compensation listed above, airlines can help lessen the burden of canceled flights due to extraordinary events more consistently and economically for everyone without relying on full denial of receipt of compensation under EU law.


In summary, EU Regulation 261/2004 provides a comprehensive framework for clarifying the circumstances in which airlines should and can be exempt from compensating passengers due to extraordinary circumstances.

These circumstances are beyond the airline’s control, as outlined in the regulation and elaborated on in this article. However, the regulation may still apply to other delays and cancellations, and the airline must provide compensation.

Ultimately, passengers need to know their rights to ensure they receive the compensation they may be entitled to.

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Related Questions

What should passengers do if they believe their flight delay or cancellation was not caused by extraordinary circumstances?

If passengers believe that their flight delay or cancellation was not caused by extraordinary circumstances, they may wish to seek assistance from a claims management company or legal professional to help them pursue compensation.

The burden of proof is on the airline to demonstrate that the delay or cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances, and if the passenger feels that this is not the case, they may have a valid claim for compensation.

It’s important to gather as much information and documentation as possible to support the claim, such as boarding passes, flight tickets, and any communication with the airline.

Can airlines use the "extraordinary circumstances" defense to avoid paying compensation for delays and cancellations?

Yes, airlines can use the “extraordinary circumstances” defense to avoid paying compensation for delays and cancellations under EU Regulation 261/2004. However, the airline must be able to demonstrate that the delay or cancellation was caused by circumstances that were beyond their control and could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Examples of such circumstances include severe weather conditions, political unrest, security risks, and air traffic control strikes. It’s important to note that the burden of proof is on the airline to demonstrate that the delay or cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances.

If a passenger believes that the airline is using this defense incorrectly, they may wish to seek the assistance of a claims management company or legal professional to help them pursue compensation.

Can airlines use technical problems with aircraft as an excuse for extraordinary circumstances?

No, airlines cannot use technical problems with aircraft as an excuse for extraordinary circumstances. Technical problems are considered part of the normal operation of an airline and are not considered extraordinary circumstances unless they are caused by an event that is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier and is outside the control of the airline.

This was confirmed by several court rulings in the EU, which have stated that technical problems with aircraft are not extraordinary circumstances unless they are caused by a hidden manufacturing defect that could not have been detected through regular maintenance or inspections.

Therefore, if a flight is delayed or canceled due to a technical problem with the aircraft, passengers may still be eligible for compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004, unless the airline can prove that the problem was caused by an extraordinary circumstance.

What are some alternatives to pursuing compensation through legal means?

Passengers who experience a delayed or canceled flight may have several alternatives to pursuing compensation through legal means.

These alternatives include contacting the airline directly to request compensation, hiring a claims management company to handle the claim, seeking assistance from consumer advocacy groups, and making a claim through travel insurance.

However, it’s important to note that these alternatives may not always be successful, and legal action may still be necessary in some cases.

What steps can airlines take to prevent or mitigate the impact of "extraordinary circumstances" on their flights?

Airlines can take various steps to prevent or mitigate the impact of “extraordinary circumstances” on their flights.

These include implementing proactive maintenance schedules, investing in weather monitoring technology, having contingency plans in place, providing timely and accurate information to passengers, and offering compensation to affected passengers.

By doing so, airlines can prepare for and respond to unexpected events, which can help minimize the impact on their flights and passengers.

How can passengers stay informed about their rights and options regarding flight delays and cancellations caused by extraordinary circumstances?

Passengers can stay informed about their rights and options regarding flight delays and cancellations caused by extraordinary circumstances by familiarizing themselves with relevant regulations, checking airline policies, using online resources, contacting the airline, and seeking legal advice if necessary.

It’s important for passengers to know their rights and options in case of a delay or cancellation, as well as to stay informed about any updates or changes to relevant regulations or airline policies.

Pramod Ram

Pramod Ram

Digital Marketing Strategist

Pramod Ram heads the Online Marketing and Content Marketing Team at Claim Flights GmbH. He loves to travel, read books, watch movies and do intensive research.

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