Flight cancelled or delayed in Germany: What are your rights?
Cancelled flights, delayed departures, monster queues, and missing baggage: the start of the summer holidays has got off to a bad start in Germany, as airports continue to struggle with crippling staff shortages. If your travel plans are disrupted, what are your rights?
Compensation for flight delays and cancellations in Germany
Due to staff shortages at airlines and airports, many travellers in Germany and across Europe are experiencing difficulties with their holidays. The federal government is working on a plan to recruit airport workers from abroad to ease the situation, but in the meantime, there’s still plenty of chaos to look forward to.
If - like thousands of other people in the federal republic - your travel plans are hanging in the balance, or you’re just worried about the situation, here’s a quick overview of your consumer rights in the event of cancellations, delays and lost luggage.
Am I entitled to compensation if my flight is cancelled or delayed?
Almost all flights departing from airports in EU countries are covered by the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation, which gives passengers the right to compensation in the case of flight cancellations or delays.
If your flight is cancelled at short notice, is overbooked or arrives at its destination at least three hours late, you could be eligible for a flat-rate compensation payment of between 250 and 600 euros, but it depends on the circumstances.
You are not entitled to this flat-rate compensation if the airline can prove it was not responsible for the cancellation. This is the case, for instance, if an air traffic control order is in place, if there are strikes, or bad weather. However, the airline cannot use technical defects with the aircraft or general staff shortages as a get-out clause.
What am I entitled to if my flight is delayed?
In principle, if your flight is delayed in Germany, you are entitled to support services from the airline, and perhaps even compensation payments or a refund. This depends on how long the delay is, and how far you are travelling.
If your flight is at least two hours late, you are entitled to support services from your airline, including free snacks and drinks, two phone calls, and two faxes or emails. If you cannot board the flight on the same day, the airline must provide you with hotel accommodation and transport. This applies if your flight is delayed by at least:
- Two hours for short trips of up to 1.500 kilometres
- Three hours for medium-haul routes of more than 1.500 kilometres within the EU or between 1.500 and 3.500 kilometres if the origin or destination is a non-EU state
- Four hours for long-distance flights of more than 3.500 kilometres
Compensation for flight delays
If your flight arrives at least three hours late, you may also be entitled to compensation of between 250 and 600 euros, depending on the delay and the trip length. The amounts are:
- 250 euros for short trips
- 400 euros for medium-haul routes
- 600 euros for long-distance flights
The airline can reduce this payment by half if the flight was delayed by no more than three hours on medium-haul routes and four hours on long-haul routes.
If your flight is at least five hours late, you can cancel your connection and ask for a full refund of the fare (including taxes and fees). This means you don’t get on the flight and either cancel the trip altogether or try to book another flight and claim back any additional costs as compensation. If you take this option, however, you are not entitled to a lump-sum compensation.
What are my rights if my flight is cancelled in Germany?
If your flight is cancelled, the airline is obliged to rebook you onto an alternative connection at the earliest opportunity or, if space is available, at a time convenient to you. Alternative transport can sometimes also be offered with another means of transport such as train, bus or ship. If you don’t wish to get on the alternative flight, the airline must refund your full fare.
If you incur additional costs as a result of the cancellation - for instance, if you have to pay extra for a replacement flight, or have paid for hotel rooms or ferry transfers you now can’t use, you can request compensation for this from the airline.
Airline support services
If the cancellation results in a longer wait at the airport, the airline must provide you with free snacks and drinks and allow you to make two phone calls, or send two faxes or emails. If you cannot board a flight the same day, the airline must accommodate you in a hotel and provide transport.
Compensation for flight cancellations
On top of this, you may be entitled to an additional flat-rate compensation payment. This depends on when you were informed of the cancellation and whether the airline offered you an alternative flight at a similar time to your original booking:
- If you are informed at least 14 days before departure, you are not entitled to compensation.
- If you are informed 13 to seven days before departure, and the airline offers you an alternative connection that takes off no more than two hours earlier and lands no more than four hours later than your original flight, you are not entitled to compensation.
- If you are informed 13 to seven days before departure, and no suitable alternative flight is offered, you may be entitled to a payment of between 250 euros (for short trips) to 600 euros (for long-haul flights).
- If you are informed less than seven days before departure, and the airline offers you an alternative connection that allows you to reach your final destination within one hour of the originally planned time, you are not entitled to compensation.
- If you are informed less than seven days before departure, and no suitable alternative flight is offered, or your travel times are significantly different, you may be entitled to a payment of between 250 euros (for short trips) and 600 euros (for long-haul flights). However, this can be reduced if you reach your final destination within four hours of the planned time.
What if the flight times are changed?
Your rights vis-a-vis a change in flight times depend on whether your scheduled departure has been pushed forward or back.
If your flight time is moved forward
The European Court of Justice has ruled that the bringing forward of a flight departure time by more than an hour counts as a cancellation, since it causes serious inconvenience for passengers, and therefore claims in this instance can be treated as above.
If the departure time is pushed back
When it comes to flight times being pushed back, things are less clear. The court has not settled on a specific delay time, but in one case a postponement of two hours and 50 minutes was agreed to be a delay, not a cancellation. Depending on the length of the delay, you may be entitled to compensation, as laid out above.
What are my rights if I miss my flight because of long security queues?
If long waits at security cause a delay and mean you miss your flight, claims should be directed to the German federal police, rather than your airline.
What if check-in delays cause me to miss my flight?
However, if there are long queues at check-in that cause you to miss your flight, the airline is responsible and you may be entitled to compensation. The prerequisite for making a claim is that you arrived at the airport on time.
What are my rights if my baggage is lost, late or damaged?
If your luggage is missing, damaged or delayed, the airline and - if applicable - package tour operators need to be informed immediately. You can usually claim compensation of up to 1.400 euros for any items in your suitcase.
If your suitcase does not arrive at your destination, you can buy the essentials (for instance clothing and toiletries) and charge the airline for the costs. Make sure to keep your receipts.
Get advice on your rights
If your German skills are up to it, you can use the “Flugärger App” put together by Germany’s consumer advice centres, which will consider your situation and let you know whether you are entitled to any compensation.