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Right to Care (EU, UK Law)


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Regulation 261/2004 and Regulation UK261.

These are two, basically identical laws on air passenger rights in Europe. There are similar regulations and laws in other countries, but here we’ll focus on these two. According to them, if your flight is delayed, cancelled, or you’ve been denied boarding, you have a right to care from airline.

In some situations – also right to compensation.

Did you miss a connecting flight? File a compensation claim online.

Hong Kong Airport food court area
Hong Kong Airport food court area

1. Right to Care (Regulation 261/2004, Article 9)

What exactly does right to care mean?

In what countries does it work? To what airlines does it apply? All of this and more, we’ll answer in this guide. If in the end you’ll still have any questions about passenger rights, please leave your questions in the comments under the article.

See the Regulation 261/2004 here. It’s available in many languages and formats. From passenger’s perspective, the UK regulation tells all the same things and gives all the same rights.

2. What Does “Right to Care” Mean in Air Travel?

If you have to wait at the airport you have a right to:

  • Free food and drinks in a reasonable relation to the waiting time;
  • Free hotel accommodation if a stay of one or more nights is necessary;
  • Free airport transfer to hotel and back;
  • Plus, two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails. So you can get in touch with your family, relatives, or to inform someone about this delay and resulting changes in your travel plans.

Here is an excerpt from the Regulation 261/2004.

I have highlighted the most important parts.

Article 9

Right to care

1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall be offered free of charge:

(a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time;

(b) hotel accommodation in cases

– where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, or

– where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary;

(c) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).

2. In addition, passengers shall be offered free of charge two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails.

3. In applying this Article, the operating air carrier shall pay particular attention to the needs of persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them, as well as to the needs of unaccompanied children.

How long does the delay should be?

There are no strict guidelines regarding this. Mostly you should be getting something 2-3 hours into the delay — if you have to wait 2-3 hours more than initially planned according to your itinerary. It can be your first flight, or it can be during a layover.

Do you have to do something to get it?

Mostly you don’t have to do anything.

The airline has to take care of that. Get in touch with the representatives of your airline, if they haven’t contacted you. Food and drinks mostly are handed out in the form of coupons that you can exchange at the airport, hotel stay / alternative flights — offered personally to every passenger at the airline’s counter.

Turkish Airlines airplane in Riga airport
Turkish Airlines airplane

3. Do All Airlines Have to Offer Free Services Like This?

No, these rules apply only in the EU, EEA and UK.

At the same time, they apply all too types of airlines — low-cost airlines, full service airlines, public charter airlines. As you’ll see in an example later, you can get a 5-star hotel room also from a low-cost airline.

For simplicity, let’s call it all Europe (EU, EEA and UK), and all airlines registered there, in these countries – European airlines.

  • If it’s a European airline, the rules apply to all flights departing or arriving in Europe. That, basically, means all flights operated by European airlines.
  • If it’s a non-European airline, the rules apply only to flights departing from Europe.

With connecting flights, your destination is your final destination.

For simplicity, let’s call it all Europe (EU, EEA and UK), and all airlines registered there, in these countries – European airlines.

3.1 Example With Connecting Flight (non-European Airline)

Let’s assume you have a Turkish Airlines (non-European airline) flight from Paris to Istanbul and then another flight from Istanbul to Bangkok, Thailand. And your Istanbul – Bangkok flight is delayed for 7 hours. In this case, you still have a right to care in Istanbul. Turkish Airlines has to offer that.

Because you’re flying from Paris to Bangkok.

So, yes, it’s a non-European airline.

But you are flying from Europe (Paris).

It won’t be the same way flying back from Bangkok.

4. In What Countries Does It Work?

It works in all countries around the world.

What matters is the airline operating the flight, if they are registered in the EU, EEA, UK, or elsewhere. That determines if you have a right to care on this particular flight or not. While with European airlines you have these rights on all flights, with non-European airlines — only on flights departing from European airports, but no the other way around.

EU/UK to EU/UKEU/UK to Other countriesOther countries to EU/UK
EU airlines+++
UK airlines+++
Other airlines++

5. Right to Flight Compensation (EU, UK Law)

Situations when you can get flight compensation:

  1. 3+ hour flight delay. You have arrived to your destination 3+ hours late.
  2. Last-minute flight cancellation. Your flight is cancelled less than 14 days before the day of departure.
  3. You’re denied boarding due to overbooking. The airline has sold more tickets than there are seats, and you’re denied boarding.

It must be due to fault of the airline, not something unavoidable.

You can claim compensation yourself by contacting the airline.

Alternatively, you can hand over the case to flight compensation company.

Read more: Missed Connecting Flight Due to Delay 


File a Claim Online

6. My Experience Getting a Free 5-Star Hotel Room in London

It was a flight from Oslo to Singapore, via London.

I was flying with Norwegian, a European low cost airline.

Long story short, my flight from London to Singapore got cancelled. At first it was delayed and then they cancelled it. It took a couple of hours for the airline to come up with a plan, and we had to wait inside the airport for something like two hours (we had gone through passport control and were technically outside of the UK). But afterwards it went really smooth.

I went to the Norwegian counter. Waited in a line.

There was a special counter for this flight.

They gave me two options:

  1. New flight with British Airways a few hours later
  2. New flight with Norwegian 24 hours later (+ free hotel stay in Hilton)

I chose the second option.

Hotel was a walking distance away.

Dinner and breakfast was included.

I also received EU flight cancellation compensation.

Back then I had no idea how these things work. I also didn’t know if I’m eligible for the compensation or not. My flight was cancelled due to technical problems with Norwegian airplane. To make things easier I submitted the compensation claim with Airhelp. Some two months later I received a bank transfer from Airhelp.

Turned out that I was eligible to compensation.

Because technical problems are airline’s fault.

Read more: What to Do if Your Flight Is Delayed?

Istanbul Airport
Istanbul Airport

7. Right to Care: Frequently Asked Questions

You can add your questions in the comments.

We will publish and answer the most popular questions.

What About Self-Transfer Flights?

With self-transfer flights it works differently.

Self transfer is a DIY connection. These are separate flights. Accordingly, they are seen as separate flights. You will have a right to care if any of the flights fall under the above-mentioned description. But you won’t have a right to care if, for example, one of your flights is slightly delayed, that makes you miss another flight, and, as a result, you have to be at the airport longer than planned.

What about extraordinary circumstances? Extreme weather conditions, nationwide strikes, security problems, etc.

You still have a right to care.

Even though it isn’t airline’s fault.

Speaking of airport and airline strikes, in quite a few situations strikes are considered airline’s fault, and you can also get flight compensation from airline.

What If You Take Free Hotel Room? Can You Still Get Compensation?

Yes, absolutely.

If you have a right to both, then this is it. Then you have a right to both. It’s a common myth that if you take free hotel room, or free food vouchers, then you won’t be entitled to compensation anymore. Or that it will be taken out of your compensation amount. It’s just not true.

Agreeing to this doesn’t affect your rights to compensation.

What If Airline Isn’t Giving Anything?

The easiest option is to pay for everything yourself, and then to make a claim for reimbursement of expenses. Airlines usually have a special form for this on their websites. That is – if you know you have a right to these things.

It may not go smooth at all.

You may get rejected. Or reimbursed only partly.

But it’s still worth trying.

When it comes to air passenger rights, unless otherwise stated, we talk about air passenger rights in the EU, EEA and UK. When we say Europe or European, we mean EU, EEA or UK. This is done for the simplicity, since the according laws in these countries are about the same.

Have you ever experience a long delay at the airport? Were you offered any of this? Have you ever been offered a free hotel stay by an airline?

About the author:

Co-founder and Chief Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Kaspars is a digital nomad and travel blogger who’s been traveling the world extensively since 2013. Since 2017, Kaspars has been writing about the less-known aspects of air travel, things like air passenger rights laws and regulations. He’s really good at simplifying complex concepts and making them easily understandable. Kaspars favorite airlines are Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.


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This article may contain compensated links. Learn more in our disclaimer.

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