Your Rights When Denied Boarding

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Air travel is stressful at the best of times, and if you’ve ever been denied boarding you know it’s one of the worst situations to find yourself in during a journey.  It can mean missing out on vacation time, having to cancel that important meeting or being absent from a family event.  When you find yourself in this tricky spot, it’s easy to feel powerless with nowhere to turn, especially when faced with unhelpful or overbearing airline staff.

Why Have I Been Denied Boarding?

Denied boarding is often associated with a passenger doing something wrong; for example, showing up late or not having the correct documents.  However, one of the most frequent causes of denied boarding is actually overbooking by airlines.  Let’s face it, airlines are businesses, and, like any business, their aim is to maximise profit.  This is where overbooking comes in – sell more tickets than there are available and therefore make more money. This seems like a recipe for disaster; surely this would mean multiple passengers being stranded every flight?  The reason airlines use this strategy is the reliance on ‘no-shows’.  This term refers to those passengers who – you guessed it – don’t show up at the airport for their flight, perhaps because of some personal reason or maybe they snapped up a bargain ticket but couldn’t travel at that date.  Airlines can estimate how many no-shows there are likely to be for each flight, so can calculate how many extra tickets they are able to sell.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, if you are a passenger who’s been denied boarding, it’s infuriating.  Thankfully, there are EU regulations in place for those who find themselves in this situation. Furthermore, you can be entitled to compensation of up to €600 (approx. £540).

Criteria for Compensation

The EU Regulation 261/2004 ensures that the rights of EU passengers are protected.  However, when making a claim for compensation due to denied boarding, you must make sure that your case falls under certain categories.

Firstly, you need to factor in where you are flying and with which airline.  For flights within the EU and flights flying from the EU, you are entitled to compensation, regardless of where the airline is headquartered.  Flights into the EU from a non-EU country also qualify, but only if the airline is headquartered in the EU.

The second important factor is the distance of your flight.  In basic terms, the longer your flight, the more compensation you are entitled to:

• Flights of up to 1,500 km – €250 (approx. £220) compensation.
• Flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km – €400 (approx. £350) compensation.
• Flights of more than 3,500 km – €600 (approx. £540) compensation.

If you accept an alternative flight from the airline, be aware that even though you may still receive compensation, it could be reduced by half depending on the flight distance and when the alternative flight departs.  This can seem rather complicated, but you can assess whether you have a claim or not quickly and simply with companies such as MYFLYRIGHT. 

Your Options

When a flight has been overbooked, the airline must request volunteers to give up their seats and only after this can they randomly select passengers to deny boarding to.

If you are one those unlucky passengers who’s been bumped off a flight, you are entitled to compensation and you do have options:

  • A full refund of the ticket fare – if you choose this, the airline must also provide you with a free return ticket on the earliest flight available to your original point of departure.


  • A refund for the unused flight – in selecting this option, you are also entitled to the earliest flight available to your destination free of charge.

Whichever option you go for, you should also receive two free phone calls, faxes or emails, plus meals and refreshments.  If your replacement flight departs the next day, your hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel must be free of charge.

It’s crucial to remember in this situation that the ticket refund and services are in addition to, not instead of the financial compensation.

When is the Airline Exempt?

Of course, not all denied boarding cases are due to overbooking.  If a passenger arrives late to check in, is missing necessary documents, or can be classified as a safety risk (e.g. under the influence of alcohol), the airline has a right to deny boarding to the passenger.  In the latter case, the lines are blurred as it is at the discretion of the airline to decide.

Generally, it is advised to check in at least 45 minutes prior to a flight within the EU and at least 60 minutes before a flight outside the EU.  Always double check the specific airline’s policy as this can vary.

Know Your Rights

Always remember, if you have been denied boarding and the airline is at fault, you are entitled to compensation. There’s no need to be intimidated by pursuing your case with the airline; after all, regulations are in place to protect you as a passenger.  Don’t panic, assess your situation and make sure to get the compensation you have a right to.