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Flight Compensation Under EC261 in Europe – What If The Airline Lies?

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flight compensation under ec261 - what if the airline lies?

Flight Compensation Under EC261 in Europe – What If The Airline Lies?

I couldn’t help but laugh at Shawn’s post about Hyatt telling him that he didn’t show up at the hotel and actually stay there. The same day that story went up, I had an equally wacky experience via email from Iberia. Flight compensation under EC261 is a very traveler-friendly policy. Under this 2004 law in the European Union, you have more rights to compensation when things go wrong. However, that’s only if the airline agrees to be honest and doesn’t lie. Iberia is playing the ‘fake news’ game with me to deny my claim.

What is EC261?

EC261 is a 2004 law in the European Union that gives you the right to compensation or reimbursement. It covers things like missed connections, long delays, or even being denied boarding when the flight is overbooked. The law applies when the following conditions are met:

  • departing from an airport in a member country
  • departing from an EU/EEA member state, or
  • traveling to an EU/EEA country on an airline based in an EU/EEA member country
  • you arrived on time for check-in and have a confirmed reservation
  • OR you were transferred from an earlier flight

Notably, it doesn’t apply if you’re flying on a free or discounted ticket not available to the ticket (but this doesn’t mean award tickets, so we’re OK on those).

What Happened On My Flight?

On December 22, I had 2 separate tickets with a self-transfer in Madrid. I flew Iberia from Algiers, Algeria to Madrid, Spain. Then, I had a RyanAir flight from Madrid to Dublin, Ireland. With 2+ hours of connection, I didn’t worry about changing terminals/timing. Unfortunately, due to strong winds at Madrid, planes were told to circle and wait for landing permission.

Our pilot said we didn’t have enough fuel, so we went to Valencia, Spain to wait it out and get fuel. We arrived in Madrid more than 2 hours late. I watched my RyanAir flight pass us during the descent. I posted before about how positioning flights can backfire, but I felt good on this similar setup because of flight compensation under EC261 if anything went wrong.

Once I arrived in Madrid and went to check-in at RyanAir, they told me they wouldn’t honor my earlier ticket. Because they’re a discount airline and don’t have cancelations/changes for no-shows on a flight that departed on time, I had to buy a new ticket.

Iberia Denies It All

2 days after the incident, I contacted Iberia on Twitter. They gave me a link for how to submit a claim for flight compensation under EC261. I submitted boarding passes, a write-up of the events, landing times, my purchase receipt, and everything. Iberia received everything you’d need, as long as you accept that reality is reality.

I got an automated response that someone would contact me in 4-6 weeks. That seems unnecessary, but OK. After a month had gone by, I contacted Iberia on Twitter again via direct message, asking for an update. After a week without a reply from them, I sent a public tweet. Funny enough, 3 passenger rights organizations retweeted it, and then Iberia replied to my direct message. They said they’d ask someone to reply to me soon but to just be patient/keep waiting.

True to form, a full 6 weeks after submitting my claim, Iberia claims nothing happened. There was no flight delay, I made it up!

Thank you for your notification regarding flight IB8805 on 22/12/2019.

I have checked in our records the information regarding the flight mentioned and we have no record about any incident. 

Kind regards,

Iberia Customer Services

How Do You Prove a Flight Was Delayed When The Airline Says It Wasn’t?

How do you prove the flight arrived late? I don’t have access to time logs from the aircraft. I can’t find historical data from the Madrid airport. However, I submitted the only thing I do have: time stamped messages updating my wife via WhatsApp.

Flight compensation under EC261

There’s obviously a full conversation, but that’s the only thing I have at this point “proving” the flight was delayed. Iberia acknowledged the right date and flight number but gave a full “no it didn’t” response to saying the flight arrived late.

Final Thoughts

I shouldn’t be surprised about this. Considering a company took a full 6 weeks to send a response, I can’t be super surprised that it’s nonsense. I also see tons of complaints online about how poorly Iberia handles issues like this, so I’m not alone. What’s next? I might need to contact the Madrid airport itself, if Iberia responds with another round of ‘fake news’ to my saying the flight was delayed and made me miss my connection. At least they didn’t try to say I wasn’t on the plane.


I wasn’t aware that you could get a free trial from FlightRadar24 and get historical data for the past 90 days. Now I’ve got proof! Thanks to people who pointed this out.

IB8805 on December 22 2019 flight data

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Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. I think expecting airlines to have a full tank for a short flight is probably a stretch and requires a court case. It would be interesting to see how courts think on your logic but I can see why ib would reject first. Please pursue the case and let us know. But I am surprised that ib rejected based on no record. I don’t think they are lying, I think they are just that incompetent.

    • There’s also the incompetent argument, hard to tell. We departed 30min late and then didn’t have enough fuel, so I don’t feel like the “hey, it was totally beyond our control” argument stands up. We’ll see. If they give me another nonsense response, now that I sent them proof of late take-off and diversion from FlightRadar24, then I’ll contact one of the consumer agencies and let them handle it.

  2. I never had this specific problem, but I had about “weather issue”. The airline company said there was a delay because of bad weather. All the most important weather website don’t agree, there was a very good weather that day. And now? Like GDPR the problem must be solved by the company, the company is not a third part but one of the two involved. This is not okay.

  3. This is not a valid claim under EC261, the delay is outside of the airline’s control. No one in their right mind would accept your case. Even if the delay were within the airline control, you are not eligible as you have separate tickets and the arrival delay to Madrid is under 3 hours.

    • ATC didn’t tell us we had to go to Valencia, according to the flight attendants. What we were told was that the pilot chose to go to Valencia due to fuel levels because of the holding pattern. So ATC was involved in us holding but the pilot chose to divert (due to fuel levels), which is what significantly added to delays. Getting into a gray area, obviously.

  4. I dont see how its anything but ATC at fault and weather,”due to strong winds at Madrid, planes were told to circle and wait for landing permission.” Either is enough for a Denial of having to pay under 261. Hows it IBs fault, unless you have proof that before they took off they didnt have full tanks of fuel and 100% knew that they wouldnt beable to land at MAD

  5. This is due to the weather, it might not be a valid claim. As for the weather, the airline has a duty of care, but you are booked on two separate tickets, unfortunately Iberia is not duty-bound to help you.
    Earlier this year, I helped my partner’s family submitted a claim to Iberia, and they accepted it with no issues at all. The tickets were booked with miles.

    • I’m aware of separate tickets, but there are also recent rulings from courts saying that delays causing trickle-down effects in your travel should still be governed when including EU airlines. I’m operating on that understanding because of the pilot choosing to divert (not forced) and that not having more fuel in the tanks wouldn’t be considered an unavoidable / extraordinary circumstance “which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. Diverting could’ve been avoided by just putting more fuel in the tanks (most airlines don’t “fill up” but put enough to get to the destination, reducing weight and therefore increasing fuel economy).

  6. Why don’t you just use flightradar24, or one of the many similar websites on the Internet to show what happened.

  7. IB is impossible on EU 261 claims. I would hire one of the firms that process claims in exchange for a percent of what they get you.


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