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Overbooked flight in Spain? This is what passengers are entitled to if they are denied boarding

Overbooked flight in Spain? This is what passengers are entitled to if they are denied boarding

A Spanish consumer and users organisation (OCU) has detailed exactly what you should be offered, including the compensation amounts, if you are being denied boarding at the airport due to overbooking

Raquel Merino


Tuesday, 30 April 2024, 10:11


Who hasn't been advised to arrive well in advance for your flight at the airport so you are among the first to check in, thus avoiding possible overbooking. This is a legal business practice governed by the European Commission's (EC) Regulation 261/2004 (often known as EU261), by which airlines can deny boarding when there are more reservations than seats available. As the OCU (a Spanish consumer association) explained, "airlines are aware that a small number of travellers do not show up for boarding or cancel their flights, and so they issue a slightly higher number of tickets than the number of seats available."

But the fact that it is legal does not mean that a number of rights are not provided for those affected, including immediate compensation ranging from 250 to 600 euros. EU261 applies to flights departing from an airport within the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, or flights departing from a third party country to an airport in the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, provided the airline also is based in the European Union.

Right to information

In the event of overbooking, the airline has to inform passengers and ask them to volunteer not to fly on that flight. If there are volunteers, the company will agree with them the compensation to be received.

In the event that no one volunteers and the airline leaves some passengers on the ground against their will, they must give them a form informing them of their rights. If they fail to do so, it is important for those affected to ask the airline to provide them with that document, as advised by the Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA - similar to the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK).

Right to care

While awaiting their return flight or alternative transport, the airline has to provide passengers with sufficient food and drink, two phone calls or access to email and hotel accommodation if they have to stay overnight (or if an additional stay to the one planned by the passenger is necessary), as well as transport to and from the airport and the accommodation.

Right to reimbursement or alternative transport

The carrier must offer passengers the following choices: reimbursement of the cost of the airline ticket within seven days (with return to the airport of origin in the case of a connecting flight if the passenger's journey is no longer needed), or to be re-routed by the swiftest means possible, or re-routed at a later date that suits the passenger. If the latter option is chosen, the passenger is no longer entitled to further care from that moment onwards.

Alternative transport should be that which allows you to reach your destination as quickly as possible, including flights with other airlines and other possible means of transport under comparable conditions.

Financial compensation

Passengers affected by overbooking are entitled to financial compensation which will be paid immediately, as stated by AESA, i.e. the passenger does not have to go through any additional procedures to receive it. The value of this compensation will be:

- 250 euros for flights up to 1,500 kilometres.

- 400 euros for all domestic flights over 1,500 kilometres and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres.

- 600 euros for all flights not included in the previous two sets of parameters.

These amounts can be reduced by 50% if the airline offers the passenger re-routing and such a flight(s) meets a number of requirements. The requirements are as follows: that the time difference to the scheduled flight cannot exceed two hours for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less; three hours max for domestic flights of more than 1500 kilometres and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres; or four hours for all other flights.


AESA recommends keeping receipts for all expenses incurred by travellers if the air carrier does not fulfil its obligation to provide compensation, ticket reimbursement or re-routing, or does not provide the care to which affected passengers are entitled.

If necessary, those affected can lodge a complaint with AESA.

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