Flight Cancellations – Your Rights on an EU Flight

High winds, flooding, snow, ash clouds, strikes, power outages, there are many reasons for flight delays and cancellations, but do you know your rights if your flight is delayed or even cancelled?

If your flight is delayed what are your rights? Are you entitled to compensation? Will you be provided with food and drink if you are left in the airport for any amount of time?

Here is some advice on what you are and aren’t entitled too (correct at time of writing – Jan 14) including:

  • How to claim compensation
  • What is considered ‘extraordinary circumstances’ to invalidate any claim
  • Airline ‘welfare packages’
  • Overnight accommodation
  • Refunds
  • Essential travel insurance

EU Air Travel

EU travel means you are departing from an EU airport (on a flight operated by any airline), or arriving at an EU airport (on a flight operated by an EU airline).

If you are travelling within the EU these are your rights:

First and foremost, you must find out if and when the airline can proceed with the air travel plans, then you can choose what option is best for you in terms of either continuing with your journey or cancelling.

  • If you have been delayed for more than five hours and you no longer wish to travel you are, by law, entitled to a refund
  • If you are delayed for a certain period of time you could be entitled to a ‘welfare package’
  • If you are a transfer passenger, i.e. your trip is multi-stop, you are entitled to a flight back to your original departure point.
  • Do be aware, that if you decide to cancel your travel plans and have accepted a refund, or you decide to proceed to your destination but you do not take the next available flight offered to you, you are not entitled to food, drink or a ‘welfare package’
  • You must also be aware that if you are on a package holiday and you don’t travel you are likely to lose your holiday
  • If you decide that you still wish to fly to your destination, regardless of the delays, the airline, by law, must get you there. Do be aware however, that there is obviously a reason for your delay and forwarding you on to your final destination may take some time
  • If you are delayed for a period of time – this time differs depending on the amount of miles you are flying - your airline is legally obliged to look after you in the form of a ‘welfare package’ – this usually comprises providing each passenger with food and drink vouchers that can be redeemed at the airport, two phone calls, and if the delay runs into the whole night, you should be provided with overnight accommodation and transport there and back:
    • If you are flying up to 1,500km your delay must be more than two hours
    • If you are flying between 1,500 and 3,500km your delay must be more than three hours
    • If you are flying over 3,500km your delay must be more than four hours.
    • If for any reason you are not offered a ‘welfare package’ then speak to an Airport Advisor who should be able to advise you on your rights and negotiate a package with the airline on your behalf.

In extreme delayed flight cases you may be required to do two things:

  • The airline may ask you to make your own, alternative, travel arrangements. If you do this you must keep all receipts, keeping costs to a similar level as your original travel i.e. don’t book first class when you had booked economy. Also, take the details of the person authorising this alterative travel and do get something official from the airline that confirms they have asked you to make your own arrangements.
  • Or, your airline, in severe delays, asks you to head home. If this is the case, again, take evidence from the airline that you have been asked to do this. And keep receipts and records of any costs you have incurred to return home and then back to the airport when you are due to fly.

Compensation Claims
Compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight is still a fairly ambiguous area. Compensation, if you qualify, will only be given if the flight is severely delayed, not just a by a couple of hours, and not under what the airline considers ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which are out of the airline’s control.

Under the EU261 rules, passengers may be entitled to compensation if the EU flight arrived at its intended destination 3 hours late - up to €600, depend on the distance of your flight:

  • If your flight was up to 1,500km and delayed for more than 3 hours you could receive €250
  • If your flight was between 1,500 and 3,500km, delayed for more than 3 hours, you could receive €400
  • If your flight was more than 3,500km and delayed between 3 and 4 hours you could receive €300
  • If your flight was over 3,500km and delayed for more than 4 hours you could receive €600.

So what are extraordinary circumstances when an airline says it isn’t responsible for the delay?

In order for it to be considered an extraordinary circumstance, the cause of the delay must be unpredictable, unavoidable and external. Circumstances include:

  • Delays resulting from war or political unrest
  • Sabotage to the aircraft
  • Bomb scares
  • Threat of terrorism
  • Closure of an airport due to severe weather
  • Damage to an aircraft caused by bad weather
  • Bird strikes
  • Air Traffic Control restrictions or suspended flights

For a full list of what is considered an extraordinary circumstance, and what isn’t, visit the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website

In order for you to proceed with your claim you will have to write to your airline. If the airline you are booked with doesn’t have a form for you to fill in - either available from a check-in desk or on their website - you can download a letter template on the CAA website. You are usually required to send all your supporting documents and receipts with this – therefore, it is essential you take copies of everything and that you send it Special Delivery.

To support your claim for compensation, it is imperative that you keep all receipts for any expenses you may have incurred. However, do make sure that these costs are reasonable – you will not be reimbursed or compensated for ‘over the top’ expensive or elaborate costs.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however, it’s worth downloading the European Commission’s app ‘Your Passenger Rights’ to your smartphone before you travel which you should find useful when establishing your rights if you find you are delayed at an EU airport.

Another thing we can’t stress enough is the importance of booking travel insurance. High quality travel insurance could pay dividends if the worse happens and your flight plans are changed outside of your control. What is especially important is that you book your travel insurance immediately after you book your travel plans – this will cover you should the holiday company or airline go bust. Otherwise you could find yourself severely out of pocket, especially if your booking is not covered by ABTA or Atol.

Travel insurance should cover you for cancellation and curtailment which will see you covered for accommodation or repatriation costs – meaning they’ll get you to your onward or return destination. Remember, whilst you may not want to spend a lot on travel insurance, good insurance is worth its weight in gold.