Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Can you claim EC261 compensation due to coronavirus? The EU clarifies your rights

Links on Head for Points may support the site by paying a commission.  See here for all partner links.

Does EC261 compensation apply at the moment, with coronavirus wrecking flight schedules?

The European Commission published a document yesterday with the catchy title of ‘Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19‘.

You can read it here (PDF).

As a reminder, EC261 compensation applies to:

ALL flights departing from EU airports

Flights operated by EU airlines to EU airports

You have NO right of redress if you are returning to the UK on a flight operated by a non-EU airline.

Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said:

“In light of the mass cancellations and delays passengers and transport operators face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission wants to provide legal certainty on how to apply EU passenger rights. In case of cancellations the transport provider must reimburse or re-route the passengers. If passengers themselves decide to cancel their journeys, reimbursement of the ticket depends on its type, and companies may offer vouchers for subsequent use.

Today’s guidelines will provide much-needed legal certainty on how to apply EU passenger rights in a coordinated manner across our Union. We continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation, and, if need be, further steps will be taken.”

Here is my best attempt at summarising it, but if you feel you may have a potential claim then I strongly recommend reading the original.  Most of what follows is just a restatement of your existing rights.

Whilst airlines are voluntarily offering vouchers when passengers want to cancel a flight voluntarily, airlines are reminded that a full cash refund must be offered if a flight is cancelled.  A voucher alternative may be offered, but a full cash refund must be available.

If a flight is cancelled, you must be offered the choice of a full cash refund, rerouting at the earliest opportunity or rerouting at a later date at your convenience

If you have flown your outbound flight and the return is cancelled, the passenger is only entitled to a refund of the return portion

If your outbound flight is cancelled, the passenger must be offered the choice between a refund and a re-routing at the earliest opportunity, but the airline will have no additional obligation to you if the ‘earliest opportunity’ is a long time in the future

The ‘duty of care’ provisions are NOT removed simply because this is an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.  Your airline is still required to provide meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation and transport to the accommodation if your flight is cancelled.  This obligation applies even if you end up being stuck in a country for weeks due to the lack of return flights.

‘Duty of care’ provisions do NOT apply if you agree to receive a full refund for your flight

Compensation for cancelled flights, which is due if flights are cancelled within 14 days of departure, is void if the flight is cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.  The cancellation of flights due to Government action which either bans flights or forces flights to be cancelled because many passengers would be refused entry counts as ‘extraordinary circumstances’.  This means that, for example, no compensation is due if your upcoming US flight is cancelled.  

This rule works in both directions.  If a flight to Israel was cancelled because people could not enter Israel, passengers booked on the return flight back to the UK would also have no right to compensation.

To be honest, all of the above is common sense.

However, what is interesting is what it doesn’t say.  British Airways, for example, cancelled many flights for pure commercial reasons in recent weeks.  There was no problem entering the relevant country, but so few people wanted to travel due to coronavirus that flights were merged.  These people are still liable to compensation.

The full document, which also covers compensation for issues with bus and rail journeys due to coronavirus, is here.

Remember that you have six years to lodge a claim under EC261 so do the airlines a favour and save your claim for later.

Comments (147)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Steve says:

    Booked BA Gatwick to Cologne for 13/3 -19/3. Return flight was a victim of BAs initial cancellation cull. I rebooked next available flight which is 22/3 and touch wood still live. Did this via the helpdesk who said that extra hotel food etc covered by BA
    it’s now the 19th and my hotel has informed me that the Cologne authorities have closed all hotels from tomorrow.

    Do I now contact BA to sort me out for the next 2 days? Writing all that, I’m thinking “Duh, of course” but would welcome confirmation from more experienced travellers!

    • Lady London says:

      Call BA and ask to be rebooked to depart from Frankfurt or Dusseldorf. Those are both within an easy quite short train ride usually with loads and loads of trains. Maybe fewer now but check. look on you can also buy online as well as in station. Both have airport train stations as a separate destination to their city so just buy the ticket to airport destination. usually quite a few go straight throuigh to airport from Cologne or you might change at main city station. Direct lots better.

      Any other German airport would do otherwise look at trains to Netherlands airports or maybe Brussels AMS or Rotterdam Eurostar if you can go from there.

      Lastly from Cologne before you do any of the above look on or for Thalys ???traiss back to London, most are fast and comfortable. When I did CGN for work I think theycould be as little as 5 hours from CGN train station to London. will have any offres going.

      You coulc just do it all at CGN station abd take whats going after a quick squizz to check the general volume of international trains runnong from there right now.

      Sort BA out later when youve got your train.
      Ryanair might fly from near you too.

      • Lady London says:

        PS yes on the original reoute you were entitled to hotel till 22nd… if any open! are other places still hhotels open? no reason not to switch town rail connections are really fast between big ones as you will see on etc

        • Steve says:

          Didn’t get through to BA but managed to get a room at an airport hotel.
          Agree with you on the trains and other cities but hopefully won’t need.

          Famous last words…

  • Charlotte says:

    Qatar Airways have been an utter nightmare to deal with. We are in NZ due to fly back to Europe (Oslo), business class on 25 March. Then onwards with BA to LHR. Our flights are cancelled. Qatar have ‘offered’ to put us on flights 27 March, but we’ve heard (elsewhere) they are stopping flying in/out of NZ on 24 March! Refusing to give us a cash refund. Have ‘offered’ for us to pay $4000 extra each to reroute from Doha to LHR 21 March. I have been a huge fan of Qatar for the past few years, but when things go wrong, they just don’t care and want thousands more dollars to change…..also highlights the risks of flying from an EU location with a non-EU airline……..

    • Lady London says:

      Tell them to fly you on 24th to Doha then since they say they can’t do Oslo ask them to change you to other destination such as any in the UK (they have quite a few). I would just get them to reticket me for free now which they are obliged to do and sort out any consequences of not having date or destination as booked later There is a real risk you get stuck in NZ for months

      • Lady London says:

        If you are not getting anywhere then it’s breach of contract and either Amex or your credit card under s75 should find you a replacement ticket.
        Go for what you can get quickly as NZ /Oz are losing most flights by around 30march latest.

  • Simon Robinson says:

    My iberia flight from Lima – Madrid – London was cancelled, Iberia then rerouted me with Lima – Costa Rica – Madrid – London, using LATAM for the first leg (Lima – Costa Rica). This was then cancelled due to the closure of Lima airport due to the lockdown and Iberia have now rerouted me again for 1st April which I expect will be cacelled in due course.

    Given that Iberia arranged first leg of the reroute from Lima to Costa Rica with LATAM, and that was the specific flight that was cancelled due to the lock-down in Peru, Iberia are saying that I need to claim hotel and food from LATAM and not from Iberia.

    I have a couple of questions that I am sure someone here will be able to help with…

    – Are Iberia correct to say that they no longer have liability for their rerouted flight because they used a different airline for the first leg of that journey?
    – Also, if that is the case, does that mean I am unable to claim accomodation and food because LATAM is not European?

    I am stuck in Peru and I expect I will be here for some time, so knowing that my dialy accomodation cost will be ultimately covered would of some considerable comfort…

    • Lady London says:

      If the first flight is already cancelled a d you e not even been able to fly on any of it then I would say ib has failed to provide you a reroute. Can you physically go to an IB desk and sort it out.

      Did you pay by credit card? Call them and say IB has breached contract, flights are disappearing and will they fund a replacement under s75. Then book whatever you can. You can do this from the LATAM office if you think they might do anything for you.

      • Lady London says:

        Obviously keep trying for costfree reroute but with flights disappearing time to see if you can get a replacement paid for under s.75

        • Simon Robinson says:

          Thanks – there are currently no flights anywhere, so looking at flights home is academic. I expect the government will eventually repatriate us, but what I am keen to establish is if I will be able to claim for the EC261 duty of care for accomodation, etc given that Iberia are now claiming this is nothing to do with them as it was LATAM.

  • Alyson Edmunds says:

    I booked a flight with Wizz Air from Doncaster to Budapest and was due to leave tomorrow. I have not received a cancellation email but given the virus situation and UK government guidance can i receive a credit ?

  • graham coombes says:

    Interesting comments you might also consider the non-response from AXA travel insurance. I need clarification from AXA about my ability to claim for the difference between my BA evoucher and the actual flight cost when I eventually do book new flights. I have spoken to customer service several times they will not provide the definitive answer I have to speak to the claims department who have not answered any calls for over a week and your call is dropped after about 15 minutes in the queue.
    See AXA twitter feed. All companies MUST get more people on the front line and be more flexible this is not the time for process monkeys.

  • Talay says:

    Sure as hell don’t wait 6 years because they might not be around in 6 months nevermind 6 years. Claim all now !

  • Tom says:

    Does EC261 still apply to get a full refund if more than 14 days away

    • Josh says:

      The 14 days out is just for additional compensation. If the airline cancels your flight at any time you are due a cash refund, according to my interpretation of the rules.

      • Stephen Wilcoxon says:

        If the airlines cancels one leg of the flight and can not reroute thus making the rest of the flight useless, can I claim a full refund for the entire ticket (and not just the cancelled leg)?

        • Rob says:

          Yes, as long as it is all on the same booking.

          • Stephen Wilcoxon says:

            It was all booked at once direct through the airline. They did reissue the ticket for the leg that was cancelled (when talking to them on the phone) because their system is apparently highly inflexible in seat assignments for business class (domestic EU flights don’t have a business class and it insists you sit in row 1 which does NOT have extra legroom (which I need)).

  • Bob says:

    We were due to be flying UK to Australia 20-March for 3 weeks via Trailfinders. TF cancelled our ‘package’ due to isolation in Australia (glad we didn’t end up getting stuck trying to get home) & we have asked for a refund but they keep delaying and say they are waiting for Singapore to pay them before refunding us – surely the contract was between us and Trailfinders, so they should refund as they keep saying our money is safe?

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.