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.