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

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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.

Can you claim EC261 compensation due to coronavirus?

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 (148)

  • Matthew says:

    In reality are BA waiting until the last possible opportunity to cancel and thus forcing the passenger to cancel first, opting for the voucher or with an Avios booking, paying the £35 fee pp to return the Avios.

    Or are they just trying to catch up and will do it well in advance when they find their feet?

    • PF says:

      I suspect the same. This is what I see occurring from Ryanair and Aer Lingus – repeated emails encouraging passengers to change dates of April flights, or take a voucher (in Aer Lingus case with 10% added on…). I expect they are planning to cancel almost all of these flights but people to move date or take a voucher as refunding cash en mass will be a lot more painful right now

    • david says:

      I must admit in light of all of this madness, is how happy Mother Nature is with pollution at historic lows, clear blue waters in Venice canals, etc. Nature has never been happier from despicable humans that inhabit this Earth. Greta’s never been happier.

    • Shoestring says:

      @Matthew: data point: I got cancellation emails yesterday (18th) for flights on 28th – so 10 days’ notice

      still trying to trick me into getting a voucher, though – I will phone for refunds when the phone lines calm down

      • Matthew says:

        Thanks for the info. Ours are not til 24th May but everything associated with the holiday has been cancelled except the flights. No rush to do anything so will wait and see…

  • Tom says:

    Discovered today that Qantas do not refund even if they cancel flights.

    Are there any other airlines that will not refund? Emirates, Qatar etc.?

    • Andrew says:

      Cathay announced yesterday that ALL destinations can have a cash refund for travel booked until end of May, regardless of if the flight is operating or not or government entry rules. This seems to be the most generous I have seen.

    • Ricatti says:

      Issue MCOL and chargeback against Qantas immediately.

      They must refund if they cancel, what does it mean “they don’t refund”.

      • Andrew says:

        Why do both? Any MCOL will take months. Request a chargeback from your credit card provider. In the very unlikely case that this is unsuccessful then start the MCOL assuming you live in the UK.

    • Sinclair says:

      Hi I also have a qantas ticket to leave UK in a month. Yes qantas do seem keen to only offer travel credit unless the ticket allows a cash refund. I can’t quite work out if they must refund as it’s an ex EU ticket. Or if they can do the voucher only!
      To complicate matters sadly the fare was bought on opodo….
      Has anyone had success with a chargeback with American Express?
      Also agree about leaving the EU261 for the time being.

      Thanks for the updates

  • riku2 says:

    Considering the majority of readers are based in the UK it would be good to have mentioned what “EU” means here, because the UK is not in the EU anymore. Heathrow is not an EU airport now.

    • Andrew says:

      In the transition period as we are until end of December (or maybe later now) all EU rules still apply to UK.

    • PF says:

      The U.K. is in a transition period this year which will likely be extended and is fully covered by eu laws. It’s unclear what your point is

    • Nick_C says:

      As far as EC261 is concerned, the UK is still to all intents and purposes in the EU until at least 31 Dec.

      And UK citizens are still treated as EU when it comes to travel. So someone stranded abroad right now can route back to the UK via a Schengen country.

      • Shoestring says:

        and until UK changes the EC261 legislation, it will remain as UK statute law

        ie that’s going to take us into the next few years

    • Bill says:

      Aren’t you a silly little boy

  • Andrew says:

    So will this mean that BA will rebook say a cancelled April flight for September at no additional cost – same route, same cabin etc. This would be their normal approach to a cancelled flight in “peace time”.

  • Ricatti says:

    HORRIBLE HORRIBLE EU

    So, no EC261 for cancelled flights to passengers, but no refund to customers if airline is sinister and not cancelling flights 1 hour before the scheduled departure (making customers fret into cancellation penalties), or worse still running flight for cargo reasons, well-knowing that EU customers are banned from entering the US and cannot take the flight.

    Both are prevailing practices of the day for European airlines!

    • Nick_C says:

      Not sure what your point is. EC261 is very generous to passengers and has not changed.

      If you are not allowed to take a flight to the US (for example) because you would be denied entry, that is not the airlines’ fault. Again, no change there in the principle.

      Where the airlines are being horrible is trying to avoid cash refunds. But they, like us, are trying to survive.

      • Ricatti says:

        The role and priority of government is to protect individuals and customers. That is why we hand over the powers and authority to them.

        The role of government is not to protect a big business per se. There are bankruptcy opportunities for the business, limited liability protections — and there will be more nimble airlines that will not generate 2 billion CASH PROFITS per annum for shareholders.

        That is my point.

        • Nick_C says:

          Perhaps you would be happier living in a country where everything is owned and controlled by the State. Unfortunately (for you), countries that have tried that system have found it doesn’t work.

          In a Capitalist economy, the government has a responsibility to protect businesses as well as citizens in order that citizens can benefit from the wealth created by business and thrive.

          But EC261 is there to protect customers and not the airlines, and nothing has changed.

          • Ricatti says:

            @Nick_C

            Full of complete rubbish. You have things upside down in your head. In “capitalist economy” the companies enjoy limited liability protections/bankruptcy proceedings and new creditor protections/assets purchaser protection.

            In “capitalist economy” businesses are supposed to and do go bust (or discontinue) if they are over-stretched and as part of economic cycles. Our needs and popular demand also changes — we don’t need horse carriages and so no one in right mind will start a government bail out of horse carriage business. Otherwise you have zombie businesses depending on 0%-interest loans from the government, poorly run and inefficient again.

            This is a perverted idea of wealth, you just want to freeze status quo and afraid that there will be no familiar airline brand to take you on a holiday next year.

            In “capitalist economy” modern, it is accepted the business has obligations to social/local/eco stakeholders and do things in responsible ways, but the business is under _no obligation_ to share any wealth with anyone but C-suite management as written in their compensation packages and shareholders as written in by-laws.

            It is authoritarian regimes that depend on and protect the interests of state monopolies over and ahead of interests/wealth/freedoms of individuals.

  • Oz says:

    Hi there.
    Anybody have any information about travelling via Singapore? Is it currently allowed without 14 day quarantine? Does the 14 days apply if you transit through?
    TIA

    • The Original David says:

      Transit is still ok unless you have recent travel history to mainland China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Republic of Korea or Spain. I would post the hyperlink, but then my comment will be blocked. MOH SG has a news article dated 18th March, you want to look at paragraph 6 and footnote 3.

      • meta says:

        It won’t be blocked, it will just take a while because it needs to be approved by the team. The link is actually in one of the previous articles about travel bans. Just scroll down.

        • The Original David says:

          Indeed, I did in fact post the link in a separate comment immediately before the one above, but it still hasn’t appeared. If something that should be instant actually takes more than 2.5 hours, that seems like quite the blockage to me…

  • J says:

    I have an Economy flight with a confirmed points upgrade in early May with Finnair. Would they be obliged to re-route me in Business Class if the cancel my (Finnair) flights? Any input appreciated!

    • ChrisC says:

      Depends what the route is – they have cancelled a lot of flights already and depending on events they can and will cancel more,

      Have you even looked in the Finnair website? There is comprehensive info there on what is and isn’t operating.

      • J says:

        I am ticketed BKK to MAN and back within 3 weeks in May. Can I insist they put me on any airline (Business Class) that may still be operating?

    • Charlieface says:

      You would be seen to have paid for the upgrade (using points which is effectively some sort of voucher) and EC261 says they should reroute you on an equivalent class. If you accept a downgrade you can claim for the downgrade on top (25/50/75% I think? depends on distance)

  • Sapiens says:

    HFP family – just in case anyone still thinks “people like me don’t get coronavirus”…. I’ve been diagnosed and am in an infectious diseases hospital. I’m sure I’m not the only one here to have it.
    Fortunately I’m young and healthy so I expect to be absolutely fine and I’m not looking for sympathy. What I’m saying is:
    1) You only need to let your guard down ONCE to catch it. I’m not an anxious person at all, but I was extremely cautious with covid-19. I was wearing masks on all transport, wiping down IFE etc. I let my guard down only with close friends, one of whom gave it to me at dinner last week.
    2) My guess is that UK carriers could EASILY number 70,000. The person who gave it to me gave it to at least 10 people before he showed symptoms.
    3) my symptoms are mild, basically the worst flu I’ve had. 39°C fever. Apparently the 2nd week is the most dangerous.
    Can answer any questions.

    • david says:

      All the best Sapiens! How has the cough been?

      • Sapiens says:

        I’ve had a sore throat but no cough. Symptoms vary by person. The person who gave it to the person i caught it from has a bad cough.

    • J says:

      … I ‘gave it’ to a friend of mine, last week, after dinner… I hope she doesn’t get it!
      (*It’s being so cheerful that keeps us going!)

    • memesweeper says:

      You must feel rough 🙁 horrible news, get well soon and thanks for sharing .

    • Spursdebs says:

      Get well soon Sapiens. Thanks for sharing you know the old sayings” it only takes once” !
      I’m not a panickier by any definition in fact I thrive in a crises, but I’ve put my Mum Who is 80 with dementia and me 59 asthmatic with compromised immune system in lockdown. Tbh it’s not much different from normal for me, the more housebound my Mum becomes the more I can’t leave her.
      I know how unwell I get when a common cold gets me I don’t fancy my chances against a super virus.

    • meta says:

      Sapiens, take care and get well soon.

    • Peter K says:

      Just a question on getting tested. The NHS stopped testing people apart from those already in hospital from last Friday. How did you get tested? And as of your symptoms are mild, why were you brought into hospital and not told to self isolate at home?

      Slightly confused about this unless you are not in the UK.

      • Peter K says:

        PS recover well.

      • Sapiens says:

        Thank you Peter. As you correctly guess, I’m not in the UK. I’m in a country that takes public health very very seriously.

        Not ideal but I hear you can get tested privately in the UK (~£200).

    • Princess says:

      All the best Sapiens! I was hoping none would have catch it in this community. The positive side is that you got it before the NHS is overwhelmed! Keep us updated!

    • AJA says:

      Sapiens I am so sorry to hear this. I do hope you recover swiftly. Please do keep us updated on your recovery.