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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)

  • Bemused says:

    Everyone seems a little greedy in light of everything I think..?? Yes accept subsistence but I think we should all be looking out for every one and every business at the moment…. everyone out for what they can get is not going to help and whilst you are claiming please go strip the supermarket shelves too 😡

    • Genghis says:

      Were BA quite so kind to their customers in the past, or would they try and squeeze every penny out of them and fob them off when making eligible EC261 claims, for instance?

      • Alex M says:

        You seem to think that BA were acting unreasonably. Why acting like a**hole too?

        • Genghis says:

          BA is not exactly holier than thou and in many cases has acted unreasonably. Triprep has a good story to tell.

          • Colin MacKinnon says:

            BA charged E300 to change a DEN-LHR-CDG flight last week, even though the change was made an hour after they introduced the “no fee” rule.

            Then they wanted to charge £340+ to change a one way LHR-GLA flight. (Or £300 cash)

            They then cancelled the LHR-CDG with a few hours notice, and have now cancelled tomorrow’s LHR-GLA. And only offering a voucher online.

            So BA have cost me a fair bit of hassle and cash – and so EU261 would help offset that.

            And they are not making their – or may – life any easier.

            I’ve just had to cut the fees to one of my business users by 50% to keep him going, and halted inflation-linked price increases for customers and promised key workers they will still get paid.

            So I need the money just as much as BA!

    • Lynn Coggin says:

      I agree these are exceptional times if you get your money back or a voucher be satisfied

  • J says:

    If I have an Avios booking and wait for a cash refund, how is the cash value calculated? I presume it’s not as simple 1p per Avios for example.

    • Rob says:

      You don’t get a cash refund. You get the Avios refund but don’t pay the cancellation fee.

  • Michael Bavin says:

    I work for an airline.

    Do you realise the dire situation IAG, Virgin and others are in?

    These airlines will run out of cash fast.

    Claiming every penny of compensation under these circumstances really won’t help and I find the article a little crass to be honest.

    This blog is about finding Business and First class seats and there won’t be any airline left providing these soon unless we support the industry – it is in Intensive Care right now and facing a very bleak outlook.

    • David says:

      I’ve got 26 flights booked in the next three months, which are highly likely to be cancelled – I see that today’s (which I’d rescheduled anyway) already has been.

      I honestly feel conflicted about what to do. I fully get Michael’s point, and I will definitely think twice about claiming any compensation.

      However it’s not just the airline industry who’ll struggle as a result of coronavirus, so it’s fairly likely that many of us could be jobless at the end of this. 26 flights of compensation would cover 6 months of mortgage payments for me in that circumstance… should I play nice with the airlines in the hope that this allows/encourages them to play nice with their staff, or should I try and get some money to cover me and my family against whatever lies ahead?

      In any case, I expect it’ll not be a decision I have to make – surely governments will soon say that as an emergency measure, the compensation part of EC261 is suspended?

      • The Original David says:

        Individual altruism isn’t going to save the airline industry, it’s going to need government intervention. Even if you generously donate your fare to BA, not everyone else will, so you might as well do as best you can personally, and know that every taxpayer will be paying BA for this for decades to come.

      • Lady London says:

        The compensation part of EU261 is already suspended. By reality.
        You would have to find a really egregious case to have a chance of claiming. The current environmnent ios literally quite exceptional.
        And right now everyone’s got better things to do, That’s you, the airline, and the judge.

    • BlueHorizonuk says:

      Sorry but we are not a charity.

      If the airlines treated us with any bit of respect then you could say we should be kind back but they have spent years making life difficult for their passengers and making the experience worse and worse and customers ending up paying more and more.

    • Ken says:

      Well said. Getting little different than people putting a claim in against the council for ‘tripping’ on the pavement.
      The argument that ‘BA did x’ is frankly pathetic.

      • Charlieface says:

        I would claim from the council. I don’t feel sorry for them at all. Have you seen the state of the roads in my area? In the meantime how much are the mayor and councillors paid, and how much does it cost to run the council buildings?

    • Mikeact says:

      @Michael Gavin. You find the article a bit ‘crass’ ? Nothing wrong in formely spelling out the exact EU position on EC261.

    • Colin MacKinnon says:

      I truly feel sorry for airline and airport staff – I know a lot of them.

      But they have been shafted by their employers.

      USA airlines have used around 90% of profits in the past 10 years to buy back shares, so no big reserves in the kitty. (could have had cash in the bank, or bought rather than leased airframes etc)

      Now there are bad times, they want us, the taxpayers, to bail out the shareholders?

      Edinburgh Airport – bought by Global Infrastructure Partners from BAA for £850 million about eight years ago and “about to be sold” for £2 billion last year, might “go bust”without financial aid!

      Perhaps they should have only paid £700m and kept £100m in the bank for a rainy day?

      And someone who was about to sell a business, now wants aid because the still own it and times have got tough! C’mon folks, everyone knows the aviation industry is cyclical: look at 9/11, ash clouds and now Covid.

      Maybe I would feel better if my business was to get a big juicy handout.

      • Ken says:

        It’s the employees of the airlines who need support, but what exactly would be the problem in letting Virgin or EasyJet go bust ?
        The planes, booking systems, and people will still exist. Someone else would buy the assets out of any administration.
        Disruptive? Sure. And shareholders and bond holders face a world of pain.

        Just a matter of priorities- do we want to be bailing out the wealthy?

  • Robbie says:

    I have a flight to the US from London on Iberia. The return leg has now been cancelled (more than 14 days out) but Iberia is refusing to give a full refund, only the voucher as ticket was originally non-refundable. Do you agree with this, should i accept the voucher or keep fighting? Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Lady Londob says:

      Advice : try not to book on Iberia.
      if all flights on same ticket ask them 3 times for refund then contact your card company annd get a chargeback. s.75 prob also covers you too.

      Mention next time to Iberia you will be doing this (chargeback) if they refuse. Apparently this really blots their record with card co’s.

      In the case of Iberia 3 refusals and I wouldnt hesitate to go to card co but you have to make reasonable effort first.

  • nick says:

    I have 4 tickets booked on Virgin to the US in early April. No comms yet from Virgin.

    2 adults were booked using a “Select compensation” voucher (only bookable in o class) and 2 kids booked with Flying Club miles.

    What are my options? I’d like to re-book for early August- but who knows situation then? Do I get get my miles and taxes back from the kids tickets (and no cancellation fee) and try get an extension on the compensation vouchers (which have now expired)

  • Don says:

    Lufthansa have seemingly cancelled the route I fly for weeks, maybe months. I had a ticket for tomorrow to fly back (the beginning of a return ticket but I don’t think that is relevant in this world of one-ways). No other services are being flown on any other carriers. The alternative would seemingly be private and the borders are closed for road and rail transport, even if I could get out the bordering countries are not accepting pax.

    I am essentially stuck here. It is of course a government action but it seems LH still owe me duty of care for a hotel etc. Do I read this correctly?

    • AJA says:

      Yes. Duty of care still applies providing you didn’t get a refund for cancelling the return ticket.

      Keep expenses reasonable and jeep receipts. You may have a battle with LH to get reimbursed.

      I suggest you contact your insurance company for assistance.

    • Lady London says:

      Depending where you are have you contacted the British Consulate about ways to get out?they are normally clued up. Depending what you do,in some sketchier countries private or hitching a lift with another firm or even perhaps British forces might be poss.

  • Clive says:

    Swiss have basically canceled their entire long haul network except Newark.

  • Audrey Mammana says:

    We were left stranded by BA in Northern Italy when they cancelled all flights from any Italian airport. After spending hours on hold we were offered alternative flight from either Zurich or Geneva, as Munich airport was nearer we requested a flight from there to return to the UK. The problem we had was how to get there as all coaches leaving the country had been cancelled and the train would have arrived too late for the flight. The hotel we were staying and resort were closing with immediate effect. As we still had our rental car we called Avis to ask if we could drive it to Munich Airport, we had collected it from Venice. Avis said we could but there would be a charge of just over £1,000 as it wasn’t their issue BA had cancelled all their flights. Time was of the essence so we drove to Munich airport and managed to catch our flight. On arrival at the airport the car rental attendant said there had been many cars arriving from Northern Italy from customers in the same situation.
    I have contacted BA to request compensation for the charge of the rental car to transport us to Munich and they have replied saying there would be no compensation. Reading the EC261 article where is the duty of care towards us. If we had not taken the option to take a flight out of an adjoining country we would still be in Italy, with all the relating costs.
    Do we have a legitimate case for a claim?

    • Sean says:

      No – that is not a fair cost for BA to bear. You chose Munich despite knowing you couldn’t get there by public transport.

      • Audrey Mammana says:

        Thanks for your reply Sean.
        The only mode of transport to go anywhere was by car.
        The only flights offered were from another country.
        What should we have done?

        • Andy says:

          Travel insurance?

        • Sean says:

          No – the only mode of transport to get you to the flight YOU chose might have been by car (Train was working but not for the flights YOU chose). (Taxi?). The sensible thing to do was to let BA sort it.

    • Ken says:

      They gave you 2 perfectly reasonable airports to fly from.
      I’m struggling to think of anywhere in Northern Italy that would be much closer to either Swiss airports than Munich.
      You are the agent of your misfortune I’m afraid.
      Try your insurance company.

      • Genghis says:

        North Eastern Italy is closer to Munich than Zurich

        • Ken says:

          Yes but more pertinently, which airports in Northern Italy, that BA fly to, are closer ?

          Munich may been closer to where they were staying, so it might have been more convenient for them, and it might have seemed a drag taking the car back to Venice to then let BA get them say a taxi transfer to Zurich.

          An expensive lesson – don’t make your own arrangements if you don’t know the costs and what will be re-imbursed.

    • Mikeact says:

      You were offered Zurich or Geneva, but decided you would rather ignore BA and opt for Munich.
      Lesson learnt unfortunately….. should have left if to BA to sort out, and they may have agreed taxi, hire car, whatever to their two options.

      • Audrey Mammana says:

        Thanks for your replies.
        There were no taxi’s available from the ski resort of Corvara.
        The staff at the hotels were not sure how they were going to leave other than by catching a lift from people that had cars.

        • Ken says:

          What relevance is there to no taxis available in Covara ?

          You had a hire car.

          If you had returned it to (presumably) Venice, BA would no doubt have arranged a coach or minibus for you and the rest of the passengers.
          It was no doubt more convenient for you to drive to Munich, but why on earth should BA cop for this. Anyone in their right mind would have checked the cost first.

          • Ken says:

            Sorry you did know the cost.

            Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but do you really think BA should pay ?

        • Mikeact says:

          Maybe, but it was still down to BA…you could have told them you had a hire car which may have helped.