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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)

  • Drolma-la says:

    Is there an EC261 equivalent for rail travel?

    • Rui N. says:

      Read the PDF linked on the article (“You can read it here (PDF)”), and there’s a section about your rights on rail.

    • Muzer says:

      It’s also worth noting that many EU countries go well above and beyond the EU minimum requirements. The UK for example has quite generous delay compensation rules compared to the EU minimum. For all operators, you have a right to refund in advance for single or return tickets for ANY alteration or cancellation to your journey. Most operators now use the Delay Repay scheme – if delayed en route, 50% of a single or 25% of a return for a 30 minute delay, or 100% of a single or 50% of a return for a 60 minute delay, or 100% of a single or 100% of a return for a 120 minute delay. Some operators also offer “Delay Repay 15” – 25% of a single or 12.5% of a return for a 15 minute delay. Non-refundable advance purchase tickets may be changed in date and time (but not in main operator or origin/destination stations) for a £10 admin fee which some operators are currently waiving. Flexible tickets are refundable for any or no reason less a £10 admin fee which again, some operators are currently waiving. Some operators have also made the normally non-refundable tickets refundable for a voucher or even for cash if people choose not to travel due to COVID-19.

  • Harry T says:

    OT, no bits:
    I have scheduled flights from NCL to MUC and back in April for the Easter weekend. Lufthansa has cancelled my outbound flight but not the inbound. Is it worth ringing them to ask for a refund at this juncture, or wait until the inbound flight is also cancelled, as it surely must be (trying to cancel online only offers me a return of my taxes)? I know Lufty haven’t exactly being extraordinarily generous during this period…

    As another OT, Kaligo are very kindly refunding me for a non-refundable booking I made for my mother for a LHR stay prior to a cancelled BA Holiday to Abu Dhabi. Their team have also responded to emails extraordinarily quickly and competently. Just thought it might be nice to mention some excellent customer service in the current environment.

  • Kevin says:

    I have a return booking with BA to Mexico next week. I had a text from them last night to say that the return leg was cancelled (but not the outbound!). Am I entitled to a full refund or, if not, what?

  • Paul says:

    Travel Restrictions Update
    Following a Swiss Government travel update, easyJet has been advised that citizens from the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus & Ireland will not be permitted to enter Switzerland. There are exceptions to this including if you hold Swiss citizenship, a Swiss residence permit, a cross-border commuter permit amongst other stipulations.

    So based on the above would I be able to get a full refund or not seeing that my flight is still flying to BSL?

    • Rob says:

      No refund, EasyJet is still flying.

    • Genghis says:

      No, since the flight is still operating. Try your travel insurance.

      I got my work permit renewed just the start of this month but I don’t think I’ll be heading to ZH anytime soon…

  • Lyn says:

    Thanks very much for this, Rob. I’m going to read the original document carefully for the sections covering “when you have already flown the outbound segment”.

  • Andy Shipp says:

    Does this also apply to flights that were cancelled because of Storm Ciara ? Easyjet sent a cancellation email that basically said because it was an act of nature, flight cancellation compensation was not applicable Our party of 8 were told to make own way home from Edinburgh. We did so via train, and Easyjet won’t pay £1295.40 total train fare despite having a receipt for this.

    • Mikeact says:

      Once again…..insurance?

    • Shoestring says:

      EasyJet had to re-ticket you at their cost

      definitely no compo

      but you could have got their agreement to pay your train fare or just stayed in a hotel w/ food etc at their expense until they re-ticketed you (duty of care)

      if (as I think you say) they agreed to pay the cost of you making your own way home, you need to chase repayment and take them to MCOL if necessary, often the threat of this is enough to bring in a legal bod on their team who would realise EasyJet’s liability here under EC261 (rather than you accepting the first refusal from a junior CS person)

  • Andy Shipp says:

    Many thanks.

  • Delboy65 says:

    Just had email from Accor, now bookings between Mar 17 and Apr 1 can be refunded… glad I hadn’t posted my insurance claim form earlier.. will now be overall in credit thanks to sterling’s crash