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A reader wins EC261 compensation for a BA flight cancelled during covid

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At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the rules regarding the claiming of compensation for cancelled flights were relaxed.

Under EC261, if your flight is cancelled within 14 days of departure, you are entitled to receive, on top of a full refund or a revised flight:

  • Under 1,500km: €250
  • Internal EU flight over 1,500km: €400
  • Non-internal EU flight between 1,500km and 3,500km: €400
  • Non-internal EU flight over 3,500km: €600
British Airways CEDR arbitration cancelled flight

The European Union issued guidance to say that airlines should not be liable for compensation if flights are cancelled where “public authorities take measures intended to contain the Covid-19 pandemic“. Such cancellations would be treated as having been made in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and are not liable for compensation.

A Head for Points reader decided to challenge this.

He was due to fly from Heathrow to Porto in August. His flight was cancelled six days before departure, which is inside the 14 day period which would trigger cash compensation under EC261.

British Airways refused to pay compensation, quoting the EU guidance over coronavirus exceptions.

Our reader pushed back. British Airways was continuing to operate two flights per week between Heathrow and Porto. This implied that the flight cancellations were simply a way of consolidating passengers onto the two services which were departing.

In such a scenario, the flight was arguably cancelled for pure economic reasons. A key factor behind the original introduction of EC261 was to stop this practice, with airlines cancelling flights at short notice when they had two flights due to depart with a combined load of under 100%.

British Airways CEDR compensation

The result of the CEDR arbitration was that:

“The airline has not provided any evidence to illustrate that there were any concerns over the wellbeing or health of the crew scheduled to operate the Flight or that operation of the Flight would have infringed on the safety of the passenger or crew. The airline has also not provided any evidence to illustrate that passenger numbers would have been sufficiently low as to have required cancellation of the Flight for economic reasons, and the airline has not explained why the Flight was considered unable to operate despite other flights to OPO continuing to operate in the preceding and following days. The evidence provided is not sufficient to persuade me that the airline had no choice but to cancel the Flight.”

The reader was awarded the EC261-defined compensation of €250 per passenger.

If you have had a flight cancelled with less than 14 days notice due to coronavirus, you may have grounds for a successful EC261 claim. You will need to provide proof that British Airways was still operating flights to your destination on the days before and after your flight was due to depart.

Our guide to claiming compensation from British Airways via the CEDR process is here.


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Comments (93)

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

  • Tom says:

    I am wondering if your account is marked as someone who has claimed against BA.

    Wouldn’t surprise me if this popped up when calling BA.

    Of course that might mean that BA would be more careful and could be an advantage.

    • Anna says:

      I successfully claimed compensation for a delayed flight from JFK to LHR in 2019 via CEDR but BA continues to try to fob me off over things like re-routing rights whenever I speak to them so I don’t think they have any idea, tbh.

    • Nadeshka says:

      I did a MCOL against BA in 2014 for an Eu261 claim and they only conceded the day before the court date and paid up.
      Have had no issues earning and burning avios, 241s etc. No sign to me at least of any worse treatment.
      Obviously I don’t make a habit of suing them but I don’t think one case is enough to mark your card. I have been lucky enough to not have had cause to claim compensation again though.

  • EB says:

    Our flight to Lisbon in August was cancelled within 14 days and I definitely remember seeing that the flights next day were still operating. Is there a way to retrieve that data? Thank you.

    • FCP says:

      A 1 month Gold subscription to flightradar24.com will cost you $3.99 and provide 365 days of flight history.

      • EB says:

        Thank you!

      • Michael says:

        I had a flight that was cancelled too 4 days before. On flightradar24.com I can see the flight operated the following day, how can I tell if the flight the following day was passenger or maybe BA were using plane for cargo only?

    • kk says:

      I don’t believe you need that, unless you want to confirm things in your own records. As long as the information is accurate, BA will not contest it, not there is a reason for it to not get accepted by MCOL/arbitration.

  • abc says:

    Good decission. The guidance from the EU concerned the specific situation in March that airlines obviously could not foresee so it were clearly ‘extraordinary circumstances’ out of the airlines’ control. It wasn’t intended to provide a blanket excuse for airlines to cancel flights without compensation by claiming ‘related to Covid-19’ what BA apparently tried to use it for months later. (You could potentially argue that if the cancellation was due to a specific change in government regulation or guidance that would be different, though this does not seem to be the case here.)

  • tony says:

    This is interesting as we flew PMI-LCY in August. They dropped the second rotation of the day, so we had to travel about 9hrs earlier.

    Again, BA fobbed me off – I assume CEDR rulings aren’t binding however and they can appeal this through the courts?

    • John says:

      CEDR adjudication is binding on BA but not you so you can take it to court if you disagree with the result

      Rob uses the word arbitration incorrectly – CEDR aviation scheme is not arbitration which would be binding on both and can be enforced in court

    • Mouse says:

      It’s binding to the extent that the airline can be thrown out of the CEDR Aviation Adjudication scheme and reported to the CAA if they don’t comply with the judgement. Any appeal to a court by the airline would need to relate to its contract with the scheme rather than simply appealing a particular case. The whole point of the scheme is to avoid courts on both sides – for the airlines they win some and the lose some but it’s much cheaper than going to court. Also, specific adjudications don’t set precedents – someone else could take an identical case to CEDR and get a different result, with no right of appeal (other than retaining the right to take the matter up separately with the courts).

    • ChrisC says:

      How much notice did they give you for the cancellation of your original flight though?

      Without knowing that it’s impossible to verify if you were fobbed off or not.

      • Tony says:

        They gave me 10 days notice. The alert hit my phone once I turned it on having landed at PMI, so with my car at LCY we couldn’t easily reroute via LHR on the way home.

    • Lady London says:

      if you fly or take a refund you have no more rights in the matter.

      I would have insisted on reroute and had them pay all my duty of care hotel meals etc till the replacement flight.

      If they want to switch either end to another airport eg LCY to LHR then especially if travelling with grandma, young kids, baby paraphernalia etc or if in any other way onerous, if I am forced to accept that change such as if I’m due back at work tomorrow then I am going to insist on taxi, minivan, one way car hire or other direct transport back to the airport I booked. Airline contract is between the departure and arrival airports so airline is responsiblr for any extra transport costs to fulfil this.

      You aren’t going to get anything for extra parking charges though.

  • meta says:

    Really pleased for the reader. They really messed up those Porto flights in August. There was really no reason to cancel flights as Portugal was put on the green list just a few days before.

    Mine was cancelled within 17 days and BA has refused a reroute, but in the end I won the MCOL case (well settled).

    • EB says:

      Great to hear. What evidence did you need pls? Thanks.

      • meta says:

        You don’t need to submit any documents unless court orders you. But I put under the list:
        1. Flight cancellation email
        2. Correspondance with BA CS
        3. Replacement ticket on TAP
        4. Various receipts for additional costs
        5. Receipt for postage cost for sending letter before action to BA
        6. Audio recordings of the calls I had with BA.

        I also claimed interest on all the costs.

        • EB says:

          Thank you.

        • WZ says:

          Were you able to claim any costs for the extra time it’s taken you to put together evidence, communication, etc for MCOL?

          • meta says:

            I didn’t. MCOL rarely awards extra time, but you can claim any real costs like postage or phone costs.

            As part of the settlement I also got my Avios back on top, so I guess that covered my time. I spent more time on 3 phone calls trying to get BA to re-route me than writing and submitting the actual claim or corresponding with BA post-factum.

  • SammyJ says:

    I considered this with Virgin, but for a different reason. They’ve known for months that they’re not flying to Orlando over Easter, and stopped selling the flights we had booked for 26/3 about 5 weeks ago, but refused to cancel the ones booked, citing the nonsense about some flights operating for essential travel, while also agreeing that the next flight wouldn’t operate until 1st April. Yet despite this they haven’t been cancelling them until around 10-14 days before (trying to get people to voluntarily cancel and pay amendments for packages etc, and not have to refund). Mine was cancelled on the 14th day before however, unlike many others I know, or I’d have had a pop at them just for being so underhand!
    They’re still refusing to rebook cancelled flights at a later date beyond 31/5 without paying the hefty fare difference.

    • Lady London says:

      sneaky behaviour of Virgin (I would have kept dated scree shots of my flight no longer appearing for sale or payment failing) – not conclusive but helpful.

      No they can’t ask a single penny extra and no extra points for your replacement flight(ie your reroute).

      Look at this thread for past 3-10 days it’s been covered a few times how to sort it.

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    So if both the outbound and return flights are cancelled, do you get compo for both legs – or since you couldn’t take the first one then it is just compo for that?

    • AJA says:

      Interesting question. I’m not sure it would apply to the return trip unless notification of cancellation is separate and is within 14 days of the return flight. Though it would apply if the return flight is on a separate booking and is cancelled within 14 days.

    • Lady London says:

      I think the judgment was fair only because the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before and there was no new restriction of govt(s) within the 14 days.

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable for airlines to cancel whichever flights on any day or within any week they choose given the overall exceptional circs whilst Covid is prevailing. Duty of care (rerouting, refund both at passenger choice plus any extra accommodation nights and meals needed if it takes longer to reroute assuming nearest reasonable reroute option is chosen) still applies even if airline cancels 1 year ahead.

      But compo doesn’t apply in Covid or not, ever, for flights cancelled more than 14 days ahead.

      What this judgment seems to imply is that less than 14 days, if a more negative relevant government edict had been issued less than 14 days before the flight, either worse than edicts in force before the 14 days ahead of the flight or some other edict or exceptional circ had arisen less than 14 days before the flight, then compensation would not have been payable. But none of those things were the case in the 14 days before the flight so compensation was payable.

      Good, as it hints judgments in future may look for a worsening of Covid circumstances to have occurred within the 14 days to let the airline off compensation. The judgment opened by giving some examples that might have been accepted.

      On the whole, good, but better would be to see an MCOL that went the same way.

    • Lady London says:

      on one booking I would expect you to get one lot of compensation. Reason being that if even just one flight – perhaps the returning domestic leg, say – is cancelled then your rights (such as rerouting or refund) apply to the whole ticket so only 1 incident.

      Of course if your return was on a separate booking this happened to then that would be treated separately. I can see furious HfP minds weighing up the cost of a £1-£35 cancellation fee against potential events…

  • Ikaz says:

    Lufthansa cancelled my flight the evening before departure (UK to Germany) last summer and put me onto a flight later the same day. I requested the 250€ on their website and they paid me without issues quite fast. It was actually a painless experience

    • tony says:

      I wonder if that was a consequence of the massive state bail out they received, which I think was around June? As I recall, it was conditional on all passengers being refunded and a general demand that they start playing fair.

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

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