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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%.

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.

  • Billy says:

    I was fobbed off by BA after initial flight was cancelled then the rebooked flight was cancelled too. Covid was given as a reason.

  • Sideshowbob says:

    In am already beleaguered airline industry, claims like this are really not going to help their financial position.

    • Lady London says:

      if BA would play a straight bat in peacetime we might have more sympathy for them in wartime

    • GaryC says:

      I agree with you, this kind of ambulance chasing can’t help. And with respect to playing a straight bat, BA have been the role model with regard to prompt refunds during the pandemic.

      • Rob says:

        August was different though. There were no travel restrictions to many countries so the issue is whether BA was hiding behind covid to avoid paying.

      • Lady London says:

        Not true, GaryC

        BA twice altered their website to make refund requests impossible. Not just once, but a second time after a workround was found and published. Refund functionality longstanding and perfectly functioning before. At a time when it was literally impossible to get through to them on the telephone or for some very very few people, days or occasionally hours.

        Many many people lost their money – money they could have needed to live if their situation had changed – because the website channelled these people from a button labelled refund to a voucher they were refused their money back from.

        When people eventually began to be able to reach BA, still many were waiting months for refunds (actually due in 7 days) for months. Not just a few weeks extra that might have been acceptable, but months.

        And even in peacetime we have ongoing reports BA has been denying rerouting where they are unambiguously liable.

        HfP readers might have more knowledge but for the average passenger these tactics have succeeded. Why do you think EU261 was brought in in the first place?

      • Sambe says:

        Come on, seriously. They have been doing the utmost to mislead people about refunds, or not pay correctly (amongst other things). They listed many flights they never intended to fly to give a false illusion of choice. They way they’ve behaved toward employees. The list goes on.

        In most cases they cancelled well outside of two weeks, and that should be sufficient to settle the matter. If they can’t, they owe. That’s not ambulance chasing.

      • Jay H says:

        Role model? Don’t make me laugh. Had to threaten court action to get a refund they claim they sent. Before later admitting they hadn’t

  • BS says:

    I’m assuming BA have to pay a fee for going to CEDR?

  • Melonfarmer says:

    The arbitrator found in my favour against KLM in July, but they still haven’t paid the full amount yet.

    • meta says:

      Have you reported to CEDR and CAA?

      • ChrisC says:

        CEDR don’t cover KLM.

        CEDR isn’t the only company offering arbitration.

        • meta says:

          Didn’t know. In any case, @melonfarmer has the option of going to MCOL and get a ruling there which would be enforceable.

          • kitten says:

            revert to the arbitrating authority they will steer you as to what enforcement is available.

            Can I come too when your bailiffs impound a KLM plane at the airport?

          • meta says:

            @kitten I’d love to see this happening in the UK like it did in Vienna with Adria Airways. One such case would do wonders for people claiming every time and airlines complying.

        • the_real_a says:

          Surely CEDR would understand their remit and not make a finding on an airline that has not accepted to be binded by their arbitration?

  • Joe says:

    I have a similar case with for a pre lockdown December flight to TFS. They cancelled Saturday flights but continued to operate Thursday before and after and Saturdays from other uk departure points. ReRouting fell on deaf ears (bought a ba ticket in the end) but still trying to get compensation thru caa.

    • Pete M says:

      CAA? I am not sure they’ll help?

      • Joe says:

        Yes not signed up to cedr. Correct approach according to mse..

    • Lady London says:

      no compo if cancelled at least 14 days ahead.

      do a moneyclaimonline dot hov dot uk claim online for the cost of the BA ticket plus any extra out of pocket costs such as replacement travel involved a different airport plus any extra meals for longer journey time or if overnight accommodation was needed due to journey time.

      It’s easy and cheap and a good chance it’s all done without you having to attend court. I have no doubt Jet2 will pay up.

      In fact why don’t you send them a Letter Before Action under EU261(use that heading on a letter or email and call in a few days to request someone’s attention to it) detailing your request for the above with receipts) to Jet2. As it’s Jet2 who have very good reports on here I would put in the letter a request to be paid within 30 days (rascals like BA or TAP we give 14 days). I have a funny feeling you will receive a payment and won’t have to MCOL.

      You could also ask your card, if you paid by UK credit card, for these costs under Section 75.
      But sounds like a letter to Jet2 will do the trick.

      • Joe says:

        Thanks, was less than 14 days before. I tried letter before action but they continue to say covid19 related. Will try money claim online if caa doesn’t work out. Unfortunately paid with US amex….

        • Lady London says:

          Joe I wouldn’t bother with compo but everything else I said you are entitled to under duty of care which is a different part of EU261.

          Although Rob’s article does give encouragement that prevailing Covid conditions might not give airlines an exceptional circumstance getout if they cancel in less than 14 days if there hasn’t actually been a worsening of Covid conditions (particularly govt restrictions) this is a long way from becoming law or precedent. It is a signal that airlines may not be able to be cancel as freely during Covid within 14 days as might suit them if conditions were the same before the 14 days that is all.

          So I suggest you write a nice letter to Jet2 requesting your duty of care rights under EU261 as I suggested. Jet2 has excellent reports on here and I am sure you will get your extra costs back.

          • Lady London says:

            in other words Joe ask for what I said, keep the word compensation out of the letter and don’t ask for it. What you are asking for is “reimbursement of your costs under duty of care provisions under EU261”. Do that if you want to be paid. If you mix it up then they won’t just pay part.

          • Joe says:

            Thanks for your help.

  • Eric Walmsley says: cancelled my return flight Faro to Newcastle (12 November 2020) 4 November . Re -booked using Ryanair : Faro to Manchester 12 November. Do I have a case?

    • Rob says:

      Only if you can show you asked Jet2 to rebook you on another airline and they flatly refused. Otherwise they will just say ‘we would have done it but he never asked’.

  • Callum says:

    Despite generally being fiercely anti-capitalist etc, I’m seemingly in the minority for thinking this ruling is ridiculous.

    It’s beyond dispute that although these flights are being cancelled for economic reasons, the pandemic very clearly caused it – a clear extraordinary circumstance. You could argue BA shouldn’t have scheduled the flights in the first place, but I’m not sure they’d still be a viable airline if they didn’t.

    Not to mention if this becomes widespread it will be taxpayers money paying for it in the form of more bailouts. To a group of people who probably shouldn’t have really
    been traveling in the first place (not a judgement – I’m also in that category!).

    • Jonathan says:

      I’m minded to agree here. Big difference between them honouring rebooking, refunds etc which I’m fully in favour of & handing out compensation on top. It’s crazy to expect BA to be able to run their full schedule in the context of COVID & a rapidly changing situation. I’m sure people would also be complaining if they scheduled 1 flight a week with only J/Y fare buckets sold.

    • Sam says:

      The spirit of EU261 is that it is based on the grounds that passenger is always intended to travel on that original flight and airline does have the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation when cancelling flights under this short notice. We cannot dismiss the compensation by assuming the passenger does not have to travel on that flight – this is a regulation protecting passenger rights, not the airline.

      BA could have cancelled the flight way in advance to avoid the compensation and they been doing this nowadays.

      Also I don’t see any relevance to tax payers money or bailouts with the €250 compensation. A number of airlines are still profitable during the pandemic, if an airline struggles just by paying out €250 then there is a real question on whether we need to bail it out. British airways is not government-owned, nor do other major airlines in the UK such as Virgin and EasyJet that are also eligible for the compensation.

      • Insider says:

        I’d like to see an example of any of these airlines that are still profitable during the pandemic. That’s obviously complete rubbish.

        • Sam says:

          A quick desk research will get you some answers and I can already name a few: China Airlines (in Taiwan), EVA Air, Korean Air. You may argue they are in Asia but let’s not forget they virtually also have none to little domestic route business which are also being impacted by the travel restrictions.

          • insider says:

            Great, so we’ll let all the European airlines go bankrupt then. I wonder what rights consumers have in the countries of the airlines you listed above?

      • Callum says:

        Name one airline is able to pay out €250 for each of their millions of cancellations, on top of the refunds that were already crippling them.

        Taxpayer money is very relevant as it’s taxpayers money keeping them afloat – either with bailouts or furlough schemes.

        • Sam says:

          @Callum I doubt that millions of cancellations are all occurred within 14 days of departure.

        • Sam says:

          Also, perhaps we should face it, even if EU261 was in place before the pandemic a lot of the impacted simply don’t bother claiming (or are not aware of) the compensation. So I won’t be so worried if an airline is now going to get inundated by millions of claims which then leads to me paying money to bail them out. It’s the Government’s decision on whether to bail them out or not also.

    • Sam says:

      I also wanted to add, that if covid was a reason BA shouldn’t pay this €250 to us. Why are they reluctant to issue cash refund when covid is also reason many passenger cannot travel on a flight they have rescheduled to? I have a BA flight cancelled by them but they have rescheduled me on a flight within their four hour frame so they won’t issue me any cash refund. And the voucher is technically not a refund in my view. It’s just an offer to rebook my BA flight at a later date only.

    • The Streets says:

      You obviously haven’t been in a position where the flight has been cancelled less than 14 days of flying.. or in my case, as it was a couple of months ago.. on the day. The extra costs incurred when travelling at the last minute and with a family wasn’t small

      • Callum says:

        Those costs should have been covered by other parts of the legislation.

        • AJA says:

          @ Callum, Yes indeed you should get those costs reimbursed or get the airline to pay them for you. But that does not mean you should not also receive compensation for the inconvenience the airline causes you because of their actions. The point is that this is compensation for the airline not carrying out the original contract that you entered into.

          • Callum says:

            Again, you seem to be saying what you want to happen and ignoring what the text actually says. Your several claims that collapsed passenger numbers caused by a global pandemic are not extraordinary are just absurd. I’d be beyond shocked if more than a handful of claims get accepted on this basis, which seems to be a technicality as surely BA could have demonstrated those facts.

    • Rob says:

      Travel to Portugal was allowed in August.

      • Callum says:

        I don’t see where I said it wasn’t?

        If your argument is that anything that’s legal is automatically morally justifiable then I completely disagree.

        • Rob says:

          The Government specifically removed all restrictions on travel to Portugal and reinstated travel insurance coverage if you chose to go. The Portguese Government was equally happy to have you.

          I think you have selective amnesia. Covid rates in the UK in August were 1 in 5,000 people, same as they are now in London. Virtually nothing.

          It’s like saying you don’t take out an ISA because you don’t think its morally justifiable to receive tax relief when so many are starving.

          • Callum says:

            I have no such thing thank you very much. There were over 1000 cases a day, and rising, throughout August. They then began rising rapidly straight after. I’ve already said I travelled in that period so I’m hardly judging anyone, but if you genuinely believe there was no risk in traveling abroad during a brief lull in a fierce global pandemic…

            What an absolutely ridiculous analogy. How on earth is that comparable to saying the law isn’t the ultimate authority on morality? If you’re referring to the taxpayer comment then my objection is the person taking the risk should pay instead of the rest of the population, not “the starving shouldn’t pay”.

        • AJA says:

          @ Callum Do you think it is morally justifiable for an airline to advertise and sell you a seat on a flight that they then don’t have any intention of operating?

          The compensation is not payable when it is due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the airline’s control. I say cancelling a flight any time more than 24 hours before scheduled departure is entirely within their control. They deliberately choose to cancel.

          Likewise you failing to turn up and take your flight is entirely within your control. Outside of the current “book with confidence” offer by BA unless you have bought a fully flexible flight you should not expect a refund of anything other than APD.

          • Callum says:

            No, I don’t. But I don’t see how you could possibly prove they never intended to fly it. If you could tell then why on earth would you book it?

            You can say whatever you want. The EC and CAA have both clearly stated that they DO consider general Covid disruption – including where there are no travel bans but passenger numbers have drastically dropped – to be extenuating circumstances. Why is your interpretation more valid?

        • Chris Heyes says:

          Callum Please let me throw another angle into the debate ?
          You want me to build you a new home (house builder)
          Yes i know Callum you paid a large deposit to your solicitor but due to Covid i needed your money so I’ve asked your solicitor to forward it to me.
          It’s only £100000 and eventually some time in the future I’ll build your house if i can stay afloat
          I’m sure you understand it’s only because of covid i need to take this action

          • Callum says:

            Another absolutely ridiculous analogy. The correct scenario would be “sorry I can’t build your house, here’s all your money back”. I.e. exactly what actually happens.

        • Lady London says:

          Callum the collapse didnt occur in those 14 days, nothing happened in terms of a negative change in govt restrictions in those 14 days, and as the arbitrator pointed out there were no arising issues such as a safety issue related to Covid in the 14 days.

          So you are quite correct the judgment was based on a technicality.

          We’ll need to see more judgments to establish the bounds of this but it’s a signal to airlines that if they are going to cancel a flight due to Covid within 14 days then there needs to be an arising exceptional circumstance now not just a prevailing one.

          See my advice to Joe today my view is this is long from becoming law or precedent yet. But it’s a good start.

          Easyjet FWIW has managed themselves excellently as regards their scheduling in Covid – taking prompt action well ahead and communicating clearly. Really excellent they have not got much wrong. IMV Easyjet has consistently been about 2 months ahead of BA in making the correct decisions. (Not that I’m happy to have had flights cancelled so far ahead but they are right.)

          • Callum says:

            It’s beyond obvious that Covid has had an enormous impact on airline operations – including in the periods of time where cases weren’t particularly high in comparison to the peaks. All relevant authorities that I’m aware of have confirmed that these ARE extraordinary circumstances, and I struggle to believe a random CEDR arbitrator ruling on a technicality could lead towards new laws or inspire a precedent.

            What Easyjet does isn’t particularly relevant. I’m not arguing that you should LIKE what BA is doing, but that it is legal.

    • AJA says:

      I disagree. The EC261 compensation is because airlines deliberately sell you a ticket for a service that they then don’t provide. You are being compensated for not receiving what you booked and paid for. Their actions from cancelling so many flights within 14 days of the scheduled departure leaving the passenger struggling to get what they booked has brought the regulations into being.

      Covid has undoubtedly damaged many airlines ability to generate a profit but that should only be used to avoid paying compensation when it genuinely is the case. In the case of the fellow HfPer it is clear that BA did not provide evidence that the cancellation was directly related to Covid or associated restrictions. It was clearly a commercial decision to cancel or consolidate flights but that is true of all cancellations other than those cancelled in extraordinary circumstances (usually on the day). While the pandemic may explain BA’s actions it still needs to prove that it was the reason for cancelling the specific flight within 14 days but not on the day itself. Therefore the passenger should be entitled to the compensation. As for the cost of this to airlines it will be covered by their insurance.

      • AJA says:

        Just to be clear my comment was a response to Callum. I was not disagreeing with Rob.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Callum & Jonathan, What should happen is if a refund or rebooking is refused there should be a mechanism for the Airline (any) to have to pay “say” £1000 for every day they are not compliant to the customer
      You would then find that all Airlines would comply within 14 days or earlier
      There should “never” be a reason to deny what is blatantly the Airlines conning people who have booked

      • Callum says:

        Yes that would be fine, you’ve completely misunderstood the discussion though. Airlines absolutely should (immediately) refund you if they cancel your flight – this is about whether they should be giving you hundreds of pounds extra on top.

    • Joe says:

      Its not an option for them to provide a service and while I have some sympathy re comp, they should definitely reroute

  • 1ATL says:

    So it’s acceptable to encourage EC261 claims but socially unacceptable for people to consider a data breech claim. I really do struggle with the HfP mentality sometimes.

    • BS says:

      Yup I agree.
      It is cleat BA only respond to money and costs. Unless you clobber them in their pocket for whatever the problem is they are not going to change.
      Claim what you can (and if you feel guilty you can give the money to charity). It is the act of monetising BA’s issues that what force them to do the right thing. And this is what is most important.

    • Rob says:

      This is a legitimate claim from a period when there were no travel restrictions in place.

      Doesn’t really compare to trying to screw BA out of £2,000 because someone stole your credit card number and then did precisely nothing with it in the period before Amex sent you a new one.

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Rob Every Claim is a legitimate claim unless it’s fraud
        Example taking out cat insurance without having a cat is fraud
        Using bendy, beardy curve & other could be considered fraud depending on t&c
        Claiming for something booked and not delivered is a legitimate claim
        Morality has nothing to do with anything

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