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What rights do you have if your flight has been cancelled this Summer?

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Airlines and airports have been dominating the headlines for the past few weeks thanks to tens of thousands of flight cancellations. British Airways alone has cancelled around 16,000 flights over the Summer season, about 17% of its overall planned capacity between April and October.

That said, there is no need to panic. The vast majority of flights are still operating as normal, with only 2.5% of flights cancelled within 72 hours of departure according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

My personal view is that you shouldn’t be put off travelling, but you should expect and prepare for disruption. This includes knowing your rights in case of delay, cancellation or lost baggage.

British Airways A320

Fortunately, there are extensive consumer laws in place to protect you when things go wrong. These are primarily under EU261, which has been subsumed into UK law following Brexit, and the Montreal Convention. You can read the original text of EU261 here but case law has expanded its scope substantially since 2004.

EU261 covers all flights departing from a UK or EU airport, regardless of the airline. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are treated as EU airports for the purposes EU261.

For flights arriving from outside the UK/EU, you only qualify for compensation if you are flying on a UK/EU airline. American Airlines flights to London do not qualify, but British Airways flights do.

Crucially, these protections apply to you regardless of how you paid your flight – whether you paid for a cash ticket or using Avios or miles. The rules state:

“This Regulation shall not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public. However, it shall apply to passengers having tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme or other commercial programme by an air carrier or tour operator.”

If your flight has been cancelled ….

Article 5 of EU261 deals with cancellations:

1. In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned shall:

(a) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Article 8;

Article 8 outlines the duty of care an airline has towards you in the case of cancelled or delayed flights, including the right to reimbursement or re-routing.

Whilst the regulation talks about the operating carrier, precedent has pushed this back onto the marketing carrier. If you buy a ticket on ba.com for a flight with a BA flight number but which happens to be operated by American Airlines, it is BA who you should call if it is cancelled, not American.

Here is the relevant extract from Article 8:

Article 8: Right to reimbursement or re-routing

1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall be offered the choice between:

(a) – reimbursement within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made, and for the part or parts already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan, together with, when relevant,

– a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity;

(b) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or

(c) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats.

As you can see, there are three clear options: a full refund (clause a), re-routing as close to the original flight timings as possible (clause b) or re-routing at a later date (clause c). It is your choice which of these you choose, not the choice of the airline.

If you choose to be re-routed at the earliest opportunity but the time of departure of the new flight is at least a day later than the original flight then the airline also has a duty of care to you. This includes reasonable meals and refreshments as well as overnight accommodation, where applicable.

There does not need to be Avios seat availability if your cancelled flight is an Avios redemption and you would like to be rerouted.

British Airways will only reroute on airlines with which it has a commercial agreement to buy seats at a discount during periods of disruption. If your flight to Germany is cancelled, you will not be rebooked on easyJet even if seats are available and there is no BA alternative. You would need to obtain written confirmation from BA that they will only rebook you on a flight which departs later than the easyJet one, buy a cash ticket on easyJet, submit a claim to British Airways and then – in the likely scenario that it refuses to reimburse you – take the airline to arbitration or launch Money Claim Online legal proceedings.

Note that there is no legal definition of “at the passenger’s convenience”. During the pandemic, some travellers were taking advantage of this by booking cheap off-peak flights which were virtually certain to be cancelled and then demanding rebooking on peak Christmas and New Year or school holiday dates. The airline is within its rights to decide that your definition of ‘convenient’ is not the same as their definition, with an invitation to sue them if you disagree.

Am I eligible for compensation?

If your flight has been cancelled, you may also be entitled to compensation. This is also regulated by Article 5.

Whether or not you qualify for compensation depends on how much notice you are given for your flight cancellation:

  • If your flight is cancelled more than 14 days in advance then you are NOT entitled to financial compensation on top of your refund or rerouting
  • If your flight is cancelled between 7 and 14 days in advance then you only receive compensation if your alternative flight leaves more than two hours before the scheduled departure time or arrives more than four hours later than the scheduled arrival time
  • If your flight is cancelled within 7 days of departure you only receive compensation if your alternative flight leaves more than one hour before the scheduled departure time or arrives more than two hours later than the scheduled arrival time

You should note that being rebooked on an EARLIER flight still entitles you to compensation in certain circumstances. The rules reflect the fact that, whilst you will arrive at your destination earlier than planned, you may have been inconvenienced by having to leave your departure city earlier.

The exact amount of compensation you are eligible for varies on the length of the delay and the distance you are flying. Remember that you receive no money if your flight was cancelled over 14 days in advance and, even within 14 days, you will receive no money if your new flight has only modest time changes.

The level of compensation is outlined in Article 7:

Article 7: Right to compensation

1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall receive compensation amounting to:

(a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;

(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1 500 and 3,500 kilometres;

(c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b)

Since Brexit, these limits have been switched to fixed Sterling equivalents although, on flights to/from the EU, you are likely to be paid the EUR levels above – British Airways is still doing so.

The compensation is halved if you accept a re-route to your final destination and the delay is under two hours for shorter flights or under four hours for longer ones. If you are re-routed on an earlier flight, your compensation will therefore be automatically halved because you did not arrive late.

It is important to note that the airline is only liable for compensation if the cause of the cancellation is the airline’s fault. If, for example, you are delayed due to bad weather conditions (or, in the case of Rob’s wife last week, Air Traffic Control issues) then you are not eligible for compensation but you are entitled to hotel and other costs.

It is not unknown for airlines to issue untruthful statements about why a certain flight was delayed. Legal precedents in recent years have substantially narrowed the list of reasons which are acceptable as being out of the control of the airline – the unavailability of spare parts, spare crew or spare aircraft is not a valid excuse.

Wizz Air

If your flight is delayed ….

You may be eligible for compensation and care if your flight is delayed. In Article 6, a delay is defined as:

  • 2 or more hours late from scheduled time of departure for routes of less than 1,500km
  • 3 or more hours late from scheduled time of departure for for all flights within the EU over 1,500km and all flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
  • 4 or more hours late from scheduled time of departure for all other routes – ie all flights over 3,500km long.

If your flight qualifies as delayed then the airline has a duty of care to you, which includes reasonable meals and refreshments as well as overnight accommodation and transport between the airport and hotel. You are also entitled to two free phone calls, telex (!) or fax (!) messages.

If your flight is delayed by 5 hours or more then the airline must give you the option to cancel your flight and receive a refund.

EU261 does not specify financial compensation payments for delayed arrivalshave a read here. EU261 only covers (as per Article 1.1):

  • denied boarding
  • flight cancellation
  • non-financial compensation for delayed departure

Compensation for delayed arrivals is based on the 2009 legal cases of Sturgeon v Condor and Bock v Air France. The court decided that the law was wrong to pay compensation for late arrival due to a re-routing but not due to late arrival of an operating flight. For delayed flights you will receive:

  • €250 for an arrival delay of 3+ hours on a flight of up to 1,500km
  • €400 for an arrival delay of 3+ hours on a flight of 1,500km – 3,000km
  • €300 for an arrival delay of 3-4 hours, and €600 beyond that, on a flight of 3,500+ km

The arrival time is based on the time that the aircraft doors are opened. This is not stated in the regulations but was decided by the 2014 case of Germanwings v Ronny Henning.

If you have a connecting flight on the same ticket, the delay is judged by the time you arrived at your final destination. If a 30 minute arrival delay on your first flight means that your connection is missed and you eventually arrive over three hours late, you have a valid claim.

If your baggage is lost or delayed ….

Unlike for delay or cancellation, there are no fixed rules for what you are entitled to if your airline loses or delays your baggage. For this reason, you should always travel with a strong insurance policy.

The Montreal Convention provides certain protections but, unlike EU261 these are far less specific. According to Article 19, “The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.”

Your entitlement is outlined in Article 22:

“In the carriage of baggage, the liability of the carrier in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay is limited to 1,000 Special Drawing Rights for each passenger”

The only exception is when you have made a ‘special declaration of interest in delivery at destination’ and paid any associated charge.

(Because the Montreal Convention is an international declaration all reimbursement rights are given in ‘Special Drawing Rights’ which can be converted to your local currency. 1,000 SDR is approximately £1,115.)

Most airlines will cover you for any essentials you need to buy when your bag is delayed, including toiletries and essential clothes. However, there is no fixed list of what is eligible and what isn’t. For example, if you are going to a wedding, a suit or dress may be eligible even though it might not otherwise be considered essential by the airline.

Because your rights are so wishy-washy, it is always best to have a good insurance policy which will have much clearer claim rules.

Note that a bag is considered permanently lost if it has not arrived within 21 days of the original scheduled time of arrival.

If you want to discuss a specific case, we have a ‘Flight changes and cancellations help’ board in the HfP forums here.

PS. You should obviously take independent legal advice if necessary, and should not rely on anything written above. Remember that the many additions to EU261 which have been set by legal precedent since 2004 are not written into the official wording.

Comments (205)

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

  • Gordon says:

    @MKB You have hit the nail on the head…. Sometimes you get further if you don’t go in like a bull in a China shop…. A customer service representative of most companies have authorisation to give a small amount of points/Credits etc. I remember a stay Me and my OH had in a Hyatt AI hotel in Jamaica. We arrived a couple of hours early for an agreed early check in (But not guaranteed) The room was not ready so we had a few drinks and an hour or so later the concierge came over and apologised and said because you have been understanding and not made a fuss we have upgraded you to a junior ocean front suite.There’s an example that patience is a virtue….That was a well deserved $40 tip as it was a 14 night stay.
    I will never forget that.

  • Gordon says:

    Just read the below on BBC News App….

    The price of airline tickets will go up “without doubt” as fuel costs rise, an air industry boss has warned.

    Oil prices have jumped as economies recover from the Covid pandemic and due to the war in Ukraine.

    These costs will be passed on to consumers, Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said.

    • Brian78 says:

      Presumably “will go up further” is what he meant?

      All the flights I’ve taken recently or looked to booked for the future seem to be significantly more expensive than 2019. No surprise really given that inflation is high and oil is priced in dollars (the value of the pound versus the dollar is rubbish at the moment)

      Admittedly this is just my experience and I’m don’t know what the market data etc says about whether prices are increasing

  • SimplySimon says:

    Can you enlighten me? Return flight from LGW to Florence – outbound no problem. Return – inbound flight was “too heavy” and very late on was diverted to Bologna. The flight was scheduled to depart from Florence, Peretola at 18:00 CEST, but was diverted to Bologna, Guglielmo Marconi, and rescheduled to depart at 21:45 CEST. After taking a Vueling provided bus from Florence to Bologna, the flight was further delayed leaving Bologna. After being taken from the gate to the plane by shuttle bus at 22:30 CEST, none of the passengers were allowed off the bus and we were instead returned to the gate. At 22:50 CEST, airport staff informed us that the flight had been cancelled and told us that this was due to the crew running out of flight hours and no longer being able to fly us to London, Gatwick. At 23:20 CEST Vueling emailed us to confirm that the flight had been cancelled and the rescheduled flight would depart Florence the next day at 7:00 CEST, but made no offer to transport us back to Florence from Bologna. As the suggested rescheduled flight was highly unsuitable, given the time of day and that it was departing from a city over 100km away, we had to book an alternative flight from Bologna to Gatwick, departing at 12:20 CEST on 14th May 2022, arriving at Gatwick >18 hours after our original scheduled arrival time.
    Have tried to contact Vueling but to no avail. What are the rights and what to do next? I want to MCOL but cannot find a UK address for service. Help please.

  • Matt says:

    I had flights to Marrakesh booked over the Jubilee long weekend which BA decided to cancel 15 days in advance. I tried calling to see if we could rebook on Easyjet but couldn’t get through, so I gave up and accepted the refund (luckily our hotel booking was refundable).

    Is there any value in making a complaint in this instance? (e.g. compensatory Avios, etc.) unfortunately I don’t have status with BA at the moment if that makes a difference.

    • Harry T says:

      Doubt you’ll get anything.

    • Chas says:

      You accepted the refund, so I think you’re very unlikely to get anywhere with this.

    • Lady London says:

      Noooooo do not refund.
      Not even if airline that cancelled your flight says that’s all.

      The moment you take a refund, the airline is joyous because they instantly lose having to pay your replacenent transport and all the hotel and any other transport costs. Such as your flight on another airline. Such as transport to and from other sirports and stations.

      Did you know that the BA Customer Service team has a dartboard in the office? Every time they get a passenger to take a refund for a passenger a flight they throw a dart. The supervisor of the team that has the most darts on the board at the end of the week takes the team out for a drink. I heard that with this summer’s cancellations, extra dartboards have been ordered.
      (OK there’s no dartboard but the rest is true)

      • Jon says:

        So if there’s no dartboard, what (or who?!) do they throw the darts at? 😂

  • Louise says:

    We had an AI holiday booked to Mauritius in October. The flight was cancelled and BA offered re routing a day later than the original flight. We accepted this and the AI hotel kindly moved the holiday with no charge.

    As we haven’t incurred any additional charge I presume there is nothing for us to claim?

    • Harry T says:

      What would you be claiming for? You’ve had a really great outcome.

    • david says:

      No unless I miread and you missed out on 1 day of your hotel?

  • GFE says:

    We had a relatively complex case with Swiss where they diverted the plane to Milan well delayed, rather than origina destination ZRH. Had initial dialogue with support center to cover expenses and comp, but they have now stopped replying to emails and case still not closed. What legal comanies can be used? I find the online complaint companies follow quite standard processes whereas in this case it would be good to talk the situation theough with an advisor. Any thoughts?

    • meta says:

      Departed from the UK? You can MCOL them, no need to give commission. Check the forum, the process has been detailed on many occasions.

      • GFE says:

        Thanks, sorry should have clarified this was a Norway outbound.

  • reds says:

    So if BA informed me of a flight cancellation the day before, the re-routing doesn’t suit and I refuse the refund and I go ahead a buy another ticket with another carrier. Do I have to inform BA of this? And if I dont, I will be a no-show for the re-routing. And will I still be eligible for all the compensation/refund? Thanks.

    • Nick says:

      Did you ask BA to reroute you? If not, you need to. If they can’t find a suitable one, you should ask them to make a note on your PNR that you did so – this proves you tried. Not all of their partner airlines are available to book online so you can ask them.

      Note that easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz have all opted out of following international norms so BA is unable to book on those. I can’t wait for the eventual court case that a legacy airline will inevitably bring to prove it’s not ‘comparable conditions’ if the other airline refuses to follow international standards.

    • david says:

      yes, you at least have to let them try.

  • Sarah O'N says:

    Even knowing your rights doesn’t always help if the airline is uncooperative. KLM cancelled my flight home from Amsterdam and rebooked me 24 hours later. There were alternative flights returning the same day but their customer service merely had a recorded message to say they were busy. I booked on EasyJet emailing them to advice. I then submitted a claim for reimbursement which they refused. They stated they had booked me on a KLM flight the next day. Even when I pointed out the EasyJet flight was cheaper than paying the cost of a hotel overnight at Amsterdam (which they had not offered anyway) they would not budge. Their only concession was EUR100 against a future KLM flight in the next 12 months. I didn’t go to arbitration and I guess that is what they rely on.

    • Lady London says:

      Sorry, why did you accept this?

      If you still need to travel same day you have a right to and they are responsible for the costs at the going rate at the time if they fail to provide this. If they are ureachable or they fail to respond or refuse then make serioius attempta to request your choice to still travel as near as poss to booked time from them. Keep records of your attempts.

      Amsterdam Airport has basically unresourced and can’t support all the booked flights so KL has been st*fd by this.

      Assuming you bought ticket in UK send a Letter Before Action to their UK address ideally snail mail signed for. Instructions repeated many times in Flight Cancellations threads on here. Give them 30 days to psy and on Day 35 MCOL it.

      Don’t forget any meals needed durin extra travel time, cost of ticket mentioning your multiple attempts to reach them or their refusal, and you might as well ask for £220 compo but they might wriggle out of that if ATC in Amsterdam imposed unprecedented no-notice flight reductions.

      No you not have to take their flight the following day it’s your choice not theirs and I am sure you would have told them you wouldn’t be taking it if you could have found someone at KLM.

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