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Air travel is not always smooth and sometimes flight cancellations happen. Did you know you may have the right to claim up to $700 for flight cancellation compensation under EU law? Sometimes even if the airline has already arranged a replacement flight.
Get up to €600 per passenger for flights from the last 3 years.
No matter the ticket price.
What is Flight Cancellation Compensation?
Under EC 261, you are entitled to cancelled flight compensation if…
- Your canceled flight was set to depart from the EU (with any airline) or scheduled to land in the EU (provided the airline is headquartered in the EU).
- The airline notified you of the cancellation less than 14 days before the flight was due to depart.
- If you took a replacement flight, your new arrival time was significantly different to your original flight (exact times below).
- The cancellation occurred within the last three years.
- You had a confirmed flight reservation – shown by a booking confirmation complete with information like the flight number and name of passengers.
- The reason for the cancellation was within the airline’s control (e.g. operational circumstances, technical difficulties or airline staff strikes).
Definition of flight cancellation
An airline considers a flight as canceled if the plane never left the tarmac.
The EC 261 regulation defines a canceled flight as,
“The non-operation of a flight which was previously planned and on which at least one place was reserved”.
An airline can cancel a flight for a number of reasons. Sometimes, problems like bad weather or security risks can create a knock-on effect leading an airline to pull the plug on a flight.
However, when an airline cancels your flight, you may be eligible to receive flight cancellation compensation.
EU regulation EC 261 gives passengers the right to be reimbursed up to $700 for flight cancellations – providing certain criteria are met. We’ll go into detail on how much flight cancellation compensation you could be entitled to below.
Remember that a flight that takes off late, i.e. a delayed flight, is not a canceled flight. However you may still be entitled to flight delay compensation if you arrived in your destination over three hours late.
The key thing to know is that the airline must offer either a new flight or a refund.
In addition, if your flight was canceled within 14 days of the scheduled departure you could be entitled to compensation as well.
Flight Refund or Re-routing
When it comes to flight cancellations, EC 261 makes it clear that the airline must offer the passenger the following three choices:
- A full or partial refund of your original ticket – and a return flight to your original point of departure if needed.
- The earliest possible alternative transport to your final destination.
- A new ticket to your final destination at a later date of your choosing, subject to availability.
Let’s break down what your choices are here.
This is a simple choice if you are yet to take any portion of your flight. You will be refunded the full cost of your ticket.
However if you have already departed it’s a little more complex. You can get a refund for the unused portion of your ticket.
If you have used part of your ticket, but because of the canceled flight it’s no longer serving your original travel plan, you can get a refund for that used portion of the ticket too.
Whenever relevant, the airline must also provide you with a return flight to the first point of departure, and at the earliest opportunity.
Either way, EC 261 says you must be reimbursed within 7 days.
Earliest possible alternative:
Under this choice, your airline must provide you with a new means of getting to your final destination as soon as they can. EC 261 specifies it must be under comparable transport conditions too.
Alternative on a convenient date for you:
If you would prefer, you can opt to take the alternative transport to your final destination on a different date – subject to seats being available of course. Again EC 261 specifies the alternative transport must be under comparable conditions.
A note about your final destination: Although airlines may offer to fly you to alternative airports to the one you originally booked, they must pay to transfer you to the original airport. Or to a nearby address if you agree that with them.
How Much Cancellation Compensation Should You Get?
If the airline notifies you of the cancellation less than 14 days before departure, you could be entitled to compensation. EC 261 specifies amounts for flight cancellation claims – up to as much as $700 (€600) per person.
The exact figure depends on several factors:
- Travel distance
- Whether your flight is within the EU or not
- Length of delay (based on how much later the alternate flight would be when it arrived at your final destination)
That can be a little complicated, so this chart makes it clearer, with compensation given in €.
Compensation based on the length of delay (alternate flight vs. original flight):
|Under 2 hours||2 – 3 hours||3 – 4 hours||Over 4 hours||Never arrived||Distance|
|€125||€250||€250||€250||€250||All flights 1,500 km or less|
|€200||€200||€400||€400||€400||Internal EU flights over 1,500 km|
|€200||€200||€400||€400||€400||Non-internal EU flights 1,500 km – 3,500 km|
|€300||€300||€300||€600||€600||Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km|
You can see that the compensation amount is sometimes half, depending on the amount of time you would be delayed in arriving at your final destination (compared to your originally booked flight).
Under EC 261, all canceled flights qualify for compensation when the airline has given you less than 14 days’ notice, with one exception.
If the airline offers to re-route you, it can avoid paying cancellation compensation if the following criteria are met:
|Advance Notice||Re-routing Requirements|
|7 – 13 Days||Alternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before and arriving less than 4 hours after the original flight|
|Less than 7 Days||Alternative flight departing no more than 1 hours before and arriving less than 2 hours after the original flight|
Other Flight Cancellation Entitlements Under EC 261
Right to Care
When you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track, you’re entitled to necessary assistance from the airline, depending on your situation.
For example, if your flight cancellation leaves you stuck waiting at an airport, the carrier must provide you with meals and refreshments during the delay. They must also offer you access to communications, including two telephone calls, telefax or fax messages, and emails.
If you need overnight accommodation, they must provide you with a hotel room and transport to and from the airport.
Upgrading and downgrading
If you’re offered an alternative flight and are lucky enough to be placed in a higher class than the one you booked, the carrier cannot charge you any additional payment.
On the other hand, if the class of the alternative flight is lower, you can get a reimbursement of between 30-75% of the price you originally paid.
Obligation to inform passengers about flight cancellation compensation
You have the right be informed about the content of EC 261. Every airline has to display information on passengers’ rights at their check-in counters at every airport in which they operate.
Your right to compensation under EC 261 does not affect your right to request further compensation. Although this rule does not apply in cases where passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservations. Note if you do claim further compensation the amount you are entitled to under EC 261 may be deducted from whatever additional compensation you receive.
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