Delays and Cancellations: know your rights

If your flight gets delayed or cancelled, your carrier will be under contractual and legal obligation to assist or reimburse you for the inconvenience. But what else do you need to know about your rights?

Where do my rights come from?

Under EC Regulation No 261/2004 ('The Denied Boarding Regulations'), all passengers travelling from or to an airport in the EU or travelling on an EU-licensed Community carrier are entitled to receive compensation and assistance when a flight is cancelled at short notice or significantly delayed.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Airlines aren't liable when flights change due to 'extraordinary circumstance'. These include:

Bad weather War and political instability Security risks Airline strikes

Though they must prove that these cases apply.

What are my rights on cancelled flights?

When a flight is cancelled, an airline must either:

  • Give two weeks notice
  • Give between one and two weeks notice and offer an alternative flight leaving less than two hours before your original departure and arriving under four hours after its scheduled arrival
  • Cancellations under a week in advance must offer an alternative flight no more than one hour before the scheduled departure, and arriving less than two hours after the scheduled arrival

If the airline does not meet these criteria, they are required to assist and compensate passengers.

Assistance may include:

  • An alternative flight
  • Meals and refreshments
  • Hotel accommodation for overnight waits
  • Transport to and from the hotel
  • Two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails

Compensation amounts are:

  • €250 for flights of 1500km or less
  • €400 for flights over 1500km within the EU; and other flights of 1500 - 3500km
  • €600 for flights over 3500km

What about delays?

Under EU law, a delay means:

  • Two hours or more for flights of 1500km or less
  • Three hours or more for flights over 1500km within the EU; and other flights of 1500 - 3500km
  • Four hours or more for flights over 3500km

In these cases, you're eligible for the same assistance as cancellations. When the delay is at least five hours, you're also entitled to be offered a refund and a flight home.

Do I get a free upgrade when I'm re-routed?

Unfortunately, it's a myth that you get a free upgrade for your trouble when your flight is changed/re-routed. However, Article 10 of The Denied Boarding Regulation does specify that if the carrier upgrades you on a rearranged flight, you don't have to pay the difference. And if you're downgraded, they must compensate you.

How do I claim compensation?

Most airlines will have feedback and claim forms, but Which? also offer useful letter templates you can use to contact the airline. Can I claim back additional costs?

Outside of these statutory amounts, you'll be reliant on either a legal challenge based on your contract with the travel provider or on your travel insurance to recoup any additional costs.

What about flights outside of the EU?

Flights that aren't covered by EC Regulation will depend on the countries of travel and your travel contract, but they're usually less comprehensive and tougher to argue.

As well as travel insurance, it's sensible to have a contingency fund. You can use our free money management software to make sure you have enough slack in your budget to cope with even the most unexpected of circumstances.


Posted by Marc Murphy




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All content is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as "advice". Money Dashboard Ltd make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or any damages arising from its display or use.

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