Law guide: Complaints & disputes

See how we helped Liz

"It's not just a website... there are people there on call who can help answer your queries."

Liz W, London

Cancellations: rights under EU regulations

Cancellations: rights under EU regulations

Contents

Cancellation rights are regulated by the European Community Regulation EC 261/2004. This law sets the compensation that passengers are entitled to if they're denied boarding (see below) or if their flight is cancelled or delayed. Its purpose is to ensure high levels of protection for air passengers, who can experience serious inconvenience when problems happen.

The regulation applies to flights:

  • departing from an EU airport on any airline; or
  • arriving at an EU airport on an EU airline.

EU airports also include Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. See the CAA website for a full list of the countries that are in the EU.

For information on flights that fall outside of EU law, see Cancellations and delays outside EU regulations.

Rights for all passengers whose flight is cancelled

You'll automatically be entitled to either:

  • Rerouting to the same destination at the earliest opportunity using comparable transport
  • Rerouting to the same destination at a later date and at your convenience, using comparable transport
  • A refund (payable within 7 days) of the full price of the ticket including any unused tickets for parts of the journey that weren't made and any tickets that have been used (if the flight no longer served any purpose due to your original travel plans) AND a flight back to your original departure point (if relevant)

If you choose to be rerouted

If you choose to be rerouted, you'll be entitled to find out details of possible alternative transport and, potentially, compensation (see below).

If the airline offers you to be rerouted on a flight from a different airport, it must pay the cost of transporting you there.

The airline must also provide the following help, free of charge, while you wait to be rerouted:

  • 2 free telephone calls, emails, faxes or telex messages
  • Food and drink reasonably related to the waiting time
  • Where necessary, overnight accommodation, such as a hotel
  • Transport between the airport and the place of accommodation (hotel or other)

If the airline doesn't do this, you're entitled to claim an amount that is appropriate and reasonable for the costs you've incurred. You should keep all your receipts.

Note that the airline won't have to provide these if you choose to be rerouted on a different day.

Qualifying for compensation

As well as a replacement flight or refund, you might also be entitled to compensation. This depends on a combination of:

  • How long before your departure the airline told you of the cancellation;
  • If you're offered another flight, the time difference between the new departure and arrival times; and
  • The original scheduled times of your cancelled flight.

You may be entitled to compensation unless you're told about the cancellation within one of the following timeframes:

  • At least 2 weeks before the scheduled departure time;
  • Between one and 2 weeks before the scheduled departure time, and you're offered another flight that departs no more than 2 hours before the original departure time and arrives less than 4 hours after the original arrival time (i.e. a maximum potential time loss of 6 hours); or
  • Less than one week before the scheduled departure time, and you're offered another flight that departs no more than one hour before the original departure time and arrives less than 2 hours after the original arrival time (i.e. a potential time loss of no more than 3 hours).

The airline isn't obliged to pay compensation if it can prove that the cancellation was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances' that couldn't have been avoided, such as bad weather conditions or security risks. 'Extraordinary circumstances' don't include technical problems that are not out of the ordinary and are normally associated with the aircraft and are also unlikely to apply if the flight is cancelled because the crew are unavailable.

Compensation limits

Table 1 - where you haven't agreed to be rerouted

Length of journeyCompensation

1,500 km or less

€250

More than 1,500 km (flights between EU countries)

€400

1,500 km to 3,500 km (flights not between EU countries

€400

More than 3,500 km

€600

Table 2 - where you have agreed to be rerouted

If you've agreed to be rerouted, you'll be entitled to the compensation outlined in the table above, unless the delay to your arrival time is within certain limits (see below). In that case, the compensation is halved.

Length of journeyHours over original scheduled arrival timeCompensation if arrival is within the time limit

1,500 km or less

Up to 2 hours

€125

More than 1,500 km (flights between EU countries)

Up to 3 hours

€200

1,500 km to 3,500 km (flights not between EU countries

Up to 3 hours

€200

More than 3,500 km (all other flights)

Up to 4 hours

€300

Consumer Rights Act

Passengers will also be protected by the Consumer Rights Act if the service they receive is not provided with reasonable care and skill. This includes airline services that are cancelled.

Airline operators who provide a poor service are liable to pay compensation under the Act. The compensation claimable includes the cost of the ticket as well as other losses that you may have incurred due to poor service, such as having to pay more for the same journey because you missed a connecting flight. You will need to prove your loss and that you kept resulting costs to a minimum. The airline operator cannot exclude or limit the amount you can recover to less than the ticket price.

Compensation for delayed flights

If a flight is delayed by 3 or more hours, you'll be entitled to claim compensation. But this won't be the case if the delay was outside of the airline's control.

For information on delayed flights, see Delays: rights under EU regulations and Cancellations and delays outside EU regulations.