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Your rights: flight cancellations

Your rights: flight cancellations

What cancelled means

A flight is cancelled if it's not operated at all, i.e. when the original flight is abandoned and another flight is offered in substitution.

If you were moved to a different flight with a different time and flight number, this generally means that the flight was cancelled rather than delayed, even if the airline hasn't called it a cancellation. If your flight took off but had to return to the airport and the passengers had to be transferred to a different flight, this is also likely to be a cancellation.

The Court of Justice of the European Union recently decided that, under the EU rules, a flight is also considered cancelled if it's brought forward by more than one hour. The flight departing at the earlier time may be regarded as an offer of re-routing. Although this ruling only applies to flights that fall under the EU rules, the UK courts might take guidance from this judgment when deciding a case under the UK rules – so you could use it to help negotiate with an airline or tour operator when claiming under the UK rules.

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.

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; and
  • If you're offered another flight, the time difference between the new departure and arrival times compared to the 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; 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.

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

Compensation limits depend on whether your flight falls under EU or UK rules. See Overview of EU and UK rules for more on this.

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

Length of journeyCompensation (EU rules)Compensation (UK rules)

1,500 km or less

€250

£220

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

€400

N/A

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

€400

£350

More than 3,500 km

€600

£520

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 (EU rules)Compensation if arrival is within the time limit (UK rules)

1,500 km or less

Up to 2 hours

€125

£110

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

Up to 3 hours

€200

N/A

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

Up to 3 hours

€200

£175

More than 3,500 km (all other flights)

Up to 4 hours

€300

£260

What if my flight was brought forward by more than an hour?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that under the EU rules, where a flight's departure has been brought forward by more than an hour, it would entitle you to compensation. The airline can't reduce that compensation by 50% - full compensation would always be payable even if the flight arrives before the scheduled arrival time of the original flight.

So, if the airline offers compensation at a reduced level where your flight was brought forward, you may want to get legal advice as the UK courts could take guidance from this judgment when deciding a case under the UK rules, which are mostly identical to the EU rules.

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