If my flight is cancelled, what are my rights?

Airlines have obligations in respect of their passengers, by virtue of 

The two regulations are very similar, so there has been little change to passengers’ rights against airlines following Brexit. The UK Regulation awards any compensation due in Pounds rather than Euros.

For most UK consumers, the UK Regulation now applies instead of EU 261. But EU 261 still has some application.

For flights departing the UK, the UK Regulation applies. This applies to all airlines, whether UK, EU or otherwise. 

In respect of return flights to the UK, the UK Regulation applies, unless the airline is not a UK airline or an EU airline. In that case, if the return flight started in the EU, EU 261 will apply. If it started outside the EU, neither Regulation applies. This is the same as the previous position under EU 261, when e.g. American Airlines flying from New York to Glasgow was not subject to the rules. 

For flights leaving or returning to the UK on EU airlines, both regulations now apply, so consumers have a choice. 

 

Cancellation

A flight shall generally be considered as cancelled when the flight number changes for the same route for which the passenger has a confirmed reservation.

All passengers of a cancelled flight shall be offered the choice of reimbursement of the ticket price or rerouting to the destination as early as possible or at a time convenient to the passenger, subject to availability of seats.

Once the client has chosen one of these options, they no longer have rights in relation to the others.

If a passenger is at the airport and accepts re-routing rather than a refund, he/she shall be offered appropriate meals and refreshments and two telephone calls, two faxes or two emails.

If the passenger is in the destination and the return flight is cancelled, and the passenger opts for re-routing, if the departure time is at least the next day, he/she shall be offered hotel accommodation and necessary transfers.

Except as stated below, all passengers shall be given compensation according to the following scale:

UK Regulation:

  • £220 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam);
  • £350 for all flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh);
  • £520 for all other flights (e.g. London to New York).

EU 261:

  • €250 for all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • €400 for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

The flight distance shall be calculated from the destination where the cancellation occurred, using the airport codes for those cities with more than one airport, to the arrival destination.

Compensation shall be reduced by 50% where the passenger is offered re-routing by the same or alternative
carrier, the arrival time of which doesn’t exceed the arrival time of the original flight by:

UK Regulation:

  • two hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours in respect of all flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours for all other flights.

EU 261:

  • two hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours in respect of intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours for all other flights.

Re-routing can include other means of transport such as train, taxi or bus, where the distance to be covered is appropriate for such transport modes.

It should be noted that where the carrier offers a flight to an alternative arrival airport, the carrier bears the cost of transferring the passenger to the original airport or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger.

No compensation shall be payable where:

  1. the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which couldn’t have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken (see section below “Compensation and extraordinary circumstances”); or 
  2. passengers are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before departure; or
  3. passengers are informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before departure and they’re offered re-routing allowing them to depart no more than two hours before the original departure time and arrive less than four hours after the original arrival time; or
  4. passengers are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before departure and they’re offered rerouting allowing them to depart no more than one hour before the original departure time and arrive less than two hours after the original arrival time.

Delay

Where a flight is delayed beyond its scheduled departure time for:
UK Regulation:

  • two hours or more for flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours or more for all flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours or more for all other flights;

EU 261:

  • two hours or more for flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours or more for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours or more for all other flights;

All passengers waiting at the airport shall be offered appropriate meals and refreshments and two telephone calls, two faxes or two emails.

Where the expected departure time is at least the next day, passengers waiting at the airport shall be offered hotel accommodation if appropriate and necessary transfers.

Compensation may be due to passengers who, on account of a delay to their flight, reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled. Compensation isn’t due if the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, see the section below “Compensation and extraordinary circumstances”. 
The amounts of compensation, if due, are as follows:

The amounts of compensation are as follows:

Length of flight Delay in arrival at destination Compensation due
Up to 1500km More than 3 hours UK Reg £220/ EU 261 €250
1500km to 3500km More than 3 hours UK Reg £350/ EU 261 €400
More than 3500km More than 3 hours, but less than 4 hours UK Reg £260/ EU 261 €300
More than 3500km More than 4 hours UK Reg £520/ EU 261 €600

Where the delay is at least five hours, all passengers shall be offered the choice of reimbursement of the ticket price for the part or parts of the journey not made by the carrier whose flight was delayed. 

Where the delay occurs at a connecting point, and if the flight no longer serves any purpose, then the passenger is also entitled to a free flight back to the first point of departure. However, there’s no entitlement to a free return flight if the delay occurs before the start of the outbound or return leg.

In the case of an interline ticket where a delay in departure occurred on the preceding leg, the preceding carrier is responsible for the potential reimbursement.

In all cases, where the flight is part of a package holiday, the passenger is only entitled to reimbursement of the flight element of that package.

 

Denied Boarding

Where a carrier intends to deny boarding it must first ask for volunteers. If insufficient volunteers come forward the carrier can deny boarding to non-volunteers.

Passengers will be considered to have been denied boarding where errors were made by the carrier’s ground staff in checking their travel documentation or they hold a boarding pass for a connecting flight and presented themselves in time for boarding but are refused boarding.

All passengers who are denied boarding shall be offered the choice of reimbursement of the ticket price or rerouting to the destination as early as possible or at a time convenient to the passenger, subject to availability of seats. Volunteers who are denied boarding shall be provided with information, in writing, about their entitlement to assistance in addition to the choice of other benefits. 

Non-volunteers who are denied boarding shall be offered, free of charge, appropriate meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation if appropriate and necessary transfers, two telephone calls, two faxes or two emails.

Non–volunteers shall also be given compensation according to the following scale:
UK Regulation:

  • £220 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam);
  • £350 for all flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh);
  • £520 for all other flights (e.g. London to New York).

EU 261:

  • €250 for all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • €400 for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

Compensation shall be reduced by 50% where the passenger is offered re-routing by the same or alternative carrier, the arrival time of which doesn’t exceed the arrival time of the original flight by:
UK Regulation:

  • two hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours in respect of all flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours for all other flights.

EU 261:

  • two hours in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • three hours in respect of intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • four hours for all other flights.

Re-routing can include other means of transport such as train, taxi or bus, where the distance to be covered is appropriate for such transport modes.

 

Compensation and extraordinary circumstances

An airline is not obliged to pay compensation to clients, if it can prove that the cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

How ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is defined has been the subject of many Court cases, and case law can change the picture at any time, but a summary of the position at the time of writing would be as follows.

EU 261 gives examples of what such circumstances might be: political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.

To claim extraordinary circumstances, an airline must show that what happened was not inherent in the normal exercise of its activity, and beyond its actual control. So, while extraordinary will include very bad weather and acts of terrorism or sabotage, it might not include technical problems and strikes by staff:

  • Technical faults – if they are caused by something out of the ordinary, then it could be that no compensation would be due. An example is a hidden manufacturing defect. But if they are caused by wear and tear, or the failure of a component, then this is taken to be part of life for an airline. Compensation would be due. 
  • Strikes – if these are by employees of air traffic control or an airport, it’s likely that they will be extraordinary circumstances. However, an airline’s own staff going on strike has been held to be within an airline’s control, and therefore compensation would be payable. 

Finally, if flights are delayed or cancelled due to sickness among an airline’s crew, generally compensation would be payable as this is not deemed to be extraordinary. If the cancellations and delays were caused by absences in the airport’s, rather than the airline’s, staff, it’s likely that this would be extraordinary and no compensation payable.

However, these positions are not completely clear. The first could be queried in the context of the Covid pandemic, which is an extraordinary circumstance that has produced extraordinary levels of staff sickness. The second has not yet been clarified by case law. 

 

Package Holidays

Clients that have booked package holidays that included an affected flight have separate rights under both these Regulations and the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs). They can approach the airline for their rights under these Regulations, as set out above. The airline doesn’t have to go further than the Regulations, for example, it is obliged to refund a cancelled flight but not to refund the accommodation.

The client doesn’t have the right to obtain the refund and compensation in these Regulations from their package organiser. That obligation lies only with the airline. But they do have the normal rights under the PTRs. Package organisers will have obligations to rebook passengers who have had their flights cancelled. Where the delay, cancellation or denied boarding means that the package holiday can’t go ahead, or constitutes a significant change to the package holiday as a whole, then the client is entitled to be offered an alternative holiday if available, or a refund of the whole package cost.

In certain situations, clients could be entitled to compensation from their package organiser. For example:

  • If a client accepts a re-arranged flight and this results in a reduction in the length of the holiday
  • If the holiday is cancelled.

Compensation isn’t due if the reason for the disruption to the flight is unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the organiser’s control. If compensation is due, the package organiser is entitled to take into account any payments the client has received from the airline. Case law states that overall compensation must be reasonable.

Tour operators are advised to contact operating carriers to discuss arrangements in place in respect of these Regulations and in particular, the responsibility for any accommodation and other welfare costs.

 

Separate accommodation bookings

These Regulations don’t oblige the airline to refund any accommodation booked separately. Any rights concerning accommodation that can’t be used or is only partially used would be governed by the booking conditions of the accommodation provider.

 

Upgrades and Downgrades

Where a carrier upgrades a passenger on a flight, it can’t request any supplementary payment. However, if the passenger is downgraded the carrier must pay within seven days: 

UK Regulation:

  • 30% of the ticket price in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • 50% of the ticket price for all flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • 75% for all other flights.

EU 261:

  • 30% of the ticket price in respect of all flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • 50% of the ticket price in respect of intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km;
  • 75% for all other flights.

It should be noted that the above reimbursement should be made in respect of the flight sector for which the customer was downgraded.

  • Flights