If your flight gets cancelled then you have certain rights under EU law. Here’s what you need to know.
Passengers' rights in the event of a flight cancellation received a lot of attention during Covid, when for obvious reasons it became a big issue.
Thankfully the pandemic appears to be behind us for good. However the issue of flights getting cancelled due to bad weather, strikes, staff shortages, or operational issues is always a small threat.
So what are your rights in the unfortunate event that your flight gets cancelled?
What am I entitled to if I cancel my flight myself?
If you cancel or wish to postpone a flight yourself, your level of recourse will usually depend on the type of ticket you bought (regular or 'flexi saver') and the airline in question. Budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet will rarely offer any type of refund if you can't fly. However there can sometimes be leeway with changing a booking to a later date - but there may be a hefty fee.
Always check the term and conditions of your airline before booking - especially if it's a long-haul, expensive flight.
However if the airline cancels on you, then strict rules apply.
What am I entitled to if the airline cancels my flight?
Under EU rules, if your flight is cancelled you have the right to ONE of the following:
- A full refund of the cost of your flight within seven days by the original method of payment
- Being placed on another flight to your destination at the earliest opportunity or,
- A re-routing at a later date at your own convenience subject to the availability of seats
These rules are overseen and enforced in Ireland by the Commission for Aviation Regulation.
Some airlines may offer you a voucher (sometimes over the face value of the original ticket) instead of a refund. This can be appealing if you don't want to decide on a new booking just yet. However you don't have to accept the voucher and are entitled to a full refund if that's what you'd prefer.
You may also be entitled to compensation. This will depend on how much notice you were given about the cancellation, the distance of your flight and/or the length of the delay in getting to your destination.
Where you choose to get a refund, and you're also entitled to compensation, the following compensation must be paid:
|Type of flight||Compensation|
|Flights of 1,500 km or less||€250|
|Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
|All other flights||€600|
If you choose the option of rerouting onto another flight your compensation will depend on the distance of your flight and the delay you experienced in reaching your final destination:
|Type of flight||Delay||Compensation|
|Flights of 1500km or less||more than 2 hours||€250|
|Flights of over 1,500km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
|more than 3 hours||€400|
|All other flights||more than 4 hours||€600|
There are times when no extra compensation is payable. However in all cases you’re still entitled to a full refund or a rerouting of course.
You're not entitled to any extra compensation:
1. If you’re informed of the flight cancellation more than 14 days in advance of your flight’s departure.
2. If you're informed of the flight cancellation between two weeks and seven days before your scheduled departure and you're offered to be put on a new flight which would allow you:
- to depart no more than two hours before the original scheduled time of departure and
- to reach your final destination less than four hours after the original scheduled time of arrival
3. If you're informed of the flight cancellation less than seven days before your scheduled departure and you're offered to be put on a new flight which would allow you:
- to depart no more than one hour before the original scheduled time of departure and
- to reach your final destination less than two hours after the original scheduled time of arrival
Airlines also don’t need to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances. This usually includes things like adverse weather conditions and air traffic control restrictions.
Who do the rules apply to?
The above rules apply to all flights that are operated within the EU and all flights which depart from the EU.
If your flight arrives into the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline the rules also apply.
EU means the 27 EU countries including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It also includes the French overseas territories and dependencies: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, and Saint-Martin (French Antilles). It doesn't include the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
In the event of travel disruption, if you choose option two, i.e. a rerouting at the earliest opportunity, airlines also need to provide you with care and assistance while you’re left waiting to get to your final destination. This includes:
- Food and refreshments
- Accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day)
- Transport to your accommodation and return to the airport
- Two telephone calls, telex, fax messages or emails
If the airline doesn’t provide the above assistance and you’re forced to make your own arrangements, you should retain all your receipts as you’ll be entitled to a refund of your expenses.
However in all cases your expenses should be reasonable and appropriate so don’t go booking five-star hotels and restaurants!
What if I booked through a travel agent?
If you booked your flight as part of a package holiday with a travel agent or tour operator then you should contact them directly.
If, in the worst case scenario, your agent goes out of business, then get up-to-speed on chargebacks.
A chargeback allows you to ask your card provider – usually your bank and not Visa or Mastercard – to refund a transaction if there’s a problem with something you’ve bought with your card.
In cases where a business goes under, it may be the easiest way for you to get a refund. If this happens, get in touch with your bank and ask about submitting a chargeback and they'll direct you to the appropriate form to fill in. Be warned, it'll usually take several weeks to process though.
How do I claim a refund?
In general you should contact your airline first and foremost. Most should have an online form that you can easily fill in to claim a refund.
If your airline doesn't resolve the complaint to your satisfaction then you should forward it for the attention of the appropriate enforcement body. The appropriate enforcement body is the one based in the EU member state from where your flight was due to depart. So if your flight was leaving from Ireland then the above mentioned Commission for Aviation Regulation is your port of call. However if you have a complaint about a flight delay from Barcelona, for example, you'd need to contact the Spanish body.