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Your consumer rights in the event of a flight cancellation
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

If your flight gets cancelled then you have certain rights under EU law. Here’s what you need to know.

With Covid-19 spreading fast around the globe, flights have been cancelled at an unprecedented rate.  

If you decide to cancel a flight yourself, then your level of recourse will usually depend on the type of ticket you bought and the airline in question. Budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet will offer very little in terms of assistance if you cancel a flight yourself or need to change the booking date. 

Having said that, most airlines have relaxed their flight change and cancellation rules considerably in light of recent unprecedented events. So it’s advised you check with your own airline to see what they're offering if you need to cancel. 

However if the airline cancels on you, then strict rules apply. 

What am I entitled to if my flight is cancelled? 

Under EU rules, if your flight is cancelled you have the right to ONE of the following:

  1. A full refund of the cost of your flight within seven days by the original method of payment
  2. Being placed on another flight to your destination at the earliest opportunity or, 
  3. 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.

However given that airlines are now grounding most of their flights and travel to many countries has been severely curtailed for the immediate future, a refund may be the only practical option available to most consumers right now. Having said that, getting a refund within the seven-day time frame may also be difficult given the increased demands on customer service teams at the moment. 

Who do the rules apply to?

The above rules apply to all flights that are operated within the EU or that 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.

Remember these rules only apply if the airline cancels your flight. Different rules apply if you decided to cancel yourself.


    Some airlines are offering customers vouchers (some over the face value of the original ticket) instead of a refund. This makes sense for the airline as it'll help them from a cashflow point of view and could appeal to the customer who may not want to decide on a new booking just yet.

    However you do not have to accept the voucher and are entitled to a refund if you want (and remember the voucher will be useless if the airline goes bust at a later stage). 


    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! 


    As well as the above you may also be entitled to compensation. 

    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 1,500 km within the EU and
    other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
    more than 3 hours €400
    All other flights more than 4 hours €600

    No compensation 

    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. Whether Covid-19 will be deemed an extraordinary circumstance has still to be fully confirmed by the EU.  

    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.