"My flight was cancelled! What do I do? Can I get a compensation? Surely I have SOME rights, don't I?"
If you've been victim of a flight cancellation while traveling, you must have gone through something similar to this train of thought.
The good news is:
Yes, when your flight is cancelled, you may be entitled to a compensation from the airline. Not always, but sometimes, yes.
Now, the most important question is: how to claim compensation for a cancelled flight?
In this (ridiculously) complete guide, you're going to learn:
- EXACTLY how to get the money the airline owes you
- what to do when your flight is cancelled (step-by-step)
- what your passenger rights in cases of flight cancellation are, including for specific cases
I've also included some useful links at the bottom of the post.
(And if your flight was delayed, not cancelled, check this other super complete guide on the topic)
Was your flight cancelled? Check if you're eligible to a compensation right NOW! It takes only 3 minutes:
Here's the table of content if you want to jump right into a specific question:
- Claim compensation on your own
- Ask a lawyer for help
- Let ClaimCompass claim your cancelled flight compensation for you
- What are your passenger rights with flight cancellations?
- Which flights are covered by the law?
- What is a flight cancellation according to EU law?
- How much can I get as a flight cancellation compensation?
- Isolated cases
- Keep all your travel documents
- Ask why the flight is cancelled
- Ask to be rerouted
- Have the airline enforce your right to care
- Decide whether to stay at the airport or to take a hotel room
- Keep your receipts
- Refuse any form of compensation that isn't the one provided by the law
- If you've been rebooked on another flight, check how late you arrived at your destination
- Check if you're eligible to compensation for flight cancellation
Now, let's get right into the heart of the matter!
The main things that you need when claiming compensation on your own, are patience and a good understanding of your passenger rights.
This poll from MoneySavingExpert.com shows that most passenger claims are still ungoing and that many travellers failed to recover their money on their own. Some passengers managed to get what they were owed from the airline, although they had to fight hard for it.
If you still want to give it a try, here are the steps to follow:
1. Find the contact of the correct airline
Start by writing to the airline which operated the flight - not the one from which you purchased your flight. For example:
- you booked a ticket on Air France's website, but the flight was operated by Delta: claim compensation from Delta
- you booked a ticket via an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia for a flight operated by British Airways: claim compensation from British Airways
Look for the email address to get in touch with their support team on their website. Some airlines have set up an online form to submit your claim instead.
2. Describe what happened
The content of your email or letter to the airline should include:
- The description of what happened: Which flight was cancelled? Were you notified? If so, when? Were you rerouted? If so, on which flight? How late did you arrive at destination?
- How much money you are claiming in compensation for your cancelled flight (more info below)
- The appropriate mention of the relevant text of law, the EU Regulation 261/2004
Following this first contact, the airline may or may not grant you the compensation you are entitled to. If they do, you've won!
If they don't, you can undertake new measures.
3. Contact a National Enforcement Body (NEB) or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Scheme
(Some) airlines are prone to lying about your eligibility to a compensation, to avoid paying what they owe you. If you are certain about your rights, escalate your claim to a regulator or an adjudicator.
ADR schemes: their decisions are binding, so if they rule that you're entitled to compensation, the airline has no choice but to transfer your compensation
You will need to do some research in order to know which adjudicator to contact, based on the flight's itinerary and the "nationality" of the airline.
NEB: their decisions are not binding, but they are your only resort if the airline isn't signed up with an adjudicator
Keep in mind that some of them only accept complaints in their own language (and reply in the same).
All these legal proceedings are quite lengthy and may take up to 6 months.
If this still isn't enough, you have only one last resort.
4. Contact a "small claim" court
If you go down that road, consider seeking legal help. Keep in mind that there may be fees in order to submit your claim, and that some courts require you to be there in person.
Because claiming compensation requires you to know your passenger rights, some travellers directly seek the help of a lawyer to do it for them.
However, we do NOT recommend that option. Why?
A lawyer is likely to ask you to pay their fees up front, with no guarantee of success: you might end up with less money than when you started this whole process, if it turns out that you're not entitled to compensation.
This may also be a time-consuming process, since you need to meet, explain them the circumstances of the disruption, do the paperwork, maybe spend some more time on the phone, etc.
Not to mention that not all lawyers are specialized in the enforcement of the Regulation at hand.
Which is why we recommend that you consider the third option instead.
ClaimCompass is expert at helping air passengers get compensated by the airline when their flight was cancelled. Our team combines expertise in European Aviation Law and experience with the EU Regulation 261/2004 to ensure that passenger rights are enforced.
- We represent you in front of the airline so you don't have to contact them yourself
- We have access to tools to determine your eligibility to a compensation and ensure that you get what you're owed
- We handle the escalation of your case to the court, should it be required, at no additional cost
The best part?
We work on a "no win, no fee basis": it means that if it turns out that we can't get your compensation, you don't owe us anything. Even if we brought the claim to court. Our 25% success-based commission is the lowest in the industry.
Airlines cannot lie to us as they do to their customers, because we have the tools and expertise to check the facts. For example, they can't pretend that a flight was cancelled due to bad weather when it wasn't.
You can use our Compensation Calculator for Cancelled Flights to check if you're entitled to compensation.
Now, let's dig deeper into your compensation rights when your flight is cancelled and make you an expert!
The law about flight cancellations lists 3 types of rights:
Right to refund or rerouting
In addition to your right to compensation (more on that below), flight cancellation rules state that the airline must offer you a choice between the refund of your ticket or a rerouting. More precisely, they must let you choose between:
- The full or partial refund of your ticket (+ a return flight to your point of departure, free of charge, when applicable)
- A rerouting to your final destination (if no alternate flight is available, the airline may offer a bus or train ticket instead, and handle the costs)
- Another ticket to your destination at a later date of your choosing, provided that seats are available
Learn more about flight cancellation refunds.
Note regarding upgrades and downgrades:
It's possible that your seat on the alternate flight be in a different class than the one you originally booked.
- Upgrade: If the only available seats on an alternative flight are situated in a higher class, the airline cannot charge you extra.
- Downgrade: if you were supposed to fly first class and end up on an alternative flight in coach, you can ask for a refund ranging between 35 and 75% of the original ticket price.
Right to compensation
In addition to the refund of your ticket or the alternate flight the airline provided, you may be entitled to a flight cancellation compensation. To be eligible, certain conditions must be met, in regards to:
- Did the airline notify you about the cancellation? If so, when?
- Did they provide an alternate flight? If so, when was it supposed to depart and arrive?
If the airline notified you about the cancellation 14 days or more prior to the flight, then you are not entitled to compensation.
If they notified you within 14 days before the flight, it depends on the terms of the alternate flight.
Note that if the airline didn't notify you about the cancellation (meaning, you learned that your flight was cancelled only once at the airport), the rules that apply are the same as if they had warned you 7 days prior to the flight or less.
If the airline notified you within 14 days before departure but didn't provide an alternate flight, you are entitled to compensation.
This table summarizes all cases:
|Notification before departure||Alternate flight||Right to compensation|
|14 days or more||Irrelevant||No|
|7-13 days||Departed no more than 2 hours earlier and arrived 4 hours later or less||No||7-13 days||Departed 2 hours earlier or more and arrived 4 hours later or more||Yes|
|7-13 days||None provided||Yes|
|7 days or less (or no notification)||Departed no more than 1 hour earlier and arrived 2 hours later or less||No|
|7 days or less (or no notification)||Departed 1 hour earlier or more and arrived 2 hours later or more||Yes|
|7 days or less (or no notification)||None provided||Yes|
Note that for the alternate flight, both conditions have to be met. For example, if you were notified about your flight cancellation 5 days prior to your flight:
The airline rebooked you on an alternate flight which arrived at your final destination less than 2 hours later than your original flight BUT departed more than 1 hour earlier. Then, you ARE entitled to compensation.
The compensation amount varies according to the distance of the flight and the exact length of the delay. You can find a detailed summary in a section below.
Was your flight cancelled? Claim compensation now and get up to 600€ from the airline!
Right to care
Finally, flight cancellation passenger rights include a "right to care" clause. What does it mean?
In the case of flight cancellations, this applies only when the airline did not notify you in advance and you learn about the cancellation only at the airport.
If you have to wait for your alternate flight 2 hours or more, the airline must provide a free meal and refreshments during the length of the delay. If need be, they must also give you access to means of communication.
In the case of long delays of over 6 hours (or an overnight delay), the airline must also provide a place to rest - typically a hotel room near the airport - and airport transfer to and from this location.
The flight cancellation rules above apply to flights under the jurisdiction of the EU law. Let's see which flights are these.
Flight cancellation compensation in the EU
The EU Regulation 261/2004, otherwise known as EC261, applies to all flights that match one of the following scenarios:
- The flight departed from a country within the EU and arrived within the EU (the operating airline is irrelevant)
- The flight departed from a country within the EU and arrived out of the EU (the operating airline is irrelevant)
- The flight departed from a country out of the EU, arrived within the EU and was operated by a European airline
Here are a few examples:
- Paris - London with Air France: Eligible
- London - New York with British Airways: Eligible
- London - New York with American Airlines: Eligible
- New York - London with British Airways: Eligible
- New York - London with American Airlines: Not eligible
- Moscow - Beijing: Not eligible
Note that the following territories are included in the definition of "EU" when it comes to the jurisdiction of EC261:
- the 28 EU countries
- the following territories: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands
- Iceland, Norway and Switzerland
It means, for example, that the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are excluded for the EU territories.
As long as Brexit hasn't occurred, flight cancellation compensations in the UK follow the same rules.
Note on connecting flights
When you have several flights, with one or more connections, and miss one of them because one leg was cancelled, you can still get compensated. For that:
- all flights must be under the same booking number
- the delay at your final destination must be at least 3 hours (if you've been rerouted) or not have arrived at your destination
- the portion of the flight that was cancelled is under the jurisdiction of EC261 (as described above)
Learn more about missed connection compensation.
Flight cancellation compensation outside the EU
The rules out of the EU are different, since EC261 is not applicable. Some countries have their own national legislation.
Flight cancellation compensation in the US
Unlike the EU, the United States of America do not have a regulations protecting air passengers when their flights are cancelled.
What does it mean? Airline do not have to provide a financial compensation to passengers when their flights are cancelled.
That being said, US airlines will usually rebook their passengers on a different flight when this happens. Alternatively, they may offer a voucher or airline miles.
Each airline has their own policy: while their contract of carriage usually emphasize that airlines do not guarantee the schedules and that they cannot be held accountable for consequential damages, they might make an exception, especially if you're a frequent flyer.
Flight cancellation compensation in Canada
The new rules for passenger rights in Canada that came into effect on December 15, 2019 do plan for compensation in case of cancelled flights.
These rules apply to all flights to, from, and within Canada. Passengers have 1 year to claim compensation, starting from the day of the cancellation. The compensation amounts fixed by the Canadian Transportation Agency varies based on:
- the size of the airline
- the length of the delay
For large airlines:
- Delay between 3-6 hours: C$400
- Delay between 6-9 hours: C$700
- Delay of 9+ hours: C$1000
For small airlines:
- Delay between 3-6 hours: C$125
- Delay between 6-9 hours: C$250
- Delay of 9+ hours: C$500
Note that according to these new rules:
"Airlines will have to offer passengers this compensation in monetary form. They could also offer passengers alternative forms of compensation (e.g., vouchers or rebates), but passengers will always have the right to select what they prefer."
If they offer a voucher, its amount must be higher than the one fixed by the law, and it must not expire.
The mere cancellation of your flight isn't enough to guarantee your eligibility to a compensation: the airline must be responsible for it.
EC261 mentions what are called "extraordinary circumstances". These include, but are not limited to: air traffic control restrictions, adverse weather conditions, airport strikes, security risks. These are also sometimes referred to as "acts of God".
If your flight was cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, the airline cannot be held responsible and as such, doesn't have to pay compensation.
Note that technical issues are not regarded as extraordinary circumstances, so if your flight was cancelled of a result of one of those, you can get compensated by the airline.
Flight schedule changes
If the airline changes the time or itinerary of the flight, this is regarded as a the same as a cancellation by EC261. In this situation, the rules described above apply, and the new schedule acts as an alternate flight.
Learn more about flight compensation for schedule changes.
The same goes with flight diversion. This happens when the plane takes off but doesn't land where it was initially supposed to. If the diversion was the responsibility of the airline (and not the result of extraordinary circumstances), you might be compensated. This post has more info on the topic.
According to EU law, the compensation amount for cancelled flights is determined by:
- the distance of the journey
- the length of the delay
- the itinerary (whether it was an intracommunity flight or not)
The basic rule is this:
- 250€ for flights less than 1,500km
- 400€ for flights between 1,500 and 3,500km
- 600€ for flight more than 3,500km
However, this amount may be reduced by 50% in cases of "short delays" and capped at 400€ for intracommunity flights.
Here's a summary of how much you're entitled to when your flight is cancelled:
|Length of the delay at final destination||Distance|
|Less than 2h||2-3h||3-4h||More than 4h||Never arrived|
|125€||250€||250€||250€||250€||Flights under 1,500km|
|200€||200€||400€||400€||400€||Intra-EU flights over 1,500km|
|200€||200€||400€||400€||400€||Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km|
|300€||300€||300€||600€||600€||Non-EU flights over 3,500km|
The EU Regulation is crystal clear on the topic of how the flight cancellation should be paid:
"The compensation referred to in paragraph 1 shall be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services."
So, according to Article 7.3, the airline cannot force you to accept a voucher.
We recommend that you never accept a voucher as flight compensation.
You can claim compensation for your cancelled flight up to 6 years after. While most travellers submit a claim soon after the flight, know that the law is retroactive. The exact amount of time during which you can claim compensation (called "statute of limitation") varies from one country to another.
This post on time limits contains the statute of limitation for lost European countries. Here are a few examples:
- Italy, Iceland, Croatia: 2 years
- Germany, Austria, Finland: 3 years
- France, Spain, Bulgaria: 5 years
- UK: 6 years
In most cases, you can get a compensation for your baby if:
- he or she had a seat of their own (they were not travelling on your lap)
- you paid a fee for the ticket of your baby (it was not free)
Note, however, that no compensations are given to babies who are less than 2 years old.
You can read more on the right to compensation for babies here.
The flight compensation goes to the passenger, even if the company paid for the tickets. The reason behind this is that the compensation is exactly that - a compensation for the trouble caused by the flight cancellation. It is not a refund, which would be given to whoever paid for the ticket instead.
Unfortunately, no. For example, the passengers of Air Berlin and Monarch Airlines who had claimed compensation for a cancelled flight were not compensated, once the airlines filed for bankruptcy.
Another more recent case of airline bankruptcy is WOW Air. The passengers eligible under EC 261 for their delayed or cancelled flight did not receive compensation.
Because when an airline goes bust, it still owes money to a lot of people - but passengers are at the bottom of the airline's list of priorities in this situation.
However, if another company were to buy the bankrupt airline, they would be buying all the bankrupt airline's debts as well: passengers could then be compensated by this airline.
Whatever happens, don't throw away your tickets, boarding passes, luggage tags: keep them safe because should you be eligible to compensation, the airline is likely to request them, along with a copy of your ID or passport.
When you submit a claim, providing your travel documents is at the very least likely to speed up the process. Some airlines ask for the proof that you were indeed booked on the flight that you're claiming a compensation for, even though they already have your information in their system.
You've understood by now that the reason for the cancellation is critical in determining your eligibility to a compensation. In short, you need to know whether the flight was delayed because of extraordinary circumstances or not.
If possible, get a written statement from the airline, to certify the cause of the cancellation.
Now, keep in mind that sometimes, the airline will tell you that you're not eligible - this isn't necessarily true. At ClaimCompass, we have the tools and expertise to verify the reasons provided by the airline.
The airline must either offer you a refund of you ticket or provide an alternative flight to your final destination. If they don't do it themselves, ask the airline to book you a seat on a later flight. You might want to call the airline's support line if you can't get a flight at the counter.
If the replacement flight isn't suitable to your travel plans, you can get a refund instead, along with a flight back to your destination (assuming that you need one).
If you're choosing a refund, go straight to step 6. If you accept the rerouting, read on.
If you have to wait for your flight for 2 hours or more, ask the airline to provide a meal and refreshment. Usually, they will give you a meal voucher to be used at the airport.
In case of long delay before your rerouting flight (6 hours or more) or overnight delay, the airline must provide a hotel room, along with a way to go there and back. Sometimes, the airline is "too busy" to take care of that: book a room yourself and follow the next point (6).
Even if you're not entitled to compensation, the airline has to at least cover the additional costs the cancellation may induce, such as meals and refreshments (if they haven't provided you with a voucher), hotel, and taxi (in the case of long delay before the rerouting flight).
To have those expenses reimbursed, you need to send your receipts to the airline, so make sure to keep them with you.
It's rare that the airline compensate passengers directly at the airport... except if they try to get them to accept a form of compensation that is inferior to what the law planned.
That's why you should not accept a travel voucher or airline miles when you're at the airport: those could waive your right to a compensation (up to 600€ per passenger).
The time of arrival at your final destination determines whether you're entitled to compensation or not, and if you are, the amount that the airline owes you.
If possible, get a written statement from the airline acknowledging the length of the delay. At ClaimCompass, we have tool that allow us to check exactly when a flight departed and landed, but if you're planning on claiming compensation on your own, this will probably be useful.
The easiest way to do check if you're entitled to compensation is to use a Flight Cancellation Compensation Checker.
In less than 3 minutes, you will know if the airline owes you money, and if it does, how much you can get.
If you choose to claim compensation on your own, make sure that you know your rights before contacting the airline.
Useful links for flight cancellations
In the US, you can check the status of each flight live thanks to this map from the FAA. This lets you know the flights cancelled today. With Flightaware, you can also know which flights are delayed or cancelled, in real time.
Flightaware even lets you check the flights cancelled tomorrow with this page.
Travel insurance doesn't mean that flight cancellations are covered. This is a common error about travel insurance.
So if you're thinking about buying an insurance as protection against flight cancellations, verify exactly what is covered and make sure that what you can get doesn't waive your right to an EC261 compensation.