But why do flights get cancelled?
In this guide, we listed the 10 most common reasons for flights cancellations. We've also added tips to know the real reason why your flight was cancelled and tools to track flight cancellations.
Why Do Flights Get Cancelled?
The primary cause of flight cancellation in 2020 was hands-down the coronavirus pandemic. In order to limit the propagation of the virus, air traffic has been drastically reduced and many travellers who had made travel plans saw them cancelled.
Can you get compensation for a flight cancelled because of coronavirus? No, you can't. It is considered an extraordinary circumstance - and let's hope it stays that way... However, you CAN get a coronavirus flight cancellation refund. Read more COVID-19 travel advice at the bottom of this post.
Adverse weather conditions
Bad weather is one of the most common reason for flight cancellations. It's no wonder that the share of cancelled flights increases in winter.
But there's bad weather and bad weather: airports and aircrafts are equipped to deal with inclement weather, such as heavy rains and even snow. Those do not justify the cancellation of a flight, even though airlines occasionally use this as an excuse, mainly to avoid paying compensations.
Keep in mind that airlines look at the weather predictions for the whole itinerary. This means that even if the weather at your departure airport doesn't seem to prevent the operation of the flight, the airline could still cancel it, because of bad weather on the way or at destination .
Adverse weather conditions are hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, etc. They are meteorological phenomenons that seriously impair or endanger the operation of a flight, justifying its cancellation. As such, they fall under the category of "extraordinary circumstances".
Experts like ClaimCompas have the means to verify whether an airline is telling the truth when it denies compensation due to bad weather. We check what are called METAR reports, describing the meteorological conditions at the time of your flight. Passengers entrust us with their compensation claim for cancelled flight because of our expertise on the topic.
Can you get compensated when your flight was cancelled because of bad weather? If bad weather indeed refers to actual adverse conditions that can be regarded as extraordinary circumstances, no. However, if the airline denies you compensation for this reason, you may still want to check your flight to ensure that your flight could not be operated at all.
Air traffic restrictions
Air traffic controllers sometimes request an airline to cancel their flight. This usually happens after the flight was delayed: take-off keeps being postponed by lack of available time slot in the airport's departing schedule, until the flight is cancelled altogether. As such, this is one of the main reasons for flight delays as well.
A major reason for flight cancellations, air traffic restrictions have increased at an accelerated pace over recent years. They're mainly the result of the exponential growth of air traffic, which skyrocketted from half a billion in the 1980s to over 3 billion passengers nowadays.
Not to mention that the development of air travel came in pair with stricter regulations and restrictions. Airport infrastructures have trouble coping with the surge in traffic and it's sometimes hard to accommodate all flights as planned.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of air traffic restrictions? No, these are independent of the airline's responsibility. The air carrier cannot disregard a decision by air traffic controllers, so if your flight was cancelled by one, you are unfortunately not eligible to a compensation.
Security risks at the airport are an obvious cause of cancelled flights: this occurs in situations of civil unrest, terror attack, or when one of the terminals is on fire, for example. When this happens, many flights are likely going to be cancelled, not a single one. An extreme case was that of the wildfires in California, causing the cancellation of flights to Sonoma Airport.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of air traffic restrictions? No, security reasons are explicitly listed as extraordinary circumstances under EU law. Airlines are not obligated to compensate their passengers when they had to cancel their flight because of security reasons.
Individual flights can also be affected by security issues and be cancelled as a result of failing to get security clearance. A lot of preparation goes into getting the aircraft ready for the flight. In addition to that, frequent maintenance checks are done on the aircraft to ensure that it's operational.
A cancellation due to mechanical issues is often preceded by a delay, when there's a chance to fix the aircraft in a reasonable amount of time. If the airline fails to do so, they will cancel the flight.
Rest assured that if mechanical issues usually sound alarming, they are rarely dangerous. They can be as benign as parking issues, or problems with the fan blades. Some do require time to be fixed however.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of a mechanical issue? It depends. Manufacturing defects are extraordinary circumstances, but they rarely occur. A technical problem is generally a generic excuse from the airline not to pay compensation: it is not an extraordinary circumstance and you are generally entitled to compensation.
Bird strikes occur when the plane collides with a birds. As unlikely to happen as it may sound, it's actually a rather frequent event: 13,000 bird hits are reported in the US every year on average.
Most of the damages caused by bird strikes are minimal, but occasionally, you will find a flight which was cancelled for this reason. However, in most cases, airlines cancel flights because of bird strikes because they have to follow a set of procedures on the aircraft, which impacts the flight schedule of the whole aircraft.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of a bird strike? No, EC261 considers bird strikes as extraordinary circumstances and as such, airlines which cancelled a flight for this reason are not liable to pay compensation to their passengers.
Airlines also cancel flights when they do not have an aircraft available for the flight. This can occur when the aircraft scheduled for the flight must actually undergoe maintenance or fixed after an issue was identified.
More commonly, passengers can be left without a plane in the case of "rotational delays". This happens when the delay of a flight has a knock-on effect on the other flights for which this aircraft was to be used. When this happens, the last flights of the day may be cancelled due to the accumulated delay during the day.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of a missing aircraft? Yes, you can get flight cancellation compensation. The airline is responsible for providing passengers with an aircraft for their flight. When the delay of previous flight risks to lead to the cancellation of another flight supposed to be operated by the same aircraft, the airline must be able to provide another aircraft as replacement.
Cancellation can also occur when you're not missing the aircaft, but the people supposed to fly it. How can the airline forget to prepare a crew for its flight, you may wonder?
They usually don't. However, flying takes a toll on the body: that's why pilots and flight attendants must respect "flight crew requirements". The staff that was supposed to fly on your aircraft may have maxed out their hours and not be allowed to fly more during the day or the week, leaving the aircraft without a crew.
Occasionally, your flight may also be cancelled because a member of the crew is missing for personal reasons, like a medical emergency.
Can you get a compensation when your flight is cancelled because of the lack of crew? Yes. Just like with the aircraft, the airline is responsible for organizing crew shifts in a way that guarantees the availability of staff for each of their flight.
If air traffic has grown exponentially during the past few decades, it's also thanks to the technological progress that beneficiated the industry. Complex algorithms ensure that thousands of flights can take place simoultaneously across the globe, taking into account flight patterns and schedules.
Only, technology occasionally fails. When a computer glitch occurs in the system, the flight schedule of an entire airport or airline can be crippled and a multitude of flights cancelled as a result.
In recent years, British Airways was victim of such a glitch. Their global computer outage caused the cancellation of over 700 of their flights.
Can you get a compensation for a flight cancelled due to a computer glitch? The EU Regulation 261/2004 isn't explicit on this particular topic. However, if the glitch was the responsibility of the airline, passengers may indeed claim compensation.
Flight cancellations can be caused by strikes from either the airport or the airline staff. Strikes are generally announced in advance, but it may still be hard to determine whether your flight will be affected or not.
If the strike is announced in advance, contact the airline to inquire about the status of your flight, but they may still be unable to give you an answer.
Strikes are not so unfrequent in the air travel industry. This can be explained by the fact that it's a sector heavily reliant on a highly specialized workforce. This high level of specialization gives worker a considerable amount of bargaining power, which they leverage by going on strike for better working conditions.
Can you get a compensation for a flight cancelled due to a strike? It depends on who was on strike (airport or airline staff) and when the strike action was announced. You can get compensated for wildcat strikes.
Lack of passengers
It's rare for airlines to cancel flights because there aren't enough passengers on board. They occasionally do so when operating the flight would result in a too big an expense.
They are indeed high costs to flying an aircraft. The more passengers on board, the more these costs are absorbed. If there aren't enough passengers to amortize the costs, the airline may decide to cancel the flight instead.
However, keep in mind that the airline won't always cancel the flight just because it's losing money on a flight, as the damage to their image would be perhaps more detrimental than the financial one.
Can you get a compensation for a flight cancelled due to lack of passengers? Yes, absolutely. This is in no way regarded as an extraordinary circumstance. The airline owes all passengers a compensation between 250 and 600€.
How to Know the Real Reason Why Your Flight Was Cancelled?
The first thing you want to do is ask the airline staff at the airport why your flight was cancelled. Keep note of their reply and request an official document as proof whenever possible.
But don't take the airline's word for it. Their information isn't always accurate. Worst, the airline may be lying, to avoid having to compensate passengers.
Try to find out whether your flight is the only one to be cancelled, or if other flights are in the same situation. If it's the latter, you probably won't be entitled to compensation. If it's the former, it's worth investigating further.
You may find it hard to find all the relevant information. For more simplicity, feel free to fill out your flight details in our Compensation Calculator: our team will investigate and let you know if you're entitled to flight cancellation compensation.
How to Track Cancelled Flights?
- Flightview helps you track a specific flight or route
- This map from the FAA gives an overview of flights cancellations in the USA
- For flights in Europe, check your airport or airline's website for real-time tracking
Cancellations due to Coronavirus: Travel Tips
- Coronavirus: Can you get a compensation for a cancelled flight?
- Is air travel safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Am I able to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Can I get a refund for a flight cancelled during to COVID-19?
- Coronavirus travel restrictions: Can we travel again?
- Can I travel if I have COVID-19?