When Are You Eligible for Flight Cancellation Compensation?
The following conditions have to be met for you to be eligible for flight cancellation compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004:
The airline notified you of the cancellation less than 14 days prior to the flight date
Your cancelled flight was supposed to depart from the EU (with any airline) or to land in the EU (and was to be operated by an airline headquartered in the EU)
If you were offered a replacement flight by the airline, you arrived late at your destination (see below for exact times)
The cause of the cancellation is the airline’s responsibility (i.e. the cancellation was not out of their control, it was not due to “extraordinary circumstances”)
How long after the flight cancellation can I claim compensation?
The good news is that you can claim compensation for the cancellation of your flight several years after it happened. The exact amount of time varies from one country to another, as each have their own statute of limitations.
Here are a few examples:
- Austria: 3 years
- Belgium: 1 year
- France: 5 years
- Germany: 3 years
- Italy: 2 years
- Portugal: 3 years
- Spain: 5 years
- Switzerland: 10 years
- United Kingdom: 5 years (6 years in Scotland)
Check out how far back you can claim compensation for each country
How Much Compensation Can You Claim For Flight Cancellations?
You can get up to 600€ ($700) per passenger for the cancellation of your flight. But first and foremost, the airline must offer you an alternative way to reach your destination or refund your tickets.
Refund or re-routing
The first thing that you’re entitled to when the airline cancels your flight is a choice between the following 3 options:
The full or partial refund of your ticket, along with a return flight to your point of origin, at no extra cost, when applicable
A rerouting to your final destination, either by plane or another means of transportation
A new ticket to your final destination, at a date of your choosing (provided that seats are available)
Note that should you choose to be reimbursed (first option), you will get a full refund if you are yet to take any flight for your trip.
If you have already taken a portion of your journey (in the case of a trip including connecting flights), then you will only be refunded the unused portion of the ticket. Should you be able to prove that, due to the cancellation, your journey no longer serves any purpose, you may be able to get a full refund.
Become an expert on flight cancellation refunds!
Flight cancellation compensation amount
If you were notified of the cancellation 14 days or less before your flight was to depart and your cancelled flight was covered by EC261, you may be entitled to up to 600€ per passenger in compensation.
The exact compensation amount is calculated according to several factors: the distance of your scheduled trip, the itinerary (whether it was in the EU or not) and the length of the delay (based on how late the alternate flight would have reached your final destination).
The table below summarizes how much you’re entitled to based on the length of delay of the alternate flight:
|Under 2 hours
|All flights 1,500 km or less
|Internal EU flights over 1,500 km
|Non-internal EU flights 1,500-3,500 km
|Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km
Note that the airline can avoid paying compensation if it offers you a re-routing, provided that this alternate flight meets the following requirements:
|Notice of cancellation before scheduled departure date
|Re-routing requirements for the airline to avoid paying compensation
|14 days or more
|The alternate flight departs no more than 2 hours before and arrives less than 4 hours after the original flight
|Less than 7 days
|The alternative flight departs no more than 1 hour before and arrives less than 2 hours after the original flight
Learn more about flight cancellation compensation amounts
How to calculate the length of the delay and the distance of the flight?
The length of the delay is the difference between the time when you actually reach your destination and when you were originally scheduled to arrive. Note that it’s the delay at arrival that matters, not the delay at departure.
According to case C-425/13 of the European Court of Justice, September 2014, the arrival time is defined as the moment when the aircraft opens one of its doors after reaching its destination. It’s therefore slightly different than the time when the aircraft lands..
The flight distance is the distance between your departure airport and the arrival airport. If your journey includes one or more connections, the same applies: the distance that matters is that between the first airport and your final destination.
This site will allow you to know the distance of your flight.
What is a cancelled flight under EC261?
A flight is said to be cancelled when the aircraft doesn’t leave the tarmac. For EC261, it is “the non-operation of a flight which was previously planned and on which at least one place was reserved”.
It is different than a flight delay, which occurs when the aircraft departs later than it was supposed to. As for cancellations, you can get a delayed flight compensation when your plane arrives late at its destination.
Flight cancellation compensation for business travellers
Passengers whose flight gets cancelled why they were on a business trip are entitled to compensation. As a rule of thumb, it’s the traveller that gets the compensation, no matter who paid for the tickets. This means that the money goes to the employee, not to the company.
Make sure you know the rules by reading our guide on business travel flight compensation
Are babies entitled to a compensation for flight cancellation?
The conditions are rather restrictive. Babies aged less than 2 years old cannot get compensated for flight cancellations. To be eligible, they must also meet the following requirements:
The baby had a seat of their own (they were not travelling on your lap)
You paid a fee for your baby’s ticket (they were not travelling for free)
Read more about flight compensations for babies
Other Rights When Your Flight Is Delayed
Cash compensation or airline voucher
The EU Regulation 261/2004 clearly states that the compensation “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."
This means that you can refuse a voucher and request a compensation via cash, bank transfer, or cheque instead. Keep in mind that by accepting the voucher, you may be waiving your right to the compensation otherwise planned by EC261, so make sure that the voucher is of at least equal value. In general, we recommend not taking a voucher as flight compensation.
Right to care: food, refreshments, accommodation, and communication
When flights are delayed by 2 hours or more at departure, the airline is obligated to provide passengers with food and refreshments. This means that if your flight is delayed by at least 2 hours before being cancelled, or if you have to wait at least 2 hours before taking your replacement flight, you can request food and refreshments from the airline.
It will often be provided in the form of a meal voucher. If the airline refuses to comply, get the food yourself at one of the airport’s restaurants, keep your receipts, and request a refund later.
In addition, the airline must also give you a means of communication in order for you to make arrangements, like warning relatives supposed to pick you up or cancel a rental car.
Finally, if you’re forced to stay overnight as a result of the cancellation, the airline must also provide accommodation and transport between there and the airport. Again, keep the receipts if the airline doesn’t directly take care of the costs.
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.
In addition to the cancelled flight compensation that you are claiming under EC261, you can seek further compensation. The amount of your EC261 compensation may be deducted from this greater compensation.
An example would be pursuing the airline for damages. You can do so under the Montreal convention, when the cancellation of your flight resulted in the loss of a business opportunity because you couldn’t attend the meeting.
Which Cancelled Flights Are Covered by EC261?
EC261 doesn’t only apply to EU flights. The EU Regulation 261/2004 covers:
All flights departing from an EU country
Flights arriving in the EU that are operated by an airline headquartered in the EU
Note that the EU airspace covers Iceland, Norway, Switzerland as well as the “outermost regions” - i.e. French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Reunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
Unfortunately, flights operated by a non-EU airline departing from outside the European Union are not eligible, even if they arrive at an EU airport.
Flights cancelled due to “extraordinary circumstances” are not eligible to compensation
According to EU law, the air carrier does not have to compensate passengers whose flight was cancelled due to “extraordinary circumstances”. What does it mean?
Extraordinary circumstances are sometimes referred to as “Acts of God”. They are events for which the airline cannot be held responsible and that could not have been avoided even if all measures had been taken. They include air traffic control restrictions, adverse weather conditions, political unrest, strike action by airport employees or air traffic control, medical emergencies, bird strikes, lightning strikes, etc.
Airlines sometimes abuse the definition of extraordinary circumstances to avoid paying compensation.
For example, “bad weather” isn’t the same as “adverse weather conditions”. While the latter is indeed regarded as extraordinary circumstances, the former isn’t. In most cases, snow isn’t enough to justify the cancellation of a flight, because airline can undertake measures that will allow the normal operation of the flight despite the bad weather. It means that you could get compensation for flights cancelled by bad weather.
The same applies to strikes. Those from the airline staff are not regarded as “extraordinary circumstances”. Neither are “technical issues” or “operational reasons”, despite what the airline may tell you.
Can I get compensated if the airline goes bankrupt?
Unfortunately, if the airline had to file for bankruptcy, you won’t receive a compensation. Claims of this sort are generally at the bottom of a long list of creditors waiting for money they are owed.
What if I missed my connection because my flight was cancelled?
In cases of flight cancellations, the airline must offer you a rerouting option. If despite this alternative flight, you still miss your connection, you may be entitled to compensation.
However, only flights booked together are eligible for compensation: all your flights must be part of the same reservation (identical booking number). If you booked separate flights, the airline isn’t obligated to compensate you, even if you miss your connecting flight as a result of the first one’s cancellation.
What To Do When Your Flight Is Cancelled?
Keep your travel documents, as proof that your flight was cancelled
Whatever happens, don't throw away your tickets, boarding passes, luggage tags: keep them safe because should you be eligible for 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.
Inquire about the reason for the cancellation and get a written statement from the airline
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.
Ask for an alternative flight
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.
Ask for a meal and refreshment if the delay at departure is over 2 hours (if you chose the re-routing)
If you have to wait for your flight for 2 hours or more, your right to care kicks in. Ask the airline to provide a meal and refreshment. Usually, they will give you a meal voucher to be used at the airport.
They must also give you access to a means of communications if you need one (at least 2 phone calls).
If you’re experiencing a long delay or have to stay overnight, ask for accommodation
In case of long delay before your rerouting flight (6 hours or more) or overnight delay, the airline must provide hotel accommodation, 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).
Keep your receipts if the cancellation results in additional expenses for you
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.
Do not accept an offer that isn’t the one planned by EC261 and could waive your right to compensation
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).
Find out the length of the delay at arrival (based on the rerouting flight)
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.
Check if you’re entitled to a cancelled flight compensation
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.
For more details on each of those steps, check out this post
How To Claim Compensation For Flight Cancellations?
Not all passengers have the time or the legal expertise to seek compensation on their own. Some simply don’t want to fight the airline themselves.
This poll from MoneySavingExpert.com shows that most passenger claims are still ongoing 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:
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 (flight number)? 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.
In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) handle flight cancellation compensation claims.
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.
Let ClaimCompass handle the whole process for you
We let you know quickly if you’re entitled to compensation.
We take care of the communication with the airline and, if necessary, legal actions.
We work on a “no win, no fee” basis: we only take a commission if you receive your compensation. There are no risks for you.
Other Regulations on Flight Cancellations
Cancelled flight compensations in the US
When your flight is cancelled in the US, you are not entitled to flight cancellation compensation (except if you were flying to the EU, with an EU airline, in which case your flight is covered by EC261). Because there are no regulations to protect passenger rights in cases of flight cancellations and airlines do not guarantee their schedules, do not hope for compensation when your US flight is cancelled.
However, in general, airlines will either offer an alternative flight or offer a compensation in the form of a voucher, airline miles, or upgrade on a future flight, as goodwill payment. Again, make sure to keep your travel documents to increase your chances of receiving compensation.
Thanks to Service by ClaimCompass, your US and Canadian flights are now covered! If your flight is cancelled, we automatically contact the airline to claim compensation on your behalf. You can download Service now!
Read more on passenger rights in the US.
Cancelled flight compensations in Canada
Canadian regulations state are closer to EU law than US regulation in regards to cancelled flight compensations. Passengers are entitled to compensation for all flights which cancellation was within the airline’s control.
Unlike EC261, however, the compensation amount varies based on the delay at arrival and the size of the airline. Smaller airlines thus pay smaller amounts than large ones. Here’s a summary:
Cancelled flight compensation amounts for large airlines in Canada
|Length of the delay
Cancelled flight compensation amounts for small airlines in Canada
|Length of the delay
Passengers have up to 1 year to submit a compensation claim, after which airlines have up to 30 days to either provide the payment or a statement explaining why they believe that no compensation is due.
Read more about Canada's passenger right rules
Montreal Convention: Cancellations on international flights
The Montreal Convention of 2003 has been signed by over 130 nations. It addresses “damages” that are the result of flight disruptions such as flight cancellations.
Let’s assume that the cancellation of your flight could cause you financial damage (because you had to pay an extra night at a hotel, for example). The Montreal Convention states that you are entitled to a refund for this additional expense.
Read more on the Montreal Convention and passenger rights on international flights
Get up to 600€ for your cancelled flight!
Less than 3 minutes to know if you're eligible:
Can I get compensation if my flight was cancelled due to COVID-19 travel restrictions?
Unfortunately, you cannot get compensation for a flight cancelled as a result of coronavirus. But as long as you booked your tickets directly with the airline (and not via an online travel agency, for example), you could get a refund, voucher, or airline miles from the airline thanks to Service by ClaimCompass. Simply submit your claim and we'll take care of the rest.
Learn more about your passenger rights with COVID-19
Can I get a refund if I cancel my flight?
It will depend on your airline's cancellation policy. Many airlines allow passengers who cancel their ticket within 24 hours after the purchase to get a full refund. If you cancelled your non-refundable ticket past this deadline, it's unlikely that you're eligible for a flight cancellation refund.
How to write a claim letter for flight cancellation compensation?
Your letter must include:
- Your flight details
- Your travel documents (attached)
- The flight distance
- The length of the delay at arrival
- The compensation amount you are claiming
The easiest option is to let us handle all the work for you. You can submit your claim on our site in less than 3 minutes and we'll take it from here! If you want to do it yourself, that's fine, we can help too: check out our compensation claim letter template.
Can I get compensation for a change of flight schedule?
It depends on the type of flight schedule change:
- For minor changes: you are not eligible for compensation
- For significant changes: you probably aren't eligible for compensation but could get a refund if the new flight time is not suitable
- For cancellations: you may be entitled to compensation
Learn more about flight schedule change compensations!
Can I get compensated for a diverted flight?
From a legal standpoint, flight diversions are regarded as cancellations. So, in theory, you could get compensated for the diversion of your flight to another airport.
In reality, however, flight diversions usually occur as a result of "extraordinary circumstances" (bad weather, problem with the aircraft, medical emergency, etc.). It is therefore unlikely that you'll receive compensation.
To get into the specifics, read this post on compensation rights related to flight diversions.
Why do flighs get cancelled?
There are plenty of reasons for flights to get cancelled - some are the airline's responsibility, others aren't - but the most common reasons for flight cancellations are:
- Adverse weather conditions
- Air traffic restrictions
- Mechanical issues
- Missing crew