Flight cancellations can quickly ruin your trip. Thankfully, there are regulations which have established common rules under which passengers can claim a flight cancellation compensation. Learn more about your passenger rights.

 

Cancelled Flights: What Are Your Air Passenger Rights

Flight cancellations happen regularly. While you may seem powerless when it does, there are actually some rules that the airline must follow which play in your favor. In the following sections, you will learn more about your air passenger rights and what to do in case of a cancelled flight.

 

Cancelled Flights in the European Union

In 2004 the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union passed EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC261 for short), which established common grounds for compensation and care for passengers in the event of a flight cancellation. Air passengers can claim between 250 and 600 euros depending on the journey. There are a few nuances, however, which we discuss below.

 

So what flights are covered?

EU Regulation 261/2004 covers all of the EU airspace, along with Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the outermost regions - i.e. French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Reunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands.

 

The Regulation covers all flights departing out of the European Union, regardless whether it is an intra-EU or an international flight. Flights which are departing out of the European Union, but are EU-bound, are covered insofar as they are operated by an EU air carrier. To make it clearer:
 

   Travel itinerary    EU carrier       Non-EU carrier                
   From EU to EU    Covered    Covered
   From EU to non-EU     Covered    Covered
   From out of EU to EU    Covered    Not covered
   From out of EU to non-EU               Not covered                     Not covered

 

Let’s look at some real-life examples. Say you were travelling

  • from Milan to Paris: the flight is covered regardless of the air carrier as it is intra-EU.

  • from Rome to New York with American Airlines: the flight is covered even though it is operated by a non-EU carrier, because it departs out of the EU.

  • from Toronto to Amsterdam with KLM: the flight is covered even though it departs out of the EU, because it is operated by an EU air carrier.

  • from Toronto to Amsterdam with Air Canada: the flight is not covered because it departs out of the EU and is operated by a non-EU air carrier.

 

The easiest way for you to find out if your cancelled flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator.

 

What is considered a cancelled flight eligible for compensation?

If for some reason you decide to cancel your trip, you are not entitled to compensation under EU261. As you might expect, you will only be considered eligible if the cancellation is made by the airline.

If the airline notified you about the cancellation 14 days or more prior to the flight, you are not eligible to compensation. When they notify you less than 14 days before the flight, their obligation to pay depends on their ability to find you an alternate flight or re-routing respectful of the following time constraints:

 

   Notification Prior to Departure     

   Alternate Flight

   Right to Compensation       

   More than 14 days 

   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

   Less than 7 days

   Departed no more than 1 hour earlier and arrived 2 hours later or less

   No

   Less than 7 days

   Departed 1 hour earlier or more and arrived 2 hours later or more

   Yes

 

Note that both conditions have to be met simultaneously. For instance, let’s imagine that you’ve been notified about your flight cancellation 5 days prior to your flight. The airline rebooks you on an alternate flight which arrives at your final destination less than 2 hours later than your original flight BUT departs more than 1 hour earlier. Then, you are entitled to compensation. See below to know exactly how much you are entitled to.

 

Flights cancelled due to Extraordinary Circumstances are not covered

When the flight was cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances, the airline cannot be held responsible and is not obligated to pay compensation. Such cases include adverse weather, Air Traffic control restrictions, lightning strikes, bird strikes, strike at the airport, medical emergency, security threats, political unrest, etc.

However, “technical problem” or “operational reasons” do not exempt airlines from paying compensation to air passengers, although some air carriers lead their customers to believe so. The European Court of Justice (EJC) has ruled on many occasions that these circumstances were not extraordinary and that the airline had to pay compensation when a flight was cancelled for such reasons, in accordance with the EU Regulation 261/2004.

 

The easiest way for you to find out if your cancelled flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator.

 

Flights brought forward are covered

When the flight departs in advance by several hours, it is considered a cancelled flight, because the airline abandoned its original plan. As such, the cancellation rules described above apply and you may be entitled to compensation.

 

How much can I claim for my cancelled flight?

The amount of the cancelled flight compensation ranges between 250 and 600 euro and depends on the distance between your original point of departure and your final destination, the length of the delay if you agreed to a re-routing or alternate flight, and whether you flight was in the EU or not. The table below summarizes the amount, which you can claim.

 

   Length of the delay at your final destination

   Distance

   Less than 2h    

   2 to 3h   

   3 to 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

 

As you can see above, you may be entitled to only half of the maximum amount when the delay to your destination is deemed reasonable under EU 261.

Should you refuse to be re-routed, you are eligible to compensation along with the refund of your ticket. In addition, when necessary, the airline must provide you with a flight back to your departure point.

 

What if I had connecting flights?

If your journey includes one or more connecting flights, the amount of your compensation will depend on several factors:

  • All your flights must be under a unique booking

  • Your flights must be eligible under EU261 as described in “What is considered a cancelled flight eligible for compensation?”

  • The eligible distance

 

The eligible distance includes the cancelled flight as well as:

  • The flights that come after, no matter whether they were operated by the same airline or not

  • The previous flights if they were operated by the same airline responsible for the cancellation

 

For example, you are travelling from Sofia to Toronto, with a connection in Rome and another one in Paris, under one booking and with the same booking number (PNR). Let’s imagine the following scenario:

Your flight Rome-Paris operated by Alitalia is cancelled, and you miss your connection Paris-Toronto operated by Air France. The eligible distance is the one between Rome and Toronto, even though Alitalia didn’t operate the last leg of your journey. You are entitled to 600€ from Alitalia.

 

Now let’s imagine a flight from Sofia to Paris with a connection in Rome, under one booking and with the same booking number (PNR). Your flight Rome-Paris operated by Alitalia is cancelled. If Alitalia operated the leg between Sofia and Rome as well, you are entitled to 400€, because the distance Sofia-Paris is between 1500 and 3500km. If Alitalia didn’t operate the leg between Sofia and Rome, you are entitled to 250€, because only the flight Rome-Paris is eligible and the distance between the two cities is less than 1500km.

 

It is possible that some European Courts interpret the Regulation differently. The easiest way for you to find out if your cancelled flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator.

 

Note that in all cases, had you booked separate tickets, with different booking numbers, you would not be entitled to compensation.

 

To sum up, when you have connecting flights booked under the same reservation, the amount of compensation is calculated based on the total distance between the original point of departure and the final destination, regardless of how many connections you’ve had in between. The carrier, which caused the disruption is responsible for paying the compensation.

 

What type of documents should I keep to claim compensation?

Even if you have a perfectly valid claim, airlines will sometime look for ways to reject it. One example is asking for additional information, such as your boarding pass, electronic ticket, luggage tag, and other travel documents. While this may sound silly, given that the airline has all of your information, EC261 grants the carrier permission to request certain information prior to accepting a claim. To increase your chances of success, make sure to keep certain information upon arrival at your final destination.

 

  • Keep all documents related to your flight and/or any alternative flights. These include your boarding pass or stub, your electronic ticket, booking confirmation, luggage tag, etc.
    You may also want to keep some of your receipts for additional expenses, which resulted because of the cancelled flight.

  • Try to find out what was the reason for the cancellation and if possible, obtain a document. Was it a technical issue with the aircraft, or perhaps the crew maxed-out their flying hours?

 

How long after the cancellation can I claim?

Depending on the country where the air carrier is headquartered, there are certain time limits to file your claim (also known as Statute of Limitations).

For example, the Statute of Limitations in the United Kingdom is 6 years. This means that if your flight was operated by British Airways, you can file a claim for a flight, which took place 6 years ago. Here is a list with the time limits to file a claim per country:

 

   Country                     

   Limitation period        

   Country                    

   Limitation period          

   Austria

   3 years

   Latvia

   2 years

   Belgium

   1 year

   Lithuania

   3 years

   Bulgaria

   5 years

   Luxembourg

   10 years

   Croatia

   3 years

   Malta

   No limit

   Cyprus

   6 years

   Netherlands

   2 years

   Czech Republic

   3 years

   Norway

   3 years

   Denmark

   3 years

   Poland

   1 year

   Estonia

   3 years

   Portugal

   3 years

   Finland

   3 years

   Romania

   3 years

   France

   5 years

   Slovakia

   2 years

   Germany

   3 years

   Slovenia

   2 years

   Greece

   5 years

   Spain

   5 years

   Hungary

   5 years

   Sweden

   3 years

   Iceland 

   2 years

   Switzerland

   2 years

   Ireland

   6 years

   United Kingdom

   6 years

   Italy

   26 months

   

 

What else am I entitled to under EC261 if my flight is cancelled?

Besides claiming for a cancelled flight compensation, there are other rights that you have under EC261.

 

Right to refund or re-routing

Not only can you get a compensation for the loss of time incurred by your cancelled flight, you are also entitled to one of the following:

  • The full or partial refund of your ticket, plus a return flight back to your initial destination (when applicable).

  • The earliest alternative transport to your destination. If no other flight is available, the airline must pay for your alternate transport, be it a bus, train or something else, along with the cost for you to get to this other transport.

  • Another ticket to your destination at a later date.

Again, these rights do not influence the amount of compensation you are going to receive. However, do not accept travel vouchers or airline miles: these may waive your right to compensation.

 

Right to care

If you’re stuck at the airport because of a flight cancellation, the airline must take care of you until they get you to your destination. You’re entitled to free meals and refreshments for the duration of the delay, as well as access to a telephone and email. If you happen to need accommodation for long delays (typically over 6h), the airline must also provide you with a hotel room or a place to stay and an airport transfer.

Many passengers confuse the latter as their compensation. Note that the two are completely independent. Even if the airline paid for your hotel and meals, you are still entitled to a cancelled flight compensation.

 

Upgrades and downgrades

When the only available seats on an alternative flight are situated in a higher class than the one you purchased, the airline cannot charge you extra. However, 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.

 

Can I seek even further compensation?

Yes. Claiming cancelled flight compensation under EC261 does not prevent you from pursuing even greater compensation. Although the dynamics and the procedures are very different, some passengers have tried pursuing the airline for damages, which were caused because of the delay. A perfect example of this would be a loss because of a missed business meeting.

 

The easiest way for you to find out if your cancelled flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator.

Learn more about EC 261 and your air passenger rights in the EU.

 

Cancelled Flights in the US

The regulations for cancelled flights within the US are very different. Unlike in the EU, American airlines are not obliged to pay compensation for cancelled flights. That being said, it is not uncommon for US carriers to offer good-will payments, travel vouchers, air miles and upgrades as a form of compensation for your inconvenience. To increase your chances, make sure to keep your boarding pass and any other travel documents.

For domestic US flights, your rights depend on the airline’s policy: no federal regulation applies. As a result, passenger rights in cases of flight cancellations vary from one airline to the other. In general, the contracts of carriage emphasize that airlines do not guarantee the schedules and that they cannot be held accountable for consequential damages, such as missing a potentially lucrative business opportunity or a family meeting.

When an airline cancels a flight, it is likely to rebook you on their next available flight, provided that seats are available, or offer a full or partial refund, but they are not required to compensate you.

 

Find out more about US passenger rights.

 

Cancelled flights on international flights

Similar to EU Regulation 261/2004, the Montreal Convention of 1999 established common grounds for compensating passengers on international flights between participating countries. Today, over 120 nations have joined the regulation.

 

So what flights are covered?

The Montreal Convention is applicable in cases of international carriages. This includes flights between State Parties as well as flights within a single State Party that include a planned stopover in another country, no matter if this country has ratified the Montreal Convention or not.

 

   Travel itinerary

 

   Planned Stopover

   Application of Montreal Convention?       

   From State Party to State Party        

   Irrelevant

   Yes

   Within a single State Party

   No

   No

   Within a single State Party

   Yes, in another State Party       

   Yes

   Within a single State Party

   Yes, not in a State Party

   Yes

 

For example:

  • Flight Russia-Thailand (both State Parties): covered by Montreal Convention

  • Domestic flight in China without stopover: not covered by Montreal Convention

  • Flight China-China with a stopover in Thailand (State Party): covered by Montreal Convention

  • Flight China-China with a stopover in Vietnam (not a State Party): covered by Montreal Convention

 

Are all cancelled flights covered by the Montreal Convention?

Similar again to EU261, the Montreal Convention doesn’t apply when the flight was cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances. Such cases include adverse weather, Air Traffic control restrictions, lightning strikes, bird strikes, strike at the airport, medical emergency, security threats, political unrest, etc.

The airline can waive its obligation to pay compensation if they have taken all reasonable measures to prevent the flight disruption or if there was nothing they could do.

 

How much can I claim for my cancelled international flight?

At the difference of the EU Regulation, arriving late or not arriving at your destination doesn’t make you eligible for a compensation. The Montreal Convention only covers “damages” resulting from the cancellation.

“Damages” are subject to different interpretations. Most countries only consider financial losses and physical injuries as damages, but not the psychological distress of having your flight cancelled.

In cases where you have incurred damages in the meaning of the Convention, you can claim compensation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set a currency called Special Drawing Rights (SDR) to calculate the amount of the compensation. As of December 2017, the exchange rate was:

1 EUR = 0,84 SDR

1 USD = 0,70 SDR

You can follow the exchange rate here.

The Montreal Convention lets you claim compensation up to 4,694 SDR for damages resulting of your flight cancellation.

 

What type of documents should I keep to claim compensation under the Montreal Convention?

Keep all documents related to your flight and/or any alternative flights. These include your boarding pass or stub, your electronic ticket, booking confirmation, luggage tag, etc.
You also need to keep your receipts for additional expenses, which resulted because of the cancelled flight, as proof of the financial damages.

Try to find out what was the reason for the cancellation and if possible, obtain a document from the airline attesting the reason of the cancellation.

 

How long after the cancelled flight can I claim?

The Montreal Convention allows you to claim compensation for damages up to 2 years after the cancelled flight. However, we strongly recommend that you submit your claim soon after the events occurs.

 

Find out more about International Passenger Rights.

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