Was your flight cancelled? Claims that you should not miss out on
Flight cancellations can be extremely frustrating especially for passengers who have been planning their trip way in advance. A million things start running through your mind when you are faced with the bad news just before departure. Will I get to my destination on time? Am I eligible to make a claim, and if so, what exactly is the compensation? Will the airline provide any assistance, or will I be left to deal with it by myself?
Truth be told, there is nothing as vexing and stressful as a flight cancellation.
One of the most distressing impacts of flight cancellations are when passengers end up missing important dates or time sensitive engagements they had planned for their journey – there can be little to no consolation for this loss.
In spite of this, there is some good news for passengers facing flight cancellations. Passengers should not have to worry about the financial implications of a cancelled flight, as by law airlines are required to take care and protect their passengers. Passengers with flexible journey times may even find the compensation paid out to them an added bonus of their travels. Though compensation payments offer some benefit – this is still no excuse for airlines to forego their duties allowing for flight delays. In this article we provide the most relevant information surrounding flight cancellations and the legal claims to which affected passengers might be entitled to.
Passenger rights: What are my passenger rights and when do they kick in?
In accordance with EU Passenger Rights Regulations if your flight is cancelled at the airport with no prior notice you will have a strong case for compensation. This applies to all outgoing flights from an EU airport, regardless of whether the airline is from an EU member state or not. EU Passenger Rights Regulations will also apply to flights entering an EU airport from non-EU countries. These flights must be operated by an airline from an EU member country, thus in terms of EU Passenger Rights Regulations, passengers flying into the EU must buy tickets from an EU airline, in order to benefit from EU laws.
Flights in which you are you entitled to compensation:
(e.g. Lufthansa, British Airways)
(e.g. United Airlines, Emirates)
|Flight within the EU
(Munich → Barcelona)
|Flight into the EU
(New York → Dusseldorf)
|Flight outside the EU
(Hamburg → Moscow)
Furthermore, airlines are required to notify their customers of flight cancellations at least 14 days before the departure date. If the cancellation notice arrives 7-14 days before departure, the airline must offer an alternative flight that should not depart earlier than two hours before the original departure time and should not reach the destination more than four hours later than the original arrival time.
In the event where a flight cancellation notice is given less than 7 days prior to the date of departure, the alternative flight provided should not depart more than one hour earlier than the original departure time, and should not land more than two hours after the original arrival time.
In all other cases, the airline is obliged to compensate its customers unless the flight cancellation was caused by a third party, e.g. airport strikes.
Notification periods for flight cancellations before scheduled date of departure:
|Max. advance of the alternative flight||Max. delay of the alternative flight|
|Up to 7 days||1 hour||2 hours|
|8-14 days||2 hours||4 hours|
|Over 14 days||No claim||No claim|
It is therefore advisable to pay close attention to when the airline informs the passenger of the cancelled flight. This will put passengers in a stronger position when filing proceedings against the airline and claiming compensation payments.
The airline can issue flight cancellation notices through various ways, such as Email, SMS or through travel agencies (online and offline) when booking holiday packages.
Flight cancellation compensation amount varies according to the flight route
When a flight gets cancelled, two things can occur.
The airline has to either refund the full ticket price, or if part of the journey has begun the airline must offer a free alternative flight back to the original point of departure. However, most airlines offer an alternative flight to the final destination. If the alternative flight is offered later than the legal notification period, passengers are entitled to reject the offered alternative flight and request a full refund of their plane ticket. Furthermore, if an airline cancels your flight and cannot provide you with a timely alternative flight within the legally permissible notification timeframe, you are entitled to financial compensation irrespective of whether or not you accept the alternative flight. You can then claim a reimbursement amount from the airline of between 250 to 600 EUR, depending on the flight distance to the final destination. Therefore, do not ‘just’ settle for an alternative flight coupled with a few sandwiches and maybe a drink as consolation for your woes. Exercise your rights and demand the full compensation owed to you.
According to the European Regulations governing flight cancellations and compensation, all flights not exceeding 1 500 kilometers are eligible for 250 EUR compensation. There is a high chance for compensation in any cancellation caused by the operating airline, even those domestic or inner European flights with low-cost carriers only charging a few Euro. For all flights within the EU where the flight distance exceeds 1 500 kilometers, or any other flight to or from a Non-EU country that falls between the 1 500 and 3 500 kilometer range, compensation claims of up to 400 EUR are eligible.
For all other flights to Non-EU countries where the distance is more than 3 500 kilometers the compensation amounts to 600 EUR per passenger. Flights entering the EU from a Non-EU country must be operated by an airline headquartered in the EU for the above regulation to apply.
Applicable compensation amount based on flight distance:
If the passenger consents to an alternative flight, the airline must provide meals and refreshments at the airport free of charge. The airline must further allow the aggrieved passengers either two free phone calls, two faxes, or two emails.
In cases where the alternative flight is scheduled for the next day, passengers are also entitled to free accommodation and taxi transport.
Overview of additional services in case of flight cancellation:
Telecommunication — 2 free phone calls, faxes, or emails
Meals and refreshments
Unfortunately, the airlines do not adhere to what is expected of them when it comes to reimbursements. Often is the case where airlines, in order to avoid added costs will provide false information about the flight cancellation and the respective passenger rights.
There are instances where airlines greatly pressurize passengers to accept the alternative flight – with an attitude such as, ‘either you accept this alternative flight, or you will be offered nothing’. It can be truly challenging to keep a cool head when you are faced with such an overwhelming situation, and even harder to arrive at the best, most informed decision.
In such a situation it is important not to buckle under the pressure from the airline. Always insist on your passenger rights.
Flight cancellation: Refund for your cancelled flight is applicable
In some particular cases, flight ticket cancellation refunds for the full amount you had paid for the flight may be a better option than accepting a delayed alternative flight. This applies to anyone who might miss an important meeting resulting from the delay, or in cases where a later arrival at the destination no longer makes sense. For those with a flexible enough schedule able to travel with a one- or two-days delay should consider the ‘money back’ option, since ticket prices are quite volatile and affected passengers could strike an even cheaper fare than the original one.
Only in cases where alternative flights are more expensive than the original flight is it worth considering an alternative flight offer from the airline. Otherwise, it is advisable to receive the refund for the cancelled flight, to book the cheaper alternative flight and save money on the price difference.
Remember, to not cave in from pressure by the airline. Always strive to keep a cool head and check carefully if you have the right to claim reimbursement for the price of the plane ticket.
Please note: Reimbursement for the price of plane ticket and Compensation are not one and the same.
Flight cancellation refund or compensation claim?
Distinction must be made between a ‘flight cancellation refund’ and a ‘compensation claim’. A refund for the price of a plane ticket refers only to the cost of an unused service. If you are eligible to make a reimbursement claim, the above mentioned notification periods outline the corresponding advance/delay timeframes for alternative flights.
An EU cancellation claim for compensation, on the other hand, only applies to cases resulting from of a late arrival at the final destination. EU regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council of 11th February 2004 protects passengers in the European Union when such late arrival cases occur.
Thus, if the airline informs the passenger of the cancellation 14 days or more prior to the scheduled date of departure, a claim for compensation may apply in addition to a cost reimbursement of the original plane ticket. Depending on the case, the airline cancellation compensation can amount to a total of up to 600 EUR, which may even exceed the original ticket price. It does not matter how much the original ticket price was – even if it was as low as 9 EUR, you are still eligible for a full compensation claim of up to 600 EUR.
Causes of flight cancellations
There is a long list of possible reasons why a flight may get cancelled. In some of these cases, the airlines have played no part in causing a cancellation and cannot be held at fault. Majority of cases however, blame can be directed towards the airlines, predominantly in instances where flight cancellations are caused by mismanagement and profit maximization orientation of the airlines.
Strikes by staff ranging from pilots, to ground personnel and air traffic controllers are a frequent cause of flight cancellation. Further cancellation causes appear by way of extreme weather conditions such as storms or heavy snowfalls, unexpected technical hitches on the plane, or political instability in the destination region.
Some of the most common causes of flight cancellations are the following.
Flight cancellation due to strikes
Every few years in Germany, there are rising tensions between the cockpit piloting union and airlines such as Lufthansa, often revolving around tariff disputes – leading to massive flight irregularities. In April 2014 when the conflict between Lufthansa and the union was particularly acute, there were over 3 800 cancelled flights reported.
With around 10 000 flights taking place on busy days, it could be argued that this is still a modest number. However, this figure clearly points out that there are thousands of passengers who regularly suffer from flight cancellations.
Flight cancellation due to weather
In the winter months short notice periods for flight cancellations frequently occur, resulting from bad weather conditions that bring operations to a complete standstill. In some extreme cases, passengers are forced to wait at the airport for many hours or even days before they can continue their journey.
Weather driven flight cancellations can also be a result of extreme weather conditions at the destination point where hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions and other natural phenomena can make traveling impossible. An extraordinary example for such natural phenomena was the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland that stopped the air traffic across Europe in 2010. This type of scenario is considered by law to be an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and airlines cannot be held responsible for this.
Flight cancellation due to technical defect
Aircrafts are constantly in use. Every minute an aircraft is not in use is an unrecognized sales opportunity for the airline operator. Therefore, airlines pay great attention to maximizing the utilization of their fleet. The periods of time when aircrafts are on the ground are tightly managed and do not offer much space for any disruptions in operations. Concurrently the European Union has in place stringent maintenance requirements ensuring the safety of both the airline crew and passengers. If a technical issue arises after an executed flight, it has to be addressed immediately. Some of these repairing procedures can be time-consuming and can cause flight cancellations.
Relevant to the compensation payment and all other related service claims an airline has to comply with, is the actual reason for the flight cancellation. As such a flight cancellation does not fall under the responsibility of the airline in instances of bad weather suddenly hitting the ground, however an airline can be held accountable when an aircraft could not be deiced properly. By law airlines are required to prepare for certain foreseeable situations and will therefore be held liable for such situations occurring, that negatively affects the passenger journey.
Unfortunately, airlines cannot be held responsible for flight cancellations caused by pilot strikes, despite the fact that airlines are actually an important factor in these strikes.
When is the airline responsible for a flight cancellation?
In terms of EU Passenger Rights Regulations, airlines liability for settling a compensation claim will depend on whether the flight cancellation is self-inflicted or caused by a so-called ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Often identifying the actual reason behind a cancellation becomes extremely difficult and requires clarification. This is most often achieved at court since airlines are very reluctant to share any information upfront. Interpreting flight cancellations may not always be crystal-clear as there may have been a combination of contributing factors.
It is a common scenario that affected airlines refuse to compensate passengers, instead they employ the muscle of their expert legal teams to achieve a deterrence effect, intimidating and waylaying aggrieved passengers. This does not only affect the area of compensation but also rings true for supporting services that aggrieved passengers are eligible for. The customer is often left with no choice but to accept the inconvenient consequences.
For this reason, the only possible way to get airlines to compensate you is to take the legal route. By turning to a lawyer and taking the matter to court, airlines are obliged to disclose the correct information, upon which the situation can then be assessed objectively. Legal proceedings can be drawn-out causing additional legal costs and court fees, which the passenger has to prepay. In a worst-case scenario, a passengers case incident can be determined as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, leaving the passenger liable for their own costs, as well as all the airlines additional legal fees – a very frustrating and costly experience. Based on an analysis conducted by MYFLYRIGHT, more than 18 million passengers had their flights cancelled in 2016. Of these passengers, 60% were eligible for compensation amounting up to 600 EUR per person. Overall, more than 11 million passengers were entitled to compensation from airlines around the world, but only 500 000 passengers received compensation for their flight irregularity.
Duties of an airline: Compensation for cancelled flights
Compensation payments for cancelled flights should be a matter of course. Airlines with a strong customer focus take good care of their passengers by proactively approaching and providing transparency on flight cancellation incidents. This is particularly true for flights that are cancelled at short notice and when passengers are already at the airport. In such cases, well-organized airlines are always keen to assist the affected passengers in whichever way possible, even bringing in extra staff to provide all relevant information pertaining to the incident.
However, low-cost carriers and poorly managed airlines from non-EU countries may leave passengers to sort out everything by themselves, including claiming their rights where applicable. Where ‘extraordinary circumstances’ apply in a flight cancellation passengers will be at the mercy of the airline, as these cases are not within the scope of responsibility of the airlines.
Bearing this in mind, the choice of airline should be well considered. The purchase decision should not always be based on the most attractive price only. One important decision-making factor should be the flight cancellation ratio of the airline. There is no use snapping up the cheapest ticket available if you will not get to your destination on time, or even worse, not get there at all.
Airlines with highest cancellation rates in the European Union
(Source: OAG and MFLYRIGHT Analysis)
|Code||Airline||Cancellation rate (%)|
|LO||LOT Polish Airlines||1,4%|
|LX||Swiss International Air Lines||1,2%|
|DY||Norwegian Air International||1,0%|
Flight cancellation: How to enforce your passenger right
Enforcing passenger rights for cancelled flights can be a difficult task. This is particularly true in cases with low-cost airlines with poor customer service, as well as non-EU airlines whose staff are unfamiliar with the provisions of the EU Passenger Rights Regulation. Complicated cases arise where the flight is operated by an EU airline but departing from a non-EU airport. The EU Passenger Rights Regulation will still be applicable but information on passenger rights is hardly visible and accessible to passengers at non-EU airports. In discussions with operational ground staff it is almost impossible to clarify anything as they are simply unaware of these regulations and do not know how to handle it appropriately.
Fortunately, compensation claims are not only valid on the day of travel but can be claimed up to 3 years backdated. This allows passengers to prioritize their immediate problems such as organizing alternative transportation and leave the admin and worry about the claim submission and flight cancellation compensation letter for when they arrive home.
Depending on the countries you are traveling to or from, your passenger rights can be valid for up to 6 years such is in the UK. If you are travelling to or from Germany, your claim is valid for 3 years.
Anyone seeking compensation from an airline does so in vain if they take on legal action and court proceedings alone. Understandably, most passengers find the reward of several hundred Euros not attractive enough when compared to the work load and financial risk of taking the case to court.
This is where MYFLYRIGHT comes in. We are happy to provide assistance and professional advice in helping you claim your rightful compensation. We know the ins-and-outs of this legal process and are the risk-free option for you to enforce your claim.