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Flight cancellation: Compensation and rights
Flight cancellations are one of the most frustrating experiences for passengers, especially when you are informed last minute by the airline. There are a few possible outcomes and you must always remember that you do have options when your flight has been cancelled. On the one hand, you now have the option of receiving a refund of the ticket price. Frequently, however, the airlines offer an alternative flight to your original destination.
Even when compensation is not applicable in a flight cancellation case – for example when it was cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines must still reimburse the full ticket price. What is frustrating for passengers is that not all airlines offer a ticket refund and moreover, many are pressured to accept vouchers – if anything at all – in lieu of a refund, taking advantage of the fact that many passengers are unaware of their rights.
If the airline cancels your flight within 14 days of your scheduled departure, you are entitled to financial compensation. Depending on the flight distance to the destination, you can claim 600 €, 400 € or 250 € from the airline. It is important to be aware that this compensation is reduced by up to 50% if an alternative flight offered by the airline is within the statutory timeframe outlined in detail later in this article. As well as monetary compensation, you are entitled to additional services such as free meals and accommodation.
Please note that the airline must be responsible for the flight cancellation in order for you to make a claim. In the event of a flight cancellation due to 'extraordinary circumstances', you are not entitled to any compensation.
80% of passengers are not aware of their rights when their flight is cancelled. Only a fraction - about 5% - of affected passengers manage to enforce their claims independently, as the airlines often exploit the ignorance of passengers to avoid payments.
MYFLYRIGHT, the experts for passenger rights, aim to put an end to this injustice. With MYFLYRIGHT you can check if you have a claim for compensation for free. If you wish, MYFLYRIGHT will pursue your case against the airline without any cost risk. Only in successful cases is a service fee of 25% plus VAT charged, saving the passenger time and stress. If we have to engage our external lawyers, we charge a surcharge of 10%. In some cases, an immediate pay-out of your claim is provided, where the compensation is paid after the receipt of documents within 24 hours. With an immediate pay-out, a commission of 35% plus VAT is applied.
Flight cancellation: Compensation overview
Fortunately, when your flight is cancelled there are regulations in place to ensure you get the compensation you deserve. The amount you receive depends on several factors, including flight distance and route, when you were notified by the airline about the cancellation, plus - if an alternative flight was chosen - whether it falls within the legal time limit enforced on the airline. Passengers should note that this compensation is in addition to the services that the airline must offer in certain cases.
Last minute cancellation flight: Notification
Flight cancellations are obviously a huge inconvenience and it is even more of a nightmare when the flight is cancelled last minute or at short notice. To understand if you are entitled to compensation, it is essential to note when you were notified by the airline about the cancellation.
If the airline informs their customers about cancellations more than 14 days prior to the departure date, they are free from the obligation to pay for compensation. The same occurs for cancellations made between 8-14 days before departure, when the airline offers an alternative flight which starts no more than 2 hours before the original flight departure time and reaches the destination no more than 4 hours after the scheduled arrival time, and for cancellations made 7 days or less before the date of travel, when the airline offers an alternative flight which starts no more than 1 hour before the original flight departure time and arrives no more than 2 hours later than the original scheduled time of arrival.
The following table summarises the departure and arrival timeframes in place for alternative flights in relation to the given cancellation notification period, with which the airline will have no obligation to pay compensation:
EU passenger rights: Compensation for cancellation
The distance of your flight plays a large part in determining the amount of compensation you will receive – in basic terms, the longer your flight, the more compensation you are entitled to.
Here is a break-down of compensation in relation to flight distance:
- For flights of over 3 500 km beyond the EU border which reach the final destination more than 4 hours after scheduled arrival time - 600 € compensation
- For flights of over 1 500 km within the EU and for all other flights between 1 500 and 3 500 km which reach the final destination more than 3 hours after scheduled arrival time – 400 € compensation
- For flights up to 1 500 km which reach the final destination more than 2 hours after scheduled arrival time - 250 € compensation
Flight ticket cancellation: Compensation reduction
If you opt for an alternative flight offered by the airline which falls within the legal time limit, be aware that the compensation amounts described above are 50% less.
Here is a table to further explain:
Flight cancellation refund: What are my options?
When faced with a flight cancellation, you have a choice of whether you want to continue with your journey or not.
As well as the possibility of claiming compensation, you have the following options:
- Full ticket refund or return flight to the original departure airport
- Alternative flight on the next available flight to your destination
- Alternative means of transport (e.g. train, bus, taxi etc.) to your destination.
Even when passengers are not entitled to compensation for a cancelled flight, the airline should still reimburse the full ticket price. However, many airlines take advantage of passengers and often do not refund tickets, often offering vouchers instead.
It is imperative that passengers are fully aware of their rights and it’s essential to keep these points in mind in the event your flight is cancelled by the airline:
- Ticket costs must be reimbursed within 2 weeks after the flight cancellation
- Passengers are entitled to a ticket refund regardless if extraordinary circumstances caused the cancellation or not, such as the Covid-19 pandemic
- The traveller is NOT obliged to accept an airline voucher or an alternative flight and can ALWAYS claim for refund of the full ticket price
- This is in accordance with EU Regulation 261/2004 and is therefore a law that airlines must abide by
Airline cancelled flight: Services
The airline must also provide you with additional services. These consist of free meals and refreshments at the airport, as well as two free phone calls, faxes or emails. When departing on an alternative flight the next day you must also receive free hotel accommodation, plus free transfer to and from the hotel.
In order to find out which services you are entitled to when your flight is cancelled, the flight distance, plus the waiting period for the alternative flight, are factored in.
Overview of services offered in such circumstances:
|Free meals||Up to 3 500 km||From 2 hours|
|Free meals||More than 3 500 km||From 4 hours|
|Entitled to alternative transportation||All flights|
|Withdrawal from the contract and refund for the flight ticket|
|Free night at the hotel and transfer costs||All flights||Departure the next day|
Flight cancellation checker
Before you make your claim, you can quickly, with no obligation, check your case with our compensation calculator. You can try it now simply by adding your flight date and number.
If you wish you can also submit your case directly afterwards and let MYFLYRIGHT enforce your claim.
Up to 600 €* compensation. 3 years backdated.
Flight cancellation: Rights of passengers
Adequate compensation in the event of a flight cancellation should be a matter of course. Airlines with a strong customer focus proactively and transparently take care of their customers. This includes flights cancelled at very short notice, when passengers are already at the airport and are therefore heavily inconvenienced. In such cases, the airline will provide passengers with all the key information and the benefits they are entitled to.
Unfortunately, when it comes to budget or poorly organised airlines, you are often left to fend for yourself, which can be a daunting prospect when trying to figure out your passenger rights – especially in the stressful environment of air travel. Always inform yourself about your rights and make your claim when you have the opportunity. MYFLYRIGHT is at your side with its travel law experts to help you get the compensation you deserve.
EU passenger rights for cancelled flights
Passenger rights in Europe are regulated by law in accordance with the Passenger Rights Regulation EC No 261/2004. This EU regulation was adopted to strengthen the rights of passengers and to legally secure their claims for compensation in the event of cancellation.
Here is a run-down of what your claim depends on:
- Headquarters of the airline and flight route - whether the airline has its headquarters in the EU and whether the route, or part of the route, was within the EU.
- Responsibility of cancellation - whether the airline is responsible for the flight cancellation or whether it is due to extraordinary circumstances.
- Deadlines - whether the airline has informed you of the cancellation within the legal time period and whether the claim for compensation has been submitted within the statutory deadline.
Claim for cancelled flight: Route
Where are you flying to and from? Which airline are you flying with? These are crucial questions when making a claim.
The European passenger rights regulation applies to:
- Flights within the EU, regardless of whether the airline is headquartered in the EU.
- Flights from the EU to a non-EU country, regardless of whether the airline is headquartered in the EU.
- Flights from a non-EU country to the EU, only if the flight is operated by an airline headquartered in the EU (this includes Switzerland, Iceland and Norway).
An example to clarify: You are flying with Lufthansa from Munich in Germany to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In this case you are protected both on the outward flight and on the return flight by the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, since Lufthansa has its headquarters in Germany and is therefore in the EU.
If you fly the same route with Emirates, your rights are only secured on the outward flight from Munich, as you are departing from an EU airport. By contrast, the EU Regulation does not apply to the return flight from Dubai, since it is a non-EU airport, and Emirates is headquartered in Dubai.
Overview of flight routes where the EU Passenger Rights Regulation applies:
EU 261 / 2004: Compensation for connecting flights
The EU Regulation 261 / 2004 was adjusted on July 11, 2019, to account for flight irregularities, such as cancellations, delays and denied boarding, occurring on connecting flights. EU airlines are now liable to pay compensation, even when the connecting flight is with a non-EU airline, travelling from and to non-EU countries, when this flight is part of a single reservation.
The ruling was decided by The Court of Justice of the European Union based on a specific case:
- A group of passengers reserved flights from Prague (in the Czech Republic, an EU country) to Bangkok (in Thailand, a non-EU country), flying via Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates, a non-EU country).
- The first flight, with Czech Airlines (headquartered in the EU), landed on schedule in Abu Dhabi.
- The second flight, with Etihad (headquartered outside the EU), was 8 hours late at the destination, Bangkok.
Czech Airlines was deemed responsible, although the delay occurred on the flight with Etihad. This is due to the fact that the reservation for both legs of the journey was provided by Czech Airlines.
So, if a disruption such as a cancellation occurs on your connecting flight, which results in a delayed arrival at your destination of 3 hours or more, it is important to be aware of the airline you made the reservation with, as you may be entitled to compensation of up to 600 €. You will also find more information on the topic in our article Missed connecting flight.
Plane cancellations: Extraordinary circumstances
According to the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, airlines must take all reasonable measures to prevent flight cancellations. However, airlines are not responsible for the flight cancellation if it is due to extraordinary circumstances. Not all extraordinary circumstances are clearly defined in the Passenger Rights Regulation. Therefore, airlines often use this as a loophole to avoid providing compensation.
In case of doubt, the disputes between passengers and airlines are taken to court, where it must be assessed whether the case involves extraordinary circumstances or if the airline could have prepared accordingly. Fortunately, there are several guidelines that passengers can use to help assess their case.
Here is a brief overview:
YES – compensation for flight cancellations
Each airline must prepare their aircraft properly for winter - for example ensuring it is de-iced properly. If the airline does not prepare for foreseeable situations such as this, they cannot claim extraordinary circumstances.
Airline personnel strikes & wildcat strikes:
Airline personnel strikes and wildcat strikes are not considered as an extraordinary circumstance (ECJ, C-28/20 from 23.3.2021) (Judgment of April 17, 2018, Az. C-195/17 and others). An example of a wildcat strike is when, for example, a large number of employees of the airline suddenly call in sick, resulting in flight operations being impaired. This is not regarded as an extraordinary circumstance and therefore the airline must provide compensation.
Aircraft are constantly in use and regular maintenance is the airline’s responsibility. Besides the fact that the safety of passengers is the utmost priority, every minute an aircraft is not in use is an unrecognised sales opportunity for the airline. Therefore, airlines pay great attention to maximising the utilisation of their fleet. Because it is understood that no aircraft, or component, lasts forever, technical problems do not qualify as extraordinary circumstances. Even if this problem is unexpected, the airline is still held responsible as technical problems are inherently part of an aircraft’s complex system.
NO - no compensation for flight cancellations
Flight cancellations due to extreme weather:
Extreme weather which is difficult to predict (e.g. typhoons, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes) is considered an extraordinary circumstance and the airlines cannot be held responsible. However, be aware that airlines sometimes use various weather conditions as a way to avoid paying compensation.
Strikes unrelated to the airline:
A strike of air traffic controllers or ground personnel is considered an extraordinary circumstance. If a flight is cancelled as a result of this, the airline is not held responsible.
Unfortunately, bird strikes – when birds collide with aircraft – are no rarity. This can cause serious damage to the plane, resulting in long repair times, sometimes damaging the aircraft permanently. The Federal Court recognised this as an extraordinary circumstance in 2013, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) affirmed this on May 4, 2017.
Why was my flight cancelled?
The table below shows the most common causes of flight cancellation and outlines in which cases the airline is liable, where the passenger would be entitled to compensation:
Flight cancellation policy: Compensation deadline
The statute of limitations for asserting your passenger rights for compensation in the event of a flight cancellation varies by country. But in which country should you claim against the airline? In all European countries the passenger can choose the country court in which to make their claim based on the following factors:
- Departure airport
- Destination airport
- Headquarters of airline
Overview of the limitation period of selected countries:
What to do when a flight is cancelled
First things first - don’t panic! This is difficult when, on top of simply trying to get to your destination, you now have to figure out your rights as a passenger. We understand that this is no easy task. Always remember that laws are in place to protect your rights as a passenger.
So, there is no reason to be stressed at the airport as you do still have time. However, before you make your claim - whichever method you choose - be sure to have all relevant documents prepared to ensure the best possible outcome.
Flight compensation: Package and business travel
Whether setting off on your long-awaited holiday or for that make-or-break meeting, flight cancellations are guaranteed to ruin the trip.
For package tours, flights and accommodation are purchased together with a tour operator or travel agent. In principle, exactly the same rights apply for a package trip in case of a flight cancellation, in accordance with the EU Passenger Rights Regulation. Moreover, you can enforce a claim against your tour operator for a price reduction. In this regard you can use the Frankfurt table as a guide, with which you can estimate how much discount on the total package price you can get in case of a flight disruption.
Of course, just like with all other flights, you can pursue a claim yourself, or you can contact us at MYFLYRIGHT.
EU passenger rights compensation: Frankfurt table
The so-called Frankfurt table is a summary of judgments of the District Court of Frankfurt regarding travel rights. It serves as a guideline for claims for price reduction of the total price of a package against tour operators in case of issues while travelling, including flight irregularities.
In particular, it states that a claim can be made for flight delays of 4 hours or more. This would be applicable, for example, in case an alternative flight is chosen by the passenger as a result of a cancellation, resulting in a delayed arrival at their destination.
Please note, however, that the Frankfurt table only gives guidance on price reduction and is not legally binding.
Flight cancellation insurance
Often, when booking your flight as part of a package holiday or for a business trip, travel insurance is offered or included by the tour operator. When a flight is cancelled, it can be confusing to know whether you should be contacting the airline, your insurance provider or the tour operator themselves for compensation.
It is recommended that when purchasing travel insurance to read the policy very carefully. Unless the policy states specifically that you are covered in event of flight cancellation, you won’t be able to make your claim against the insurance company. You may be entitled to claim for additional costs, for example accommodation or car rental, but unfortunately you can’t rely on this as each policy varies. You can, however, still make your claim against the airline.
Business trip cancelled: Flight claim
If your flight is cancelled during a business trip, this can have critical consequences. Missing important meetings and presentations, as well as disappointed clients, can be extremely detrimental to your business. But if your flight is cancelled on a business trip, who receives the compensation? You or your company?
In general, the compensation payments are always to the person who would have taken the flight; that is, the traveller. It is completely irrelevant who booked the ticket. However, many employers are aware of this fact and insert clauses within the employment contract that contain specific provisions. So, it may be that you’ve waived your claim for compensation based on your contract. In this case, the employer would receive the compensation. You will also find more information on the topic in our article Business travel.
You can always check whether you have a claim when your flight is cancelled using our compensation calculator.
Cancelled flight compensation: Claim costs
It is common for the airline concerned to skilfully argue against the payment of compensation with the help of the company's customer service or legal department. Therefore, often the only option to ensure you receive compensation is to take the legal route. By taking legal action, the airlines are required to disclose accurate information that can then be used to objectively assess the situation.
Legal processes can be drawn out, expensive and stressful. As well as the costs, which must be paid in advance, there is also the risk that the case is deemed an extraordinary circumstance. In this situation, the passenger would be liable for all court fees and legal expenses. This of course would be extremely frustrating, not to mention costly.
With MYFLYRIGHT, on the other hand, if your case is rejected, there is no need to worry about any costs whatsoever. Only in successful cases will commission be charged.
Nevertheless, you can of course try to claim compensation yourself and take on the cost risk personally. In this way, if you succeed, you will save the commission that MYFLYRIGHT calculates.
In the following table you can see the average cost of a compensation claim in Germany for 2 persons claiming 400 € each when the case is settled after an oral hearing in court:
MYFLYRIGHT will gladly assist you with professional advice and help you to claim for compensation. We know the ins-and outs of this legal process and can ensure you can make your claim risk-free, with no cost.
How to claim flight cancellation compensation
It can be a complicated and lengthy process if you want to claim flight compensation on your own. MYFLYRIGHT makes this process simpler and faster for you – all you have to do is fill out our online form and submit the relevant documents. This only takes around 5 minutes and we take it from there - our team of travel law experts can then assess your claim and, if you are entitled to compensation, make sure it is processed as quickly as possible.
If you still want to try it on your own, and thus save yourself MYFLYRIGHT’s commission in case of success, we have a letter template with which you can make your claim for compensation.
Step 1. Contact the airline by writing to them via email or by posting a letter. Of course, you can opt to write the letter or email yourself, or you can simply use the MYFLYRIGHT letter template. If you choose the template, you can either fill it out online and send it to the airline via email or print it, fill it out, then post it to the airline. If you choose to post, we recommend a registered letter, to ensure there is a record of the airline receiving it.
The following information must be included in your letter or email:
It is extremely important to set a deadline – the date by which your compensation should be settled. The standard length of time is 2-3 weeks. If you have not received any feedback from the airline within your deadline, you must now initiate step 2.
Step 2. You now either seek legal services or give the airline another chance and independently write a letter of formal notice. Again, you should set the deadline for 2-3 weeks from when you send the letter. If you choose to post the letter rather than sending it via email, remember to select registered post.
Step 3. If the letter of formal notice has not persuaded the airline to answer, you must now take the case to court. In a lawsuit, the airlines are obliged to respond.
In order to avoid the risk of rising legal costs and dealing with the stress of going to court directly, MYFLYRIGHT is the way to go. Consider the time it takes to contact the airline and wait for a response, plus the cost of legal services – all this is taken care of by MYFLYRIGHT.
Flight cancelled statistics
According to calculations by MYFLYRIGHT, over 18 million passengers’ flights were cancelled in 2022 in the EU. Of these passengers, 65% were eligible for compensation up to 600 €. Overall, more than 11 million passengers were entitled to compensation from airlines around the world flying from, into or within the EU, but only around 500 000 passengers actually received compensation for their flight cancellations.
Cancelled flight statistics in major airports
Overview of the cancellation rate in main airports. (Source: OAG 2022 and MYFLYRIGHT analysis)
|Cancellation rate |
|AMS||Amsterdam Schiphol|| |
|ATL||Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson|| |
|ORD||Chicago O'Hare International||77,86%||2,90%|
|DFW||Dallas Fort Worth International||76,15%||2,81%|
|DEN||Denver International|| |
|IAH||Houston George Bush||79,72%||1,84%|
|LAS||Las Vegas McCarran||71,08%||2,15%|
|LAX||Los Angeles International||78,63%||1,41%|
|MEX||Mexico City Juarez||72,73%||1,52%|
|MIA||Miami International|| |
|JFK||New York J F Kennedy||69,79%||2,95%|
|LGA||New York LaGuardia||71,88%||5,37%|
|CDG||Paris Charles de Gaulle||63,53%||1,24%|
|PHX||Phoenix Sky Harbor|| |
|CIA||Rome Ciampino|| |
Airline cancellations statistics
Overview of the cancellation rate of major airlines. (Source: OAG 2022 and MYFLYRIGHT analysis)
|Cancellation rate |
|NH||All Nippon Airways||88,79%||1,36%|
|BA||British Airways||64,07%|| |
|DL||Delta Air Lines|| |
|Iberia Airlines|| |
|KL||KLM Royal Dutch Airlines||73,06%||3,58%|
|WE||Thai Smile Airways||81,87%||0,01%|
How much is your compensation?