Flight Cancellation Compensation

Air travel is not always smooth and sometimes flight cancellations happen. Did you know you may have the right to claim up to €600 for flight cancellation compensation under EU law? Sometimes even if the airline has already arranged a replacement flight. Continue reading to learn all you need to know about cancelled flight compensation.

Info for coronavirus cancellations:
Cancellations caused by coronavirus don’t qualify for compensation, but we’ve summarised our advice on your rights and refunds here.

Alternatively, check if previous flights from the past 3 years qualify for up to €600 compensation. It only takes a few minutes.

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Cancelled Flight? You may be entitled to as much as €600 in cancelled flight compensation (EU)


What is Cancelled Flight Compensation?

Under EC 261, you could be entitled to cancelled flight compensation if…

  • Your flight was going to take off in the EU (flights to the EU also qualify in some cases).

  • The airline notified you of the cancellation less than 14 days before the flight was due to depart.

  • If you took a replacement flight, your new arrival time was significantly different to your original flight (exact times below).

  • The cancellation occurred within the last 3 years.

  • You had a confirmed flight reservation - shown by a booking confirmation complete with information like the flight number and name of passengers.

  • The reason for the cancellation was within the airline's control (e.g. operational circumstances, technical difficulties, or airline staff strikes).


Flight Cancelled Compensation: Definition of flight cancellation

An airline considers a flight as cancelled if the plane never left the tarmac.

The EC 261 regulation defines a cancelled flight as,
“The non-operation of a flight which was previously planned and on which at least one place was reserved”.

An airline can cancel a flight for a number of reasons. Sometimes, problems like bad weather or security risks can create a knock-on effect leading an airline to pull the plug on a flight.

However, when an airline cancels your flight, you may be eligible to receive flight cancellation compensation.

EU regulation EC 261 gives passengers the right to be reimbursed up to €600 for flight cancellations – providing certain criteria are met. We’ll go into detail on how much flight cancellation compensation you could be entitled to below.

Remember that a flight that takes off late, i.e. a delayed flight, is not a cancelled flight. However you may still be entitled to flight delay compensation if you arrived in your destination over 3 hours late.

On average, 6.4 million people worldwide are eligible for compensation under European Regulation (EC 261) air passenger rights laws


Cancelled Flight Compensation: What Are You Entitled To If Your Flight Is Cancelled?

We’re glad you asked! The key thing to know is that the airline must offer either a new flight or a refund.

In addition, if your flight was cancelled within 14 days of the scheduled departure you could be entitled to compensation as well. We’ll break down all your entitlements below.

Flight Cancelled: Compensation, Flight Refund, or Re-routing

When it comes to flight cancellations, EC 261 makes it clear that the airline must offer the passenger the following 3 choices:

  • A full or partial refund of your original ticket - and a return flight to your original point of departure if needed.

  • The earliest possible alternative transport to your final destination.

  • A new ticket to your final destination at a later date of your choosing, subject to availability.

Let’s break down what your choices are here.

Refund:

This is a simple choice if you are yet to take any portion of your flight. You will be refunded the full cost of your ticket.

However if you have already departed it’s a little more complex. You can get a refund for the unused portion of your ticket.

If you have used part of your ticket, but because of the cancelled flight it’s no longer serving your original travel plan, you can get a refund for that used portion of the ticket too.

Whenever relevant, the airline must also provide you with a return flight to the first point of departure, and at the earliest opportunity.

Either way, EC 261 says you must be reimbursed within 7 days.

Earliest possible alternative:

Under this choice, your airline must provide you with a new means of getting to your final destination as soon as they can. EC 261 specifies it must be under comparable transport conditions too.

Alternative on a convenient date for you:

If you would prefer, you can opt to take the alternative transport to your final destination on a different date – subject to seats being available of course. Again EC 261 specifies the alternative transport must be under comparable conditions.

A note about your final destination: Although airlines may offer to fly you to alternative airports to the one you originally booked, they must pay to transfer you to the original airport. Or to a nearby address if you agree that with them.

How Much EU Flight Compensation Should You Get?

If the airline notifies you of the cancellation less than 14 days before departure, you could be entitled to compensation. EC 261 specifies amounts for flight cancellation claims – up to as much as €600 per person.

The exact figure depends on several factors:

  • Travel distance

  • Whether your flight is within the EU or not

  • Length of delay (based on how much later the alternate flight would be when it arrived at your final destination)

That can be a little complicated, so this chart makes it clearer.

Compensation based on the length of delay (alternate flight vs. original flight):

Under 2 hours2 - 3 hours3 – 4 hoursOver 4 hoursNever arrivedDistance
€125€250€250€250€250All flights 1,500 km or less
€200€200€400€400€400Internal EU flights over 1,500 km
€200€200€400€400€400Non-internal EU flights 1,500 km - 3,500 km
€300€300€300€600€600Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km

You can see that the compensation amount is sometimes half, depending on the amount of time you would be delayed in arriving at your final destination (compared to your originally booked flight).

Under EC 261, all cancelled flights qualify for compensation when the airline has given you less than 14 days’ notice, with one exception.

If the airline offers to re-route you, it can avoid paying cancellation compensation if the following criteria are met:

Advance NoticeRe-routing Requirements
14 DaysNone
7 – 13 DaysAlternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before and arriving less than 4 hours after the original flight
Less than 7 DaysAlternative flight departing no more than 1 hours before and arriving less than 2 hours after the original flight

Flight Cancellation Compensation: Other Entitlements Under EC 261

Right to Care

When you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track, you’re entitled to necessary assistance from the airline, depending on your situation.

For example, if your flight cancellation leaves you stuck waiting at an airport, the carrier must provide you with meals and refreshments during the delay. They must also offer you access to communications, including 2 telephone calls, telefax or fax messages, and emails.

If you need overnight accommodation, they must provide you with a hotel room and transport to and from the airport.

Upgrading and downgrading

If you’re offered an alternative flight and are lucky enough to be placed in a higher class than the one you booked, the carrier cannot charge you any additional payment.

On the other hand, if the class of the alternative flight is lower, you can get a reimbursement of between 30-75% of the price you originally paid.

Obligation to inform passengers about flight cancellation compensation

You have the right be informed about the content of EC 261. Every airline has to display information on passengers’ rights at their check-in counters at every airport in which they operate.

Further compensation

Your right to compensation under EC 261 does not affect your right to request further compensation. Although this rule does not apply in cases where passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservations. Note if you do claim further compensation the amount you are entitled to under EC 261 may be deducted from whatever additional compensation you receive.

If you’d like to know more about your rights, we have further explanations on our Air Passenger Rights page, or you can read the text of EC 261 here.


Cancelled Flight Compensation: What's Covered?

Where EC 261 Applies

The regulations set out in EC 261 apply based on the flight route and the airline – it doesn’t matter where the passengers are from.

Most routes that take off from a European airport are covered. And we should point out that Europe covers more of the world than you might expect. The regulations cover the so-called “outermost regions” (the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores, French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Réunion, and Saint-Martin). Plus European nations that are members of the EEA: Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

Even if your flight was scheduled to depart from outside Europe, if your destination was in Europe and you were flying with a European carrier, you’re covered. It’s easier to explain with a chart:

ItineraryEU Air CarrierNon-EU Air Carrier
From inside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From inside the EU to outside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From outside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered❌ Not Covered
From outside the EU to outside the EU❌ Not Covered❌ Not Covered

Extraordinary Circumstances Are Not Covered

One way airlines avoid paying flight cancellation compensation is if they can show the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances.” That means that the reason behind the cancellation was something outside of their control. Airlines argue in these circumstances they could not have avoided cancelling the flight, even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Typically situations like lightning strikes, medical emergencies, serious adverse weather conditions, acts of sabotage or terrorism all fall under this exclusion.

There is some debate over what should be considered as “extraordinary circumstances”. Often airlines give reasons like “technical difficulties” or “operational circumstances” as the cause of a cancellation. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has repeatedly stated that those don’t qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” In April 2018 the European Court of Justice also rules that strikes by flight staff are not “extraordinary circumstances” meaning that passengers should receive compensation for flight cancellations resulting from airline staff strikes.

Connecting Flights and Cancellation Compensation

What you are entitled to when a connecting flight is canceled is a question with no simple answer.

It depends on a multitude of factors, including where you were flying, whether you were flying with an EU carrier, which flight was canceled, and whether all the flights were purchased under the same booking.

In general, so long as the flights were bought together, under one booking, the rules of EC 261 will apply.

So if your whole journey (with a connecting flight) departed from Europe, or was scheduled to arrive in Europe on an EU airline, your entire journey should be covered – and the amount of compensation you receive should be based on the total journey.

However, some EU courts interpret the regulation differently and may not include prior connecting flights in the eligible distance.

You can read lots more information regarding how EC 261 applies to connecting flights on our missed connection compensation page. However, the quickest way to check your eligibility is by entering your flight details in the box below.

If your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $700 in compensation.


How to File a Claim for Flight Cancellation Compensation

What To Do If Your Flight Is Cancelled

If you’re traveling to or from the European Union, here’s what to do when your flight is unexpectedly scrubbed:

  • Collect proof that your flight was cancelled, e.g. boarding pass, vouchers and any other travel documents.

  • Get the airline to provide written confirmation of the cancellation and reasons behind it.

  • Request an alternate flight to your destination - or a refund.

  • Make a note of the arrival time at your destination.

  • Ask the airline to pay for your meals and refreshments.

  • Don’t sign anything or accept any offers that may waive your rights.

  • Get the airline to provide you with a hotel room, if needed.

  • Keep your receipts if your cancelled flight ends up costing you extra money.

How AirHelp Can Help You Claim

If you’re going to file a compensation claim, you can expect some pushback from the airline. Just because the law is on your side doesn’t mean they are going to be enthusiastic – or swift – about paying you.

That’s where AirHelp can come in. We can handle all the negotiations with the airline on your behalf.

  • AirHelp is the leading flight compensation company in the world, helping passengers understand their rights and get compensation for delayed or cancelled flights, and in instances of denied boarding.

  • AirHelp is the best-rated flight compensation company in the world with a 9.2 score on Trustpilot.

  • We have already helped more than 16 million passengers.

  • You can avoid the burden of time and navigating the complex legal system.

  • Airlines may deny your initial claim or ignore your claim request entirely, our team tackle bureaucratic hurdles to get you the money you deserve.

AirHelp will get no fee unless you get compensated. For the processing of claims, we used fixed fees that depend on the type of claim. The fixed fee frequently corresponds to around 35% of the potential compensation. For more information on our fee structure, check our price list.

If you would prefer to claim your flight cancellation compensation yourself, please still make use of our tools. Our leading edge claim eligibility check and air passenger rights education services will tell you what you are entitled to. All are completely free.

If your flight was delayed, cancelled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to €600 in compensation.


Common questions about flight cancellation compensation

Am I entitled to compensation for my cancelled flight?

Yes, you may be eligible for compensation, depending on the circumstances of the cancellation and the laws of where you are flying, e.g. EC 261 in Europe, or ANAC 400 in Brazil.

If you are unsure if you are eligible, simply use our Compensation Check tool to see if you are owed compensation for your flight cancellation.

Will I get compensation if my flight was cancelled due to bad weather?

Usually no. Most flights cancelled due to poor weather conditions are considered to be extraordinary circumstances, i.e. a disruption caused by something outside of the airline's control.

The only exception is if the airline failed to prepare for expected bad weather. If other flights managed to depart in time, while yours was severely delayed, there is a chance you could be owed compensation.

Can I get money back when I cancel my flight?

When you decide not to board a flight you’ve booked this is a very different situation to when an airline is responsible for flight cancellation.

It is the terms and conditions of the airline, and your specific ticket, which dictate what you are entitled to. If you bought a refundable ticket, when you cancel your flight you are reimbursed in full, but in other instances you could only be entitled to the fees and taxes.

Do I get my money back if my flight is cancelled?

If an airline cancels your flight, you are entitled to either a refund or a replacement flight to your destination, regardless of whether the airline was at fault for the cancellation or not. In some cases, it may also be possible to claim compensation on top of your refund, provided that your cancelled flight is eligible under the laws of the country from where you are flying from.

In the EU for example, you can get up to €600 for a cancelled flight provided that it was not caused by circumstances outside the airline's control, and that you were informed less than 14 days before you scheduled departure.

How much time do I have after a cancelled flight to claim compensation?

As a guideline, we say passengers have around 3 years from the date of their cancellation to claim. However the amount of time does depend on where you were flying. Some countries give as little as 2 months to claim, others give you as much as 10 years. To be on the safe side, always claim as soon as you can so that you do not miss out on the compensation owed to you.

How much compensation for a cancelled flight?

The amount of compensation you can claim for a flight cancellation will depend on several factors:

  • The country where your flight departed from — For EU flights, which are eligible under EC 261 for example, you can get up to €600, while for Brazilian flights you could sometimes get up to €1,200.

  • The distance of your flight.

  • The length of the delay.

The easiest way to check exactly how much you're owed is to use our Compensation Check.

How do I claim compensation for a cancelled flight?

You will need to be proactive and start the claim yourself. If you are eligible and wondering "how do I get compensation for a cancelled flight?", you can choose to do one of the following things:

  • Use a claim specialist such as AirHelp, who will handle the whole claim process for you, including paperwork and negotiations.

  • Use a lawyer to do it for you. This option can have high upfront costs.

  • Write the airline directly and negotiate with them yourself.

If my airline cancels my flight and issues a new ticket, can I refuse the new flight?

If your flight was cancelled and the airline offers you a replacement flight, you have the option to refuse and ask for a refund instead — or another flight at a time that suits you. Additionally, if the flight cancellation meets the necessary criteria for eligibility, you may also be owed compensation.

What can you do when your flight is cancelled and the airline sends a voucher but won't respond?

As your flight was cancelled, you have the right to a refund — you are not obliged to accept a voucher if you don't want to. Keep trying to contact the airline as it can take them a while to process all requests. If you purchased your ticket through a travel agent, or with a credit card, you may also be able to get your refund though them.

If my flight is cancelled before take off, am I entitled to flight cancellation compensation or a flight cancellation refund?

A flight cancellation refund is different from a flight cancellation compensation: A refund is when an airline returns the money a passenger spent on a flight ticket, while compensation is paid to passengers for suffering losses due to a flight disruption.

You will always have the option to get a refund on your ticket if you weren't able to fly on any leg of your flight. In some cases, you may also be eligible for compensation, provided that the necessary criteria are met.

If my cancelled flight was in the USA, can I get compensation?

Unlike Brazil and the EU, the USA doesn't have specific laws that require airlines to pay compensation for cancelled flights. It is entirely up to the airline to decide if they will compensate their customers for a disruption.

What changed for flight cancellations in the UK after Brexit?

Before Brexit, the UK adopted a similar law to EU regulation EC 261 so that passengers rights remain largely the same. Under these UK laws (or "UK261") passengers departing from the UK, or arriving in the UK on a UK airline can claim up to £520 compensation for eligible flight cancellations.

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