How to Claim 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 $700 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 compensation for canceled flights.
Are you eligible for flight cancellation compensation?
Under EC 261, you could be entitled to compensation for your canceled flight if…
- Your canceled flight was set to depart from the EU (with any airline) or scheduled to land in the EU (provided that the airline is headquartered in the EU).
- 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 here)
- The cancellation occurred within the last three 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).
Definition of flight cancellation
An airline considers a flight as canceled if the plane never left the tarmac.
The EC 261 regulation defines a canceled 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 $700 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 canceled flight. However you may still be entitled to flight delay compensation if you arrived in your destination over three hours late.
What Are You Entitled To If Your Flight Is Canceled?
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 canceled within 14 days of the scheduled departure you could be entitled to compensation as well, for your loss of time. We’ll break down all your entitlements below.
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 three 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.
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 canceled 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 Cancellation 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 $700 (€600) per person. Though 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, with compensation given in €.
|Length of delay (alternate flight vs. original flight)|
|Less than 2 hours||2 - 3 hours||3 – 4 hours||More than 4 hours||Never arrived||Distance|
|€125||€250||€250||€250||€250||All flights 1,500 km or less|
|€200||€200||€400||€400||€400||Internal EU flights over 1,500 km|
|€200||€200||€400||€400||€400||Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km|
|€300||€300||€300||€600||€600||Non-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 on an alternate flight (compared to your originally booked flight).
Under EC 261, all canceled flights are covered apart from when the airline has given you 14 days’ notice. But there’s one exception.
If the airline offers to re-route you, it can avoid paying cancellation compensation if the following criteria are met:
|Advance Notice||Re-routing Requirements|
|7 – 13 Days||Alternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before and arriving less than 4 hours after the original flight|
|Less than 7 Days||Alternative flight departing no more than 1 hours before and arriving less than 2 hours after the original flight|
Other Flight Cancellation 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 two 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.
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.
Which Canceled Flights Are 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. So US citizens have the same rights to flight cancellation compensation as those from the EU.
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:
|Itinerary||EU Air Carrier||Non-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 are 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 a 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.
How to File a Claim for Cancellation Compensation
What To Do If Your Flight Is Canceled
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 canceled, 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 canceled flight ends up costing you extra money.
How AirHelp Can Help You Claim
If you’re going to file a compensation claim under EC 261, 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 canceled flights, and in instances of denied boarding.
- AirHelp is the best-rated flight compensation company in the world with a 9.5 score on Trustpilot.
- We have already empowered more than 7 million passengers to get compensation, generating over €800 million in claims.
- 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 25% of the potential compensation. For more information, you can see all our prices here.
If you would prefer to claim your flight cancellation compensation yourself, please still make use of our tools. Our leading edge claim eligibility check, inbox scanner and air passenger rights education services will tell you what you are entitled to. All are completely free.
Really happy with the service airhlep provided. I was reimbursed for a terrible experience with an international flight that got cancelled a few years ago and made over $400! score!
When can Americans claim a flight cancellation refund under EC 261?
The EC 261 is often an enigma to Americans. It needn’t be. Let’s break down what you really need to know when it comes to your flight cancellation compensation rights.
A common misconception is that EC 261 only applies to flights within Europe, but that’s not the case.
According to EC 261, passengers are entitled to compensation for flight cancellations if the flight was scheduled to depart from the US and arrive in one of the EU countries, so long as the flight was with an EU carrier.
If your flight was booked to depart from any airport in the EU, you are eligible for a flight cancellation refund, no matter the carrier.
Is there a time limit to file my cancellation claim?
Your right to compensation under EC 261 does eventually expire, so it’s important to know the Statute of Limitations for your claim.
This varies from one country to the next and is determined by where the headquarters of the airline is or what court has jurisdiction in cases concerning the airline.
Can you get money back when you cancel a 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 cancelation.
It is not EC 261, but the terms and conditions of the airline, and your specific ticket, which dictate what you are entitled to.
In some instances, when you cancel your flight you are reimbursed in full.
Sometimes, you are entitled to the fees and taxes alone. Each airline has its own procedure.
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