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What should I do if my flight gets cancelled and is not covered by EC261?

AuthorHannah Hager

You never think it will happen to you – and even though the odds are in your favor – nothing can really prepare you for looking at the departures board and seeing those ominous, big, red letters… CANCELLED.

It’s one of the most dreaded words any traveler can see, and if you fly enough, you’re bound to see this awful phrase pop up next to your flight’s number eventually.

First things first… Don’t panic!

Last year when my Emirates flight from New York City to Milan was cancelled last minute, I freaked out and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

In hindsight, that was definitely not the way forward!

If I had known better, I could have followed these top tips for not letting a cancelled flight ruin my trip and saved myself all that hassle, but I didn’t.

I am so glad that I checked my flight’s status before I left for the airport though, because Emirates hadn’t sent me any type of notification to let me know of the cancellation!  🙁

I called customer support right away, but the only thing the agent could tell me was that the inbound flight from Milan to NYC was cancelled due to technical issues with the aircraft, and that it wouldn’t be rescheduled until the next day when the incoming flight from Milan would finally arrive.

Learn your rights

Thankfully I live in New York, so unlike some of the unlucky tourists, I didn’t have to spring for another night of a hotel to wait for our newly rescheduled flight.

Although Emirates did end up paying for the hotel rooms for the out-of-towners on my flight, you should make sure to check the contract of carriage with your particular airline to see what you’re entitled to in these types of situations.

On top of that, you should also research your passenger rights and see if you might be entitled to compensation under EC261 — a European law that protects flyers if their flight to or from the EU is delayed, cancelled or overbooked.

Unfortunately for me, I was flying to Europe with a non-EU airline on this trip, so my flight was not eligible for compensation.

However, if I had been flying to Italy with a European carrier like Alitalia, British Airways or Lufthansa, then I would have been eligible for up to  600 in compensation for my cancellation!

When in doubt, it only takes 3 minutes to use AirHelp’s super easy online claim form to check if your cancelled, delayed or overbooked flight is eligible for compensation – so go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose!

Deal with it when you get home

I wish I hadn’t wasted so much energy worrying about what I could do when my flight got cancelled, because in the end, there is nothing you can really do about it until you get back from your trip.

For better or for worse, you are at the mercy of the airline – unless you want to splurge and buy a brand new ticket with another airline – so in most cases it is better to go with the flow and roll with the punches.

(Side note: some airline are better than others at dealing with delays and cancellations, so check out the your airline’s AirHelp Score to see how they stack up to the competition!)

The reason I say deal with it when you get home is, I fussed and pitched a fit at the airport and on the phone with customer service, but it got me no where and just put me in a horrible mood and gave me a headache.

However, when I got back from my trip, I emailed Emirates customer service right away and provided detailed receipts of all of the extra expenses that I incurred from the cancellation and missing a whole day of my vacation.

Emirates wouldn’t pay me back for the train tickets that I had reserved in advance, but they did pay me back for the missed night at our hotel. In the end, they sent us a check for $250 to repay us for our unused reservations.

They also gave my fiancée and I 40,000 Skyward miles each as a sign of good faith, which is actually a nice chunk of miles since Emirates is one of the world’s top airlines!

We’ve actually already cashed in those miles, by booking a cheap flight back to Milan for $800 each, and used 30,000 of the Skyward miles we each got to upgrade to business class!

Lessons learned

So in the end, we missed a whole day of our vacation and had a crazy 36 hours trying to make it to Milan.

For future trips I’m definitely going to have a side “emergency fund”, just in case something like this happens again and I have to pay out of pocket for train tickets, hotels, etc. that I hadn’t anticipated.

Considering the circumstances, our airline did a nice job of reimbursing us for our cancelled flight even though we weren’t entitled to compensation.

My best advice is to make sure you keep all of your receipts for the expenses incurred during your flight delay or cancellation, and email them to customer support after your trip, as the gate agents and representatives at the airport don’t really have authority to compensate passengers directly.

Try your best to negotiate with customer service to make sure you get your extra expenses paid for, and then try to wiggle some free frequent flier miles out of them as well.

There’s always a silver lining to every situation, and thankfully we came out on the winning end with a free business class upgrade for our next trip!

Image Credit:João Sá Leão

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