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 canceled flight compensation.

Canceled Flight? You may be entitled to as much as $700 in canceled flight compensation (EU)

What is Canceled Flight Compensation?

Under EC 261, you could be entitled to canceled 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 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).

Flight Canceled Compensation: 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.

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

Canceled Flight Compensation: 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. We’ll break down all your entitlements below.

Flight Canceled: 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 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 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 $700 (€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, with compensation given in €.

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 canceled 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 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.

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.

Canceled 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. 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:

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 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 9.2 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, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $700 in compensation.

Common questions about flight cancellation compensation

Am I entitled to compensation for a canceled flight?

Yes, you can get compensation for a canceled flight depending on the laws of where you are flying. Canceled flights often qualify for compensation under EC 261 in Europe and ANAC 400 in Brazil. For flights within the US, however, there is no law that requires airlines to pay their passengers compensation for canceled flights, which means it is entirely up to the airlines to compensate you how they see fit.

If in doubt, you can always use our Compensation Check tool to see if your particular flight is eligible for compensation.

Can I claim compensation if my flight was canceled due to weather?

In some regions, such as the EU, you can claim compensation for canceled flights, but it gets complicated in the case of bad weather.

In a nutshell, most flight cancellations caused by bad weather are considered to be extraordinary circumstances. This means that something outside the airline’s control (in this case, the weather) caused the cancellation, so the airline shouldn’t be held accountable for it — especially if the cancellation is to protect the safety of the passengers and crew.

However, if bad weather conditions were expected and other airlines made plans that allowed them to take off in due time but your airline didn’t, you could be owed compensation.

Can you get money back when you cancel a flight?

If the airline cancels your flight — regardless of whether they are at fault for the cancellation or not — you are entitled to a refund or an alternative flight to your intended destination.

However if you decide not to fly, and you cancel your ticket that is a different situation. In this case, whether you get money back depends on the terms of your ticket. You should check with the airline whether you can get a full refund or not.

How long after a canceled flight can I claim compensation?

The time you have to claim for a flight compensation depends on the country where you are making your claim. As a guide, we say most passengers have up to 3 years from the date their flight cancellation to claim compensation. However, some countries give you as little as 2 months to claim, while others give you up to 10 years. To be on the safe side, always claim as soon as you can so that you don’t miss out on the compensation legally owed to you.

How much compensation can I claim for a canceled flight?

It depends on several factors. For example, the country where your flight departed from can affect how much compensation for a canceled flight you can expect to get. In the EU, under flight Regulation EC 261, you may get as much as $700, while in Brazil you can get up to $1,300. The distance of your flight, the length of the delay, and whether or not you’ve been informed of the cancellation more than 14 days before the date of your scheduled departure can all affect what compensation for canceled flight you can get. You can check exactly how much you’re owed with our easy Compensation Check tool.

How to claim compensation for canceled flight?

You have to be proactive and submit a claim. If you’re eligible, and ask yourself, “how do I get compensation for a canceled flight?” there are several options available to you:

  • Use a claim specialist like AirHelp, who can handle all the paperwork and negotiate with the airline on your behalf. A claim specialist usually charges you a service fee only after successfully receiving your compensation.

  • Contact a lawyer to do it for you. However, this option may have high upfront costs.

  • Contact the airline directly and try and negotiate the process yourself.

My flight was canceled and the airline offered me a new ticket. Can I refuse the ticket?

Yes. If your flight was canceled, airlines will offer a new ticket with a replacement flight. You have the choice to either accept the new flight, or to refuse and get a refund instead. In some cases, if your flight is eligible, you may also be able to get compensation.

What do I do if the airline cancels my flight and does not reply to me, or only offers me a voucher?

If your flight was canceled, you have the right to receive a refund. Vouchers may be offered as an alternative to a refund, but the airline must have your full consent to do so — so don’t accept a voucher without first reading the fine print. If they outright ignore your messages, keep trying as it may be taking them a while to process all requests.

You can also start a claim with AirHelp if you think you are owed compensation. We’ll check if your flight is eligible for free.

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

There is a distinction between a flight cancellation refund and flight cancellation compensation. Whereas a flight cancellation refund is about returning the money a passenger spent on a flight ticket, flight cancellation compensation is focused on awarding passengers money for the loss and suffering endured from a flight mishap.

You are eligible to a full refund of your ticket if the airline canceled your flight. The USA doesn't have strong laws about flight compensation, but if you were flying internationally you may be able to claim compensation under other regions' air passenger rights.

Can I get compensation for a canceled flight in the US?

Unfortunately, unlike Brazil and the EU, the US doesn’t have laws requiring canceled domestic flights to pay compensation to their passengers. It is completely up to the airline to choose whether to compensate their customers or not.

Can I still get compensation for UK flights after Brexit?

The UK adopted a similar law to EU regulation EC 261, which means that passenger rights are still largely the same. Passengers departing from the UK, or arriving in the UK on a UK airline can claim up to £520 (approx $700) compensation for eligible flight cancellations under "UK261".

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