We look at what your consumer rights are when a flight is cancelled, what an airline’s obligations are and in what circumstances is compensation due.
Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies to air passengers departing from any airport situated in the EU or arriving into the EU with an EU carrier or one from Iceland/Norway/Switzerland. The air travel consumer rights applicable are the following:
- Air passengers must be informed of the circumstances of their flight and their entitlements in cases of disruption in a timely manner.
- The air carrier must ensure that at check-in there is a clearly legible notice containing the following text: ‘If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gates for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance’.
- An airline cancelling a flight should provide each passenger with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance.
Redress: Rerouting or Refund
When your flight is cancelled the airline should give you the following two choices:
- Rerouting to your final destination, or
- A refund of part, or parts, of the journey that was cancelled or was not completed due to the cancellation. The refund should be processed within 7 days.
If you choose rerouting instead of a refund, the airline should offer you an alternative flight to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or at a later date of your choice (subject to availability). If you’re offered a flight to/from an alternative airport in the region, the airline must bear the cost of transferring you to/from that alternative airport to the one in your reservation or to another close-by destination agreed with you.
If rerouting is not suitable and, as a result, you make your own arrangements and book a flight with a different airline, you may not be entitled to seek reimbursement for alternative travel expenses.
If your flight is cancelled and, as a result you miss a connecting flight which was booked separately, you will not be able to make a claim for expenses; non-connecting flights are separate contracts.
If you choose rerouting instead of a refund, the airline should offer you an alternative flight at the earliest opportunity. While you are waiting for this rerouting, you should be given appropriate care and assistance which can include meals and refreshments, communication facilities such as two phone calls or emails, and hotel accommodation (depending on the distance of the flight and in reasonable relation to the waiting times).
If the airline does not provide this care and assistance and, as a result, you incur additional expenses it is very important to keep any and all receipts and send copies of these to the airline when making a claim for reimbursement.
The amount of this entitlement varies depending on when you were informed of the cancellation, the arrangements for an alternative flight, the distance of the flight, and the reason for the cancellation.
- You were informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure
- You were informed between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered rerouting which allows you to depart no more than two hours before the original time of departure and to reach your destination less than four hours after the original time of arrival
- You were informed less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered rerouting which allows you to depart no more than one hour before the original time of departure and arrive at the final destination less than two hours after the original time of arrival.
- €250 per passenger for flights of 1,500km or less
- €400 per passenger for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
- €600 per passenger for all other flights.
Note: The amount of compensation payable may be reduced by 50% if the rerouting offered allows you to arrive at your final destination close to the original scheduled arrival time (within two to four hours depending on the distance of the flight).
If an airline can prove that the cancellation of your flight was due to extraordinary circumstances, no compensation is payable. For the airline to rely on extraordinary circumstances it would have to prove that the cancellation was unavoidable and that all reasonable measures were taken. The burden of proof concerning questions as to whether and when the passenger has been informed of the cancellation of the flight and the explanation as to why it has been cancelled shall lie with the airline.
Making A Claim
If your flight is cancelled then it is very important to keep a copy of all correspondence (in written format), particularly if you have had difficulty with email links for rerouting/refund and talking to customer service, in order to back up your claim at a later date. If you had been speaking with an airline representative in person or over the phone then it would be prudent to get anything agreed in writing (e.g. email) because, if a problem does occur you will have this documentary evidence as proof. Also, if you incur additional expenses then you will need to keep a copy of this to send to the airline for reimbursement.
You should lodge a formal complaint/claim in writing by following the airline’s complaint procedure – this is usually found in the ‘contact us’ section of the website.
Dispute Resolution Assistance
If you fail to receive a response or the response is unsatisfactory then you can contact the following:
- ECC Ireland – If you are an Irish resident and the airline is not based in Ireland but is based in another EU/EEA country.
- Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) (CAR) – Only if the flight departs from Ireland, or arrives into Ireland from a third country on a community-licensed airline. For departures outside of Ireland then the complaint could be referred to the relevant national enforcement body in that country.