Consumer rights when your flight is cancelled
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 :
Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies to passengers departing from any airport situated in the EU, or arriving into the EU with an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland.
- The Regulation established common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers, which air carriers are obliged to comply with in the event of flight delay, cancellation or denied boarding.
- General information entitlement: You have the right to be informed of the circumstances of your journey in a timely manner before, during, and after the travel and about your entitlements in cases of disruption.
- The air carrier must also 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’.
- In addition to this, an airline cancelling a flight should provide each passenger a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance.
Choice of rerouting or refund when your flight is cancelled:
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 cancelled or not completed due to the cancellation. The refund should be processed within 7 days.
What happens when you choose rerouting?
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 of seats. 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.
Warning! – 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 a reimbursement of alternative travel expenses under Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
You will also not be able to make a claim for expenses if your flight is cancelled and as a result you miss a connecting flight which was booked seperately and is considered to be separate contracts. Under the terms of the Regulation you can only seek a refund for the cancelled flight.
Care and assistance while waiting for rerouted flight
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.
Compensation when your flight is cancelled
While the Regulation does provide for compensation when a flight is cancelled, your entitlement to this and the amount 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 are NOT entitled to compensation if:
- 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.
When you are entitled to compensation, it is the distance of the flight that determines the amount:
- €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.
Please 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).
What is extraordinary circumstances all about?
You may have heard the words ‘extraordinary circumstances’ mentioned quite a bit when the issue of flight cancellations and compensation is discussed. If an airline can prove that the cancellation of your flight was due to extraordinary circumstances then 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.
So, in the case of Hurricane Irma, well it’s very clear that of course an airline could not have planned for such a severe weather event. Other examples of extraordinary circumstances can be political unrest, security threat, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, air traffic control restrictions, or strikes that affect the operation of the flight.
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.
If the cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances, you are not entitled to compensation, but the airline should still offer you the following:
- A ticket refund, or
- Alternative transport to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or rebooking at a later date of your choice (subject to seat availability)
- Care and assistance (unless you have accepted a refund).
Contacting the airline and 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. 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.
- Commission for Aviation Regulation (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.