What are your rights if a flight is cancelled?
After the travel disruption caused by severe weather this year, we ask: what are your rights?
Q | I can just get on the next flight, right?
Your rights depend on where you’re flying to or from. You have legal protection (via something called the Denied Boarding Regulation) if you have a confirmed booking, you checked in on time (at least 45 minutes before your scheduled departure) and/or you’re travelling from an EU airport (or from a non-EU airport and then flying into an EU airport on a ‘community carrier’ – basically an airline with its headquarters or hub in the EU).
More information: ec.europa.eu/transport/passenger-rights/en/03-air.html or auc.org.uk
Q | So how do I get a refund or arrange a rebooking?
You should be offered a choice of a refund or rerouting. The refund should be the full cost of the flight. If your flight wasn’t direct and was cancelled mid-journey, you are additionally entitled to a flight back to your point of departure immediately or at your later convenience. Rerouting could be with a means of transport other than your airline, which can end up being inconveniently indirect.
Q | How can I protect myself?
Your airline is obliged to give you written details of your rights under the Denied Boarding Regulation.
Take a photograph to show the flight has been cancelled and not delayed – you can use it as proof if you’re unfairly treated later on.
While you’re waiting (beyond two to four hours, depending on how far you’re flying) you’re entitled to two free phone calls, faxes or emails, free meals and refreshments plus free hotel accommodation and transfers if you’re delayed overnight. Priority will be given to those who live furthest from the airport, however.
Q | Can I get compensation?
This depends on how far you were travelling and what the airline has offered as an alternative. You can’t claim compensation if your airline gets you to your destination within two hours of the original arrival time. Airlines also won’t pay out if the cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures have been taken’. This vague caveat is given a further get-out with the definition of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as ‘political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier’ – so pretty much anything, then. The airline should still provide assistance or a refund but is obliged to pay transport costs if they send you home after cancelling your flight. This is where travel insurance comes in.
Q | What about my return flight?
If your flight is cancelled and you rebook, chances are this will have an impact on any return leg. Some airlines (British Airways, for example) will let you move this. Rebooking is usually done on a first-come, first-served basis.
Q | And if I’m on a package trip?
If you booked your flights as part of a package, your tour operator will help rebook your holiday. If you booked a flight-only with an ABTA travel agent, ABTA expects agents should be more than willing to help rebook flight. abta.com
© National Geographic Traveller UK Mar Apr 2011