We hear so often from travellers who have booked a holiday and the worst has occurred - they’ve had their flights cancelled, significantly delayed, or rescheduled completely by the airline. Seemingly, everyone is asking the same question; “What can I do about this?”. A fair question that we always try to help with.
The first step to handle these situations is knowing your rights. To do this, you’ll need to know what rights you have based on where you’re flying into or out of and who you booked with. For many of our members, this means knowing your EU Air Passenger Rights, which covers any situation when you’ve booked directly with the airline when travelling from the EU, should your flight be affected.
Who is covered under the EU Air Passenger Rights?
To find out if you’re covered under EU Air Passenger Rights you’ll need to ask yourself two questions: who did I book my flight with and what route did I book? When you book a holiday, you often have the option of booking with an OTA (or online travel agent) such as Momondo, Travel2be, or any other company offering tourism packages. Online travel agents offer protection for your booking under ABTA or ATOL when you book a package holiday, but not when you book flights alone. The other option is when you book your flight directly with the airline.
While your flight is still technically due the same compensation under EU Air Passenger Rights if you book with a travel agent, you’ll have agreed to some terms of service with them also, which usually limits how you can pursue your rights and compensation, as well as how to do it. If you’re at all worried about having to move your holiday later on, we always recommend booking directly with the airline, even if you wind up paying slightly more.
The second question, what route you booked, is pretty straightforward - any flight within or departing from the EU (even departing to a non-EU country), whether they are operated by an EU company or not, is covered. For flights arriving to the EU from a non-EU departure, your flights are covered if the airline is registered in the EU. Finally, if your flight is covered under another country's air passenger rights laws and you have already received benefits under their guidance, you can no longer seek benefits under EU law.
A note on Brexit: While Brexit means the UK & Northern Ireland will no longer be covered by EU laws, there is a special agreement that EU regulations will still apply until the full agreement is made. This has a deadline of December 31st, 2020 right now, but this may be extended if the past is any indication. See that statement in full detail here.
What are EU Air Passenger Rights?
These are a set of regulations put in place by the EU that protect travellers and make your airline responsible for getting you home safe, or to refund your money if there is a problem with your flight. It’s worth checking out the exact wording of the main regulation providing these protections (you will often hear about it as No. 261) so for full details see the guidelines themselves here. We’ll outline the key points based on our most frequently asked questions:
What happens when my flight is cancelled?
The key part here depends on who is doing the cancelling - if you cancel your own flight, then you don't have too many options, but when the airline cancels your flight you are generally due some sort of compensation. This leads many airlines to leave cancellation of flights to the last minute, even when it seems certain the flight won’t be able to take off, as it prompts many travellers to try and cancel on their own and leave them at the mercy of airline policy. Our advice? Always wait as long as possible to see if the airline cancels first. Here are the most common situations we come across and what the airline is supposed to offer:
- The airline messages to let you know your whole trip or a leg of your trip has been cancelled and offers a voucher for future travel: Always message back and ask for the solution that works best for you, not the airline. In this case you are due either a refund, the choice of rebooking to a later flight on the same dates, or a voucher for future travel. Airlines will try to push you into a voucher as it benefits them the most, but most will allow the full options with a little bit of a push, but check out all your options outlined here.
- You’ve received word there is a travel restriction for your destination with your flight a week away, making it impossible to go. To get ahead, you go online and cancel your flight for a voucher for future travel, but then want a reimbursement instead: By cancelling the flight yourself, you’ve already given up the option of a different outcome. Always wait for the airline to cancel first to keep the most flexibility. By issuing a voucher for future travel, the airline is no longer obligated to provide either a refund or rebooking as you have already accepted a recompense.
- The airline messages you that your flight has been cancelled and also offers a voucher for future travel in the same message: By not providing all the options to include rebooking or reimbursement, the airline automatically is required to provide a refund, so be sure to request what you are due. On the reverse, if they are offering a refund without also offering a rebooking or voucher for future travel, you may also be due to extra compensation! This is restricted for specific situations, so see if you’re eligible here.
What if my flight is just delayed?
We’ve all felt that particular pain of boarding the flight, getting ready to get through your seven hour long-haul, then sitting on the tarmac for another hour while last-minute logistics are worked out. A bit more fortunate if the delay happens before you board (or even before you’re due at the airport!), but still not a great start to the trip. You’ll all be happy to hear if your flight is delayed significantly, you’re due some form of compensation.
The amount and type of compensation you’re due varies by the flight and how long you’re delayed, but generally if your delay is at least three hours or more, you’re due to some sort of recompense. This doesn’t count if the delay is due to extraordinary circumstances though, so if it’s weather or natural disaster in your way, the delay is just a delay. When you’re delayed more than five hours on your departure, though, the airline is required to offer you a refund on the ticket and a rebooking for your return trip as soon as possible.
What about my damaged luggage?
Also possible but often less talked about is what happens when your luggage is either lost or damaged on your trip. If the damage (or lost luggage altogether) isn’t due to a faulty bag, such as a burst zipper or torn casing on the bag, then the airline is liable for up to €1300 if you can provide proof of the items in your bag.
What about travel during COVID?
The EU Commission recognizes that travel when the whole world is affected due to COVID-19 does fall under extraordinary circumstances and is a situation outside of the control of airlines. However, they also say this does not mean airlines are not required to provide the standard cancellation options to travellers when their plans are disrupted due to travel restrictions. Passengers still have the right to choose between vouchers and cash reimbursement for disrupted plans and airlines cannot use this as a reason for not providing the full array of options, so don’t accept this as the reason you cannot receive a refund. Should the airline list COVID-19 as the reason they are not required to offer a refund, push back and cite the EU commission statement informing them of this, and don’t take no for an answer (polite yet firm) :)
What to do if the airline does not offer you compensation:
Unfortunately, even when you know your rights and request what you are due under regulation, airlines can simply refuse to comply in the hope you’ll back down and settle for what they are offering you. It’s important to remember that while this can be frustrating, it isn’t the end of your options. One of these options is to simply claim your payment to the airline back due through the chargeback process if you paid by credit card, where your own bank disputes the charge and investigates whether the payment is valid. This is an excellent next step and one that our members have had a lot of success with, but it’s still worth lodging a complaint against the airline itself.
Filing a complaint creates a registration of poor practices by the airline, but it will also help you receive advice on how to proceed with compensation and what (if anything) you are due. When you lodge a complaint, this also creates a record of how many passengers are being treated unfairly and has caused the EU commission to release further guidelines to airlines in the past (and in extreme cases, to fine the airlines).
To lodge a complaint, you only have to fill out the EU Air Passenger Rights incident form, which can be found here. Complaints are then sent to the national enforcement office that is specific to your own situation, but which you can look up here. It can also be helpful to send your incident report to the airline complaints department at the same time, so they stay in the loop. Once your incident report is received, your complaint will be logged and you’ll receive a reply with what your next steps can be from the national enforcement body.
So there you have it - our advice should your flights be cancelled by the airline and answers to your biggest questions about what you are allowed under EU Air Passenger Rights. If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to us and we’ll try to help as much as possible!
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