Guide: EU Rights and Compensation When Your Flight is Cancelled

In this guide, we explain what your rights are as airline passenger in the European Union (EU) and whether or not you are entitled to compensation if your flight is cancelled.

EU passenger rights regulation

In the European Union (EU), your rights as an airline passenger are enshrined in a regulation which is commonly known as EC/261.

Officially called regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council, this document does not only detail your rights as a passenger, but also outlines the obligations which airlines have.

If you click on the link above, you can read the full text of the regulation, which is available in all the languages of every EU member state. However, even when you read the text in your native language you might find the regulation a bit hard to comprehend. That rings especially true for those uninitiated into aviation specifics and law.

Before reading on about the specifics when it comes to your rights in case your flight is rescheduled, we recommend you to first read our introduction into EU passenger rights and compensation.

eu brussels ec/261 passenger rights compensation cancelled flight
In the EU, a regulation called EC/261 outlines your rights as an airline passenger. ©Paliparan

Cancelled flight

It is a common occurrence at every airport in the world. If you look at the departure boards, chances are that at least a couple of flights will show the dreaded word ‘cancelled’ next to them.

There can be lots of different reasons why flights end up being cancelled. There could be a cabin crew or air traffic control strike, sudden adverse weather conditions, or maybe it is a mechanical problem with the plane.

A handful of airlines might even opt to cancel a flight when the occupancy rate is too low as they do not think it is worthwhile to fly half a dozen passengers halfway across the globe.

In such cases, you do have certain rights as an airline passenger, and sometimes you can even claim compensation depending on a few different factors.

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Cancelled flights on an airport departures board. ©Paliparan

Is my flight eligible?

First of all, it is important to understand that EC/261 only regulates flights on European airlines or flights on other airlines from around to world if they depart from European soil.

To be precise, EC/261 is applicable if it meets one of these two requirements:

1) Your flight is departing from an airport inside the European Union, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.
2) Your flight is arriving at an airport in the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland and is operated by an airline from one of these countries.

Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are included because these countries are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and were thus forced to introduce all EU regulations, including EC/261.

Paid ticket

Secondly, you must have a valid ticket for your flight. That means having a fully confirmed reservation with an e-ticket number for each passenger on the booking.

It does not matter whether you have paid for your ticket with cash or frequent flyer miles. There is also no difference whatsoever whether you have booked a seat in business class or might fly on a heavily discounted economy class ticket.

The only tickets which are not covered by EC/261 are passengers travelling free of charge or on a special (reduced fare) ticket which is not publicly available such as special staff tickets for airline employees.

aeroflot short haul business class
It doesn not matter whether you are sitting before the curtain in business class, or in economy at the back of the plane. Your passenger rights are the same regardless of booking class. ©Paliparan

A few examples

As the above bit might still be tricky to understand for irregular travellers, I will give some examples to show you the scope of EC/261:

– An easyJet flight from Berlin to Barcelona is fully covered by EC/261 as it departs from an European airport.

– A KLM flight from New York to Amsterdam is covered by EC/261 as it arrives at an airport in the European Economic Area (EEA) and is operated by an EEA airline (KLM being headquartered in the Netherlands).

– A Delta Airlines flight from New York to Amsterdam would however not fall under EC/261 as it is operated by a non-EU airline. On the other hand, flying with Delta the other way around from Amsterdam to New York does fall under EC/261 as the flight would depart from an EU/EEA airport.

Rights, obligations and compensation

Before we take a precise look at flight cancellations it is first of all important to highlight that the EC/261 regulation not only outlines your rights as a passenger (which may or may not involve compensation) but also a set of obligations which airlines have.

Even in cases where you do not have the right to compensation, the airline may still have obligations such as paying for a hotel and meals in case you might be stuck somewhere in the world because of a cancelled flight.

Of course, we will outline both your rights as passenger and the obligations of the airlines in every possible situation which may arise on your travels.

It’s quite a long text as EC/261 is complicated and there are many, many exemptions to the rule. But even if a described situation might not directly concern you, I would still suggest you to read it all in order to fully understand the scope of the regulation.

beer bourguignon air france
Even if you do not have a right to compensation, the airline may still have the obligation to pay for food and a night in a hotel in case your flight gets cancelled. ©Paliparan

Flight cancellation announcement

Perhaps the most important factor which determines your rights as passenger in case of a cancellation is the exact time when the airline announced the bad news.

The first major deadline is exactly at two weeks before the scheduled departure of your flight. This is calculated by the minute. If your flight departs at 2pm on 15th March, the two week deadline will be exactly on 1st March at 2pm.

Simply put, the further in advance the airline cancels your flight, the more leeway they have (while conversely, you will have fewer rights). Let’s start off with the first situation: your flight is cancelled two weeks (or more) in advance.

Flight is cancelled more than 2 weeks in advance

This is the first category of flight cancellations as outlined by EC/261 and to already bring you the bad news: you do not have any right to compensation.

However, you still have certain rights and the airline in question has some obligations.

First of all, as a passenger you have the right to decide between a full reimbursement of your ticket costs or a re-routing on other flights to your destination under comparable transport conditions at the earliest opportunity.

Do however note that by accepting a reimbursement, you will waive all rights to be re-routed on alternative flights. The same way obviously counts the other way around, if you accept to be re-routed, you will waive your right to be reimbursed as you will still travel to the destination for which you paid for.

Reimbursement

If you opt for the reimbursement, the airline must process this within seven days. They can offer you a voucher or travel credit, but you are under no obligation whatsoever to accept this.

Airlines typically try to do push vouchers as it is cheaper for them to do so. Some might even try to frame it in such a way that it seems like you do not have any other option than to accept the voucher or travel credit.

In that case, insist on your EC/261 passenger rights and their obligations as you most definitely have the right to a full reimbursement according to article 8 point 1(a) of the regulation.

That said, sometimes it can be worth it to accept a voucher or travel credit, especially if the airline might add something extra on top. It is not uncommon for airlines to offer you a choice between full reimbursement or a voucher of the value of the ticket price you paid plus an extra 20 percent. The decision is all yours!

Re-routing

According to EC/261, you can also ask for the airline to re-route you on an alternative flight. This has to be done at the earlier possible opportunity, or at a later date at the passenger’s convenience if requested and possible.

Most airline companies will automatically contact their passengers with a suitable alternative, which you can often accept by simply clicking on the ‘accept’ button on their website or in the email containing the flight cancellation notice.

If this alternative is however not suitable for you – or if no re-routing on alternative flights is offered at all – you will have to contact the airline yourself.

Here is where it can get tricky, as the relevant part of EC/261 does not specify “how” an airline should re-route you and what exactly is understood by the wording of “re-routing at the earliest opportunity”.

After all, EC/261 is a regulation. It is not always black-and-white but has many shades of grey.

Although there is certainly some case law from European courts how EC/261 must be interpreted, there might certainly be situations possible where you and the airline might differ on the exact meaning of the regulation.

An example of a re-routing dispute

Let’s say that your Wizz Air flight from Warsaw to London is cancelled. Wizz Air might say that the earlier opportunity for a re-routing is on their next flight a full week later.

Of course, in many cases this will be an unrealistic solution for the passenger, who might need to be in London on a certain date for business.

You can definitely try to talk to the airline and ask if they are willing to re-route you on a direct British Airways or LOT Polish Airlines flight. However, chances are (especially with low cost airlines!) that your request will be denied.

In this case, Wizz Air might very well argue that “at the earliest opportunity” is on their own next flight departing a week later. And indeed – EC/261 also uses the wording of re-routing “under comparable transport conditions”.

If an airline does not only cancel your Milan to Mykonos flight, but might axe this flight route altogether on every single date into the future, they may very well argue that there is no possibility to re-route you at all “under comparable conditions”. In this case, all that is left for you is a refund.

Do’s and don’ts

Whatever happens, don’t book an alternative flight yourself and expect the airline which cancelled your ticket to pay for the costs of your new flight. Both you and the airline are always expected to try to find a solution together first, and not doing so will certainly diminish your chances of resolving such a dispute favourably.

What this all means is very simple: if you cannot find a common solution with the airline in a re-routing dispute, all that is left for you to do is either accepting the refund option, or to go to a small claims court or other relevant judicial body in order to claim a re-route (refund).

Will you be successful? In this particular case I highly doubt so, as there isn’t any real precedent that an airline must rebook you on another airline in such a case.

Sure, you can fight it in a court – but in most cases you might be better off just to take your losses, opt for the full refund and book another flight yourself. In some cases having a good travel insurance might help you out much better here instead!

wizz air airbus a320 memmingen
A Wizz Air Airbus A320 ©Paliparan

Duty of care

In case of a cancellation, the airline always has a duty of care obligation, if applicable.

Of course, if you fly from your home town of Budapest to Stockholm and the airline announces a cancellation of your flight more than two weeks in advance, this principle doesn’t really apply. You will be at your home and there is nothing really to care for by the airline!

This might be different if the cancellation happens during your trip. Let’s say that you booked a three-week trip to Stockholm. After a week in Stockholm, your airline announces that the return back to Budapest in two weeks time is cancelled.

The airline offers you an alternative flight one day after your original scheduled flight back, a solution which is acceptable for you even if it means having to stay one night longer in Stockholm.

In this case, the airline certainly has a duty of care obligation as it must give you a hotel room, meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and refreshments on the days/nights you are forced to spend longer away from home.

Cooperation

Again, cooperation is key here. Always reach out to the airline first in such a case and ask them to make provisions. Most airlines will either have done so already and will tell you to which hotel to go to, or will be happy to assist by booking a hotel for you.

Only when the airline is unable to help you out, or flat-out denies you have the right to a hotel and meals (which would be a clear contravention of EC/261) should you arrange a hotel yourself.

In many cases, airlines do acknowledge their duty of care obligations but simply are not in a position to arrange a hotel and the meals for you. This means that you must pay for these costs yourself, keep all receipts, and when you are back file a reimbursement claim with the airline in question.

Reasonable

Duty of care provisions are always based on what is considered to be “reasonable”. If you are stranded in Berlin due to a cancellation, it will not be reasonable if you proceed to book a 500 euro suite at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin’s poshest hotel.

On the other hand, there is no need to be a cheapskate here either by booking yourself into a hostel or poorly rated motel. Booking a standard room at a nice four-star hotel is certainly considered to be “reasonable” and fully within the scope of EC/261.

The same counts for meals. It will not be a problem to ask the airline to reimburse a 25 EUR lunch with a drink, but asking them to pay for a 150 EUR splurge with caviar and champagne will certainly be too much!

If an airline offers a hotel to you, you must basically accept whatever they come up with as long as it is considered to be reasonable.

Sure, you might very well prefer to be staying the night in the city centre instead of that airport hotel which the airline has booked for you, but you can’t really refuse the airline’s offer, book another hotel all by yourself and then expect them to reimburse it!

standard room Hermitage
EC/261 also has a duty of care principle – which could mean that the airline might need to pay for your hotel in case your flight is cancelled. ©Paliparan

Flight is cancelled less than 2 weeks in advance

Now on to the other category of flight cancellations – those which are announced closer to the date of departure.

In case your flight is cancelled within two weeks of scheduled departure, you have all the aforementioned rights we explained in the text above. Besides, the airline has the same set of obligations which we outlined earlier.

However, there are some new rights and obligations which come into play now – as you may be able to claim compensation from the airline!

When can you claim cancellation compensation?

According to EC/261, you have the right to compensation in case of a cancelled flight if:

1) The airline informs you about the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure, and;

a) Does not offer an alternative flight, or;
b) You are rerouted on another flight, but the new flight departure is more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure of your original flight, or;
c) You are rerouted on another flight, but the new arrival time at your destination is more than four hours after you were supposed to arrive on your original flight.

2) The airline informs you about the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure, and;

a) Does not offer an alternative flight, or;
b) You are rerouted on another flight, but the new flight departure is more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure of your original flight, or;
c) You are rerouted on another flight, but the new arrival time at your destination is more than two hours after you were supposed to arrive on your original flight.

Some examples

This may all sound a bit complicated, but it is actually fairly easy. Let’s take the example of a Hamburg to Amsterdam flight, which is supposed to depart at 10am and will arrive in Amsterdam at 11am.

Unfortunately, our airline cancels the flights 10 days before departure, which means that we have to look at the provisions in category 1 above. If no flight alternative is offered, you have the right to compensation full stop.

If our airline would put us on another flight departure at 1pm, which arrives in Amsterdam at 2pm, we would not get compensation as it is within the four hour time limit. The same would count if you are re-routed on the 9am flight arriving at 10 in the morning in Amsterdam.

However, if the airline would only be able to put us on the 3pm flight with an arrival time at 4pm – it would mean we are entitled to compensation as we arrive more than four hours later after the scheduled arrival time of our original, cancelled flight.

As you can see, category 2 gives much less leeway for the airline. In this case, if you arrive later than two hours after your original arrival time you will already get compensation. The airline must also pay compensation if they rebook you on a flight which departs more than one hour earlier than you were originally supposed to depart.

hamburg germany cancelled flight compensation
Hamburg, Germany. ©Paliparan

Connecting flights

In case your cancelled flight is on a ticket which involves connecting flights, the situation might be a bit more complicated!

Let’s take the same example of a Hamburg to Amsterdam flight as we discussed above, but in this case it is part of a KLM return ticket Hamburg to Madrid which just happens to involve a change of flights in Amsterdam.

You were supposed to fly out of Hamburg at 10am, arriving in Amsterdam at 11am. Your connecting flight is only departing at 8pm, arriving in Madrid at 10.30pm. Again, the flight Hamburg to Amsterdam is cancelled and KLM informs us about this 10 days before departure.

In this case, your arrival time in Amsterdam is completely irrelevant. What matters is when the airline can get you to Madrid!

Let’s say that KLM offers an alternative flight with their partner Air France, departing Hamburg at 3pm, arriving in Paris at 4.30pm. Your connecting flight leaves Paris at 9pm and arrives in Madrid at 11pm.

In this case, KLM will have fulfilled all its obligations by offering a suitable re-routing. As your arrival time in Madrid is only 30 minutes after you were supposed to arrive there, you do not have the right to any compensation!

Sure, you have the right to reject this option and ask the airline for example to put you on the same set of KLM flights the following day – but in this case KLM will have fulfilled its obligations and you do not have the right to compensation.

Destination counts!

Remember, it is always the final destination of your ticket which counts – intermediate stops are irrelevant. Even if you purposely booked this KLM ticket planning to do a sightseeing tour of Amsterdam during your airport layover, you are out of luck as again this is completely irrelevant.

When it comes to passenger rights and compensation, the only thing that matters is your ticket. In fact, a plane ticket must be seen as a contract of carriage between you and the airline.

In this case, you booked a ticket from Hamburg to Madrid on KLM, a ticket of which the full fare rules are very likely to say that KLM has the right to re-route you on any of their partner airlines if needed.

How exactly the airline will fly you from Hamburg to Madrid does not really matter. If you wanted to visit Amsterdam, you should have booked a multi-city ticket instead on which Amsterdam is listed as your first destination (stop) and Madrid as your second.

klm business class review boeing 737 amsterdam arrival approach view window
View from the window of a KLM aeroplane. ©Paliparan

Extraordinary circumstances

Before we move on to the question how much compensation you are entitled to, we first have to address the issue of extraordinary circumstances which might force airlines to cancel their flights.

If there are such extraordinary circumstances, airlines are exempt from having to pay compensation, although the duty of care principle (accommodation, meals) will still apply if applicable.

Airlines do not have to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. The burden of proof always rests on the airline.

Examples of extraordinary circumstances

When it comes to extraordinary circumstances, you have to think about situations which the airline has absolutely no control over. Below, we have listed the most common extraordinary circumstances:

– Sudden adverse weather conditions (for example a hurricane or massive snowstorm)
– Security risks (bomb threats, terror scares, unruly passengers)
– Political instability (looming war in a country)
– Government measures (flight ban)

In all of these cases, you will not get any EC/261 compensation when your flight is cancelled, although it is important to remember that the airline may still have a duty of care obligation.

If you are stranded abroad because your flight is cancelled because of a volcano eruption, you will not get any compensation as this clearly is ‘force majeure’, but the airline will still have to put you in a hotel until you can finally fly back.

Shades of grey

It is however important to emphasise that some of these extraordinary circumstances may not be black and white cases.

There certainly are a number of potential reasons behind a cancellation which may (or may not!) constitute extraordinary circumstances depending on the exact situation. The devil can sometimes really be in the details!

Strikes

If a flight is cancelled by a strike, it is important who the striking party is. When air traffic control or airport staff (ground handling, baggage control, security staff, airport police) are on strike, then the airline is off the hook and does not need to pay EC/261 delay compensation as those are all clearly factors over which an airline does not have any influence.

However, if the airline’s own employees (cabin crew, pilots etc.) are on strike and this results in cancelled flights – this is considered to be within the full control of the airline as management could have prevented such an internal dispute.

The exception is a national strike in which airline personnel takes part, as the strike is then not limited to the airline and thus seen as an extraordinary circumstance. Also a spontaneous, ad-hoc strike which has not been communicated before is a bit more tricky as this could be considered as extraordinary circumstances too.

paris cdg cancelled flight compensation
If French air traffic control at Paris Charles de Gaulle goes on strike, that is certainly considered as extraordinary circumstances. ©Paliparan

Technical problems

Any technical issues which have to do with the plane or airline operations are normally not considered to be extraordinary circumstances.

For example, if a pre-flight check shows that a faulty part needs to be replaced on your plane and the flight ends up being cancelled, the airline will need to pay EC/261 compensation if they can’t re-route you fast enough.

On the other hand, technical problems due to sabotage or terrorism are definitely extraordinary circumstances. A bird strike (a bird ends up in an engine) and the plane cannot take off is also an extraordinary circumstance as the airline has no control over the behaviour of birds.

If an airline manufacturer (or aviation authorities) suddenly issues an order to ground all planes of a certain type for an urgent review after a previously unknown defect is discovered, this would also count as extraordinary circumstances.

However, that would only be the case on the day of such an order or the immediate moments after.

If it’s a full week after such an order has been given and the airline is still cancelling flights while citing this as a reason, it is fully in their control as they had plenty of time to make alternative arrangements for their passengers. In such a case, the reason behind the cancellation is more of a planning problem at the airline!

Generally, you can however say that cancellations due to mechanical problems are unlikely to constitute extraordinary circumstances.

Corona

The corona virus pandemic is a special situation which warrants inclusion here. There have been tons of flight cancellations in the last months due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, many of them due to government restrictions and flight bans.

However, also here there are many situations which are not black-and-white at all.

Let’s say that a country in the EU, for example Denmark, has banned entry to all non-Danish nationals and citizens and outlaws all non-essential travel.

Would it still be extraordinary circumstances if an airline decides to cancel all flights to Copenhagen because barely anyone is travelling on this route and it is just not profitable anymore to operate the flight? Even though they can technically operate the flight for the few essential travellers and Danes who are exempt from the new entry requirements?

It is quite tricky! The European Commission (EC) has issued a guideline on “EU passenger rights in the context of the developing situation with COVID-19”.

This guidance is however non-binding – it is just a document on how the EC interprets the situation. The bottom line is that corona is hugely complicating the situation of passenger rights, which even before COVID-19 was open to interpretation on many points!

If your flight is cancelled because of corona, do understand that the EC guideline gives the airlines more leeway to deviate from EC/261, but that citing “corona” is certainly not a magic spell by which they can escape all their obligations!

In case you have a major disagreement with the airline about what constitutes extraordinary circumstances in the age of corona and whether the airline has fulfilled its EC/261 obligations, you may very well have to go to court to seek a ruling as a lot of this is uncharted territory.

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Corona testing at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport ©Paliparan

Operational problems

There are quite some operational problems which could lead in flight cancellations. Many airlines will try to blame this on extraordinary circumstances, while in fact they can only blame themselves and are fully on the hook for EC/261 compensation.

A flight cancellation because the airline cannot find a last-minute replacement for a sick flight attendant? That’s a classical operational problem and you are eligible for EC/261 compensation, given that any airline should always have replacement staff on stand-by!

A flight is cancelled because the pilots have maxed out on their flying hours and must first legally rest a number of hours as required by law before they can operate another flight? Operation problems and eligible for EC/261 compensation.

Knock-on effects

Airlines use complicated schedules to operate their flights. A plane and flight crew might for example be scheduled to first operate an Athens – Frankfurt – Athens flight in the morning, followed by Athens – Rome – Athens in the afternoon.

Let’s say for example that due to heavy fog in the early morning, the Athens to Frankfurt flight is significantly delayed by a couple of hours and can only operate in the afternoon when the weather conditions have finally improved.

That however means that the same plane and crew cannot be scheduled to operate the Athens to Rome flight which is set to depart around the same time.

If the airline now has to cancel the Athens to Rome flight as no other plane is available, this is called a “knock-on effect”, a secondary, indirect, or cumulative effect which is not directly related to the original problem.

In this case, passengers on the Athens to Frankfurt flight can forget about EC/261 delay compensation because adverse weather certainly is considered to be extraordinary circumstances.

However, passengers on the cancelled Athens to Rome flight would be fully entitled to EC/261 compensation for their cancelled flight. The adverse weather conditions did only apply to the first Athens to Frankfurt flight – and not to whatever followed later in the day.

What we have here is again a classic example of operational problems. The airline could for example have used another plane and crew to operate the Athens to Rome flight. According to recent European court decisions, such knock-on effects therefore do not constitute extraordinary circumstances.

aegean airlines cancelled flight compensation
An Aegean Airlines Airbus A320 at Athens Airport. ©Paliparan

How much compensation will I get?

Now on to the juicy bit! How much compensation can you claim in case your flight is cancelled?

This would depend on the length of your flight. There are three categories of flights as specified by EC/261. These are:

a) Short haul: Flights of 1,500 kilometres or less. Compensation: 250 EUR.
b) Medium haul (mid-haul): Flights within the European Economic Area of more than 1,500 kilometres and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres. Compensation: 400 EUR.
c) Long haul: All other flights not falling under (a) and (b). Compensation: 600 EUR.

How to calculate the flight length

The distances are calculated as the crow flies, i.e. the most direct path between two points. You can use tools such as the calculator on Travelmath to check the distance between your starting point and destination. Remember that it’s about the distance between two airports and not between two city pairs!

Flying Stockholm to Vienna on a direct flight means the distance is 1,286 kilometres between Stockholm Arlanda and Vienna’s Schwechat Airport.

If you fly Stockholm to Vienna via Paris on Air France, the distance will however still be the same 1,286 km, even if you now of course fly more in real-time.

What matters is your starting airport and your destination airport. In case you have a connecting flight on one ticket, the intermediate point is again irrelevant. In both cases a cancelled flight would earn you 250 EUR in compensation.

Travel insurance

Never forget that you should have a good quality travel insurance when taking a flight. Incurred costs which might not be covered by the airline under the provisions of EC/261 may be fully covered by your travel insurance.

Do also note that EC/261 does only apply to delays, being denied boarding, cancellations and downgrade of travel class. Damaged or missing baggage is for example covered by the regulations of the Montreal Convention. Air disasters and personal injury are covered by the Warsaw Convention.

The EC/261 regulation is certainly not all-encompassing!

Multiple tickets

It is also important to realise that an airline is only liable for their flight only, and not for anything you booked separately before or after.

Let’s say you have booked a KLM ticket from Amsterdam to Zurich in the morning and a separate Swiss ticket Zurich to New York in the afternoon.

If your KLM flight to Zurich is cancelled and you are forced to take a later flight, thus missing the New York flight, then KLM is under no obligation to help you out with that.

Your contract of carriage with KLM was solely to transport you from Amsterdam to Zurich. What you planned afterwards in Zurich, whether it is a hotel booking, train journey or another flight – is not their business and responsibility.

Again, a good travel insurance may help you out here if you incur extra costs, but do not expect KLM to pay for or help you with re-scheduling your missed Zurich to New York flight on Swiss!

swiss cheap tickets flights
Swiss aeroplanes at Zurich Airport. ©Paliparan

What if I never received a cancellation message?

There is one interesting point left which we still have to discuss. There are situations where a flight has long been cancelled, but passengers somehow never found out as they weren’t contacted by the airline.

Indeed, some passengers might end up going to the airport to find out to their shock that the flight is listed as cancelled and this was well-known in advance!

The burden of proof concerning the questions as to whether and when the passenger has been informed of the cancellation of the flight always rests with the operating airline.

However, it can happen that an airline duly noted a passenger about the cancellation by email a full month in advance, but this email somehow ended up in the spam box and thus was never read.

Of course, the airline is not to blame for this. By sending out a single email, the airline fulfilled its obligations. Nothing in EC/261 specifies how the airline must contact passengers or how often they should do so.

Booking through third party websites

It gets more interesting if a passenger might have booked his ticket through a third party website. Some of these third party websites (screenscrapers) are infamous for withholding passenger contacts to the airline.

Even if you book a ticket on such a website and fill in your telephone number and email address, it can happen that the booking website does not send these bits of information to the airline, but instead uses their own contact details as full intermediary.

In such a case, the airline has fulfilled its obligations if it notifies such a booking website about the flight cancellation. It is then up to the booking website to inform the passenger in question.

Reputable online travel agencies (OTAs) and booking websites will certainly do so immediately, but unfortunately there are some screenscrapers which are rather infamous for their atrocious communication.

Worse of all, chances are that an airline is unable to deal with you directly if you want to re-route your flight in case of a cancellation, as they have to go through the third party booking website as intermediary since the ticket was issued by them, and not by the airline.

When things go wrong and flights are delayed or cancelled, you will certainly find that everything is a lot easier to deal with if you have booked directly with the airline – something which we always recommend.

Although there is certainly something to be said for booking through a third party website (it can be cheaper, they might offer some flight options or more complicated itineraries which are not available directly with the airline) – you are well advised to only use reputable online travel agencies.

Battling the airline

Some airlines are fortunately very forthcoming when it comes to their obligations under EC/261, while others might be willing but are unable to be of much help due to logistical issues.

Then there are airlines which will flat out deny they have any obligation and try to do every trick in the book to prevent having to pay out compensation.

Whatever the case is, be sure to prepare for any eventualities that may happen when you fly to or from Europe. Make sure that you are aware of your rights as an airline passenger and know the obligations airlines have under EC/261. Some airlines play by the book and are very helpful by proactively providing care and paying compensation without a fuzz.

Unfortunately there are airlines which will do everything to get out of their EC/261 obligations, which could result in a prolonged fight to claim your compensation and/or reimbursement of incurred costs.

If that is the case, do read the 7th chapter listed in the index below as it details the steps you should take to get your compensation!

EU Flight Compensation Guide Chapters

1. EU Flight Compensation Guide: All You Need to Know About EC/261
2. Guide: EU Rights and Compensation When Your Flight is Cancelled (current chapter)
3. Guide: EU Passenger Rights and Flight Delay Compensation
4. Guide: EU Rights and Compensation When Your Flight is Rescheduled
5. Guide: EU Rights and Compensation When You Are Denied Boarding
6. Guide: EU Rights and Compensation When You Are Downgraded
7. DIY Guide How To Get Airline Compensation Without Involving a Claim Bureau

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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