Whenever a flight cancellation occurs the consequences can often be unpleasant. It is important to know what the passengers’ rights are and what to do. The European Community Regulation (EC) 261/2004 includes all the rights that the passenger has when situations such as flight cancellations and overbooking occur. First of all, when airlines cancel a flight, they are obliged to provide information on the steps passengers must follow in order to be compensated. Passengers are entitled to financial compensation for flight cancellation except if:
- The cancellation occurs due to extraordinary circumstances.
- They are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled departure time.
- They are informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days prior to the scheduled departure time and are offered alternative transportation that allows them to depart no more than two hours prior to the scheduled departure time and to arrive at their final destination less than four hours after the scheduled arrival time.
- They are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled departure time and are offered to take another flight that allows them to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled departure time and to arrive at their final destination less than two hours after the scheduled arrival time.
This compensation can be made in cash, check, transfer or travel vouchers of the company itself and the amount will depend on the distance of the flight and if it offers an alternative transport with a delay of less than three hours. In this case the compensation is reduced. Compensations vary depending on the distance of the journey and the destination:
- For flights up to 1,500 km: A compensation of 250 euros.
- For flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km: A compensation of 400 euros.
- Intra-Community flights over 1,500 km: A compensation of 400 euros.
- Flights over 3,500 km: A compensation of 600 euros.
- When a flight is cancelled, the consumer is entitled to reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket or alternative transport. In the case of reimbursement, this has to be made within seven days and if due to the wait the trip no longer makes sense, you must reimburse the rest of the trip and the return ticket. The alternative transportation must reach the final destination as quickly as possible, which usually means relocation on another flight, even if it is not of the same airline.
In addition, airlines are obliged to assist the traveler by providing food and drink while waiting for re-routing. They must also provide two free calls and free accommodation if necessary. According to Regulation (EC) 261/2004, the following may be considered extraordinary circumstances: cases of political instability, weather conditions incompatible with the performance of the flight, safety risks, unexpected flight safety deficiencies and strikes affecting the airline’s operations.
It is also considered as extraordinary circumstances when the repercussions of an air traffic management decision (in relation to a given aircraft and on a given date) result in a long delay, an overnight delay or the cancellation of one or more flights of the aircraft, even though the air carrier has made every effort to avoid such delays or cancellations.
It must be taken into account that the regulation (EC) 261/2004 is an obligation for airlines operating from airports on European soil and other companies, such as American companies are governed by other regulations which, although similar, there are some differences, so it is advisable to read the particular policies of each company that can be found on their websites, where they inform about their responsibilities with passengers affected by cancellations.
If the trip has been contracted through a travel agency, both traditional and digital, they are not considered responsible for possible breaches of services of the airlines, as they are taken as mediators obliged to provide information and manage the purchase of tickets. However, if it is a combined trip with several services, they may have the same responsibility as the travel organizer. Therefore, it is very important to know the degree of involvement of the agent in the contract in case of possible claims.
If due to a flight cancellation the connection with another flight booked within a tour package is missed, the travel agent must arrange and bear the cost of new tickets to reach the destination, as well as other living expenses.
An analysis by travel search firm Next Vacay, which were published by Travel + Leisure, shows that major U.S. carriers such as American Airlines, Delta and Southwest meet customer demands for flexibility. The study looked at airline change fees, refund options, flight cancellation policies and travel insurance options for 10 US-based airlines to see how their current standards stack up, awarding a higher score to those that were most accommodating to passengers.
The study found American Airlines to be one of the most flexible, as it has no change fees on all domestic and short-haul flights and on some long-haul international flights, and offers the option of a refundable ticket. Next Vacay cautioned that basic economy class tickets remain non-refundable and non-exchangeable.
As for airlines in Europe, Euronews reported that British Airways has a ‘book with confidence’ policy which gives travelers the possibility to rebook, cancel or request a voucher right up until the flight check-in closes for no extra charge. The policy applies to flights until 30 September 2022. Virgin Atlantic offers the same possibility for tickets booked after 16 February for travel before 31 August. The name on the ticket may be changed one time. Rebooked flights have to be completed by 31 December 2023. Some of the least flexible airlines, according to Euronews, are TUI Airways, Easyjet, Jet2, and Ryanair.