Bluh, that’s annoying: your flight has been canceled! That will result into a lot of hassle – and that while you just wanted to relax with your booty! Fortunately, when this happens you also have a couple of rights. Rights that I’ll explain here, with references to the legal sources. Not only because the lawyer in me cannot resist, but also because with those references in hand, you might be able to get your claim (e.g. to get your money back) approved just a bit faster. So… show the airlines that you know what you’re talking about – or at least pretend to #fakeituntilyoumakeit.
Alright, crash course of (European) law. And as I am Dutch, we’ll start with the Dutch perspective. We as the Netherlands are an (albeit small) country. As a country we once said: “hey, we want to do nice things together with our neighboring countries and mean important things to the world”. And so we formed a union with these beautiful neighbors: the European Union, which has become its own kind of authority. And that authority can create rights and obligations on its own, that apply to all member states, such as regulations. A regulation is a binding legislative act that must be applied in its entirety across the EU. And it so happens that there is a regulation regarding compensation for delayed and canceled flights. (link:
Great. Rules. These should be clear, but sometimes it turns out that a situation is not foreseen or that a rule is not entirely clear. Not the worst thing in the world, because the European Court of Justice – you know, the highest judicial body of the European Union – ensures that European law is properly interpreted and applied. And so they also clarified the rules regarding compensation for delayed and canceled flights. Very convenient for us.
FLIGHT CANCELED: THESE ARE YOUR RIGHTS
Great, there you are, suffering the consequences (or as we literally translated from Dutch say: with the baked pears – say what?!) and without a flight, because it has been canceled. What now? You are in any case entitled to reimbursement or another flight, care and compensation.
1. REIMBURSEMENT OR ANOTHER FLIGHT
Fortunately, you can choose! It is up to you as a traveler to decide whether you want the airline to reimburse you for your ticket or if you prefer to take another flight. Articles 5 and 8 of the regulation award you these rights.
If you choose to have your ticket refunded, the airline must transfer the full amount of your ticket to you within seven days. Have you already made part of the journey – for example, you had a ticket to travel from Amsterdam to Bangkok with a layover in Dubai, but from Dubai your flight is canceled while you are already there – then you will get the money for the unmade part of your journey back (e.g. Dubai – Bangkok). You will also get reimbursed for the part of your journey that you did already made (e.g. Amsterdam – Dubai) if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to your original travel plan. Of course in the aforementioned cases of a layover you will also get a return flight to where you departed from (e.g. Amsterdam) at the earliest opportunity.
Of course, reimbursement of your ticket sounds nice (money, money, money), but chances are you have already made plans in connection with your trip: think of already cashed in vacation days or hostel bookings that you already made. You still want to get to your destination as quickly as possible to start your awesome trip. And you are entitled to do that.
You may either fly to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or at a later date at your convenience, subject to availability of seats. If your new flight departs from another airport (for instance New York has multiple airports), then the airline operating your original flight has to bear the cost of transferring you from the one airport to the other. Oh, and traveling with this new flight is under comparable transport conditions. So are you a fancy pants who has a ticket for First Class, but now has to go with Economy like us of the rabble? That is not how it is supposed to be and in that case you are also entitled to a cash out. The amount will be between 30% and 70% of the price of the ticket, depending on the distance you flew. Article 10 of the regulation is your boss baby in that case.
|Reimbursement for downgrading|
|Flights of||% of the (return) ticket price|
|< 1500 km||30 %|
|> 1500 km within the EU |
1500 km – 3500 km from or to the EU
|> 3500 km from or to the EU||75 %|
Are you the (semi) lucky basterd who, due to re-routing, ends up in a higher class? Pop that champagne and enjoy, because the airline cannot ask you for an extra charge for the flight – but they can for the champagne.
2. RIGHT TO CARE
Cancellations (almost) always ensure longer waiting times. And that makes us hungry. And thirsty. In that case articles 5 and 9 of the regulation are your heroes, because they give us the right to meals and refreshments. Of course in relation to the waiting time – so binge eating will probably not be sponsored. And you can also make two free phone calls, send e-mails or – here it comes – fax messages. I would specifically be super excited to try out the latter.
Do you have to take another flight due to the cancellation, but that flight only leaves the next day? Then you are also entitled to a free hotel stay and transportation between the airport and that accommodation.
3. RIGHT TO COMPENSATION
Whoohooo, finally the inner Scrooge McDuck comes looking around the corner: the right to money. It’s a thing we Dutch especially appreciate. And who can blame us. If the airline cancels your flight and you opt for re-routing, this will quickly result in a delay. Articles 5 and 7 give you the right to catch pennies for this delay, depending on how much of a delay you incur and which distance your flight has to cover. Note: if your flight is only delayed and therefore not canceled, then the rules are slightly different. I’ll tell you more about this soon.
|Compensation for delays incurred because of a canceled flight|
|Distance of the flight||Delay at arrival||Compensation|
|1500 km or less||< 2 uur||€ 125|
|1500 km or less||> 2 uur||€ 250|
|Within the EU more than 1500 km |
Other flights between 1500 – 3500 km
|< 3 uur||€ 200|
|Within the EU more than 1500 km |
Other flights between 1500 – 3500 km
|> 3 uur||€ 400|
|More than 3500 km||< 4 uur||€ 300|
|More than 3500 km||> 4 uur||€ 600|
Be aware! Whether you are entitled to the aforementioned compensation depends on to which extent you heard about the cancellation in advance. You are not entitled to this in the following cases:
- Announcement cancellation <2 weeks:
Does the airline inform you about the cancellation of your flight at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure? Then unfortunately you are not entitled to a compensation for the delay.
- Announcement cancellation 7 – 14 days:
Very long sentence, but here it goes. You are not entitled to compensation if you are informed about the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled departure time and you are offered re-routing for which your new flight departs no earlier than two hours before the original departure time and you arrive at your final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival. Pfew, let’s catch our breaths and give an example: so for instance you are not entitled to compensation if your original flight was supposed to leave at 10 AM and your new flight departs that same day around 8 AM and your original flight would arrive at your destination at 6 PM local time and your new flight will arrive before 10 PM local time. Do you still get it?
- Announcement cancellation 7 – 0 days:
If the airline informs you about the cancellation less than seven days before your scheduled time of departure, then you are not entitled to compensation if the airline arranges a new flight for you that departs on the same day as planned and that departs no more than one hour before the original departure time, and reaches your final destination less than two hours later than your original flight would have.
PRACTICAL INFO: ACTUALLY GETTING YOUR MONEY (BACK)
That’s nice. You are entitled to a refund for your ticket or a compensation for the delay you have incurred because of the cancellation. But how do you ensure that you actually receive that money? Unfortunately, there is a difference between being having the right to something, and actually getting that right.
1. ARRANGE IT YOURSELF
The best thing you can do is to submit a claim yourself to the relevant airline. Usually you can do this directly via the website of the airline. If you have to write a letter, take a look at one of the many sample letters that can be found online.
According to the European regulation, you are entitled to get your money back within seven days after your flight is canceled. Unfortunately, it happens way too often that airlines simply refuse to give you compensation or ignore your claim all together. Reasons given for refusal are for example: technical malfunctions, staff that has gone on strike, sick crew members or operational problems. Good to know: the European Court of Justice has ruled that none of these cases are grounds for refusing compensations. So don’t you dare give up without a fight.
2. SEEK HELP FROM THE DESIGNATED BODY (TIP!)
So what if you’re not making any way with the airline? The airline won’t respond, but you know you are right. According to article 16 of the regulation every EU country has to designate a body that is responsible for the enforcement of the regulation. You can contact that authority to assist you.
In the Netherlands it is the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport (ILT) that ensures that airlines adhere to the European rules regarding passenger rights. They are a part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Waterstaat) and here you can file an official complaint if you feel that your rights as a passenger have been violated. Handy, because it costs you nothing and you can file a complaint up to one year after your original flight would have taken place. Contacting the airline first is mandatory, but if that does not work, you can file a complaint at the IPL by handing in the complaint form (Klacht Passagiersrechten luchtvaart).
3. FLIGHT CLAIM AGENCIES
Do you not feel like chasing your money in the first place or do you want to file a lawsuit against the airline? Chances are you do not have the legal knowledge or money to do so. Most people don’t. There are agencies that can help you further.
Mind you, flight claim agencies – is this even the proper English word? – cost money. They usually work on a no cure, no pay basis, which means that it only costs you money when they actually get your money back from the airline. About 20% to 30% of this amount goes to the agency. There are a few agencies that ask you for extra money when they file a lawsuit, but most include this amount in the percentage they will get when filing a successful claim. Always look closely at the terms before handing your claim over to an agency! In the Netherlands the Consumers Association (de Consumentenbond) compared 15 Dutch flight claim agencies for you and has a schedule that clearly shows the differences.
Did an airline ever cancel your flight? Did you receive any kind of compensation and what are your experiences with the process?