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Flight Cancellation Compensation in USA & EU

Air travel can occasionally encounter turbulence, and unforeseen flight cancellations can disrupt your plans. However, it's essential to be aware that you may be entitled to receive substantial compensation, potentially up to $650, for flight cancellations in accordance with EU regulations. This compensation applies even when the airline has made arrangements for an alternative flight. In this article, we'll delve into the intricacies of cancelled flight compensation, helping you understand your rights and the steps you can take to claim your well-deserved reimbursement. Discover everything you need to know about securing your flight cancellation compensation.


What are the rules on compensation for cancelled flights?

When it comes to air travel to and from Europe, passengers are entitled to specific rights, especially in cases of flight cancellations. These rights encompass opportunities for travellers to seek compensation under various regulations, with EC 261 being the most prominent among them. In the unfortunate event of a flight cancellation that leaves you stranded, there's a chance you could file a claim and receive a substantial payout, potentially reaching up to $650, in EU flight cancellation compensation.

However, understanding your eligibility can be a somewhat intricate process, as certain conditions must align. To provide clarity and help you determine if you qualify for this valuable cancelled flight compensation, let's delve into the key factors at play:

  • Your flight was going to take off in the EU (flights to the EU also qualify in some cases).

  • The airline notified you of the cancellation less than 14 days before the flight was due to depart.

  • If you took a replacement flight, your new arrival time was significantly different to your original flight (exact times below).

  • The cancellation occurred within the last three years.

  • You had a confirmed flight reservation - shown by a booking confirmation complete with information like the flight number and name of passengers.

  • The reason for the cancellation was within the airline's control (e.g. operational circumstances, technical difficulties, or airline staff strikes).


Canceled Flight? You may be entitled to as much as $650 in canceled flight compensation (EU)

Canceled Flight Compensation: Definition of flight cancellation

A flight is officially considered canceled by an airline when it never takes off from the tarmac. According to the EC 261 regulation, a canceled flight is defined as follows: "The non-operation of a flight which was previously planned and on which at least one seat was reserved."

There are various reasons why an airline might choose to cancel a flight. Factors such as adverse weather conditions or security concerns can sometimes have a cascading effect, prompting an airline to cancel a flight for passenger safety.

However, the silver lining in such situations is that when an airline cancels your flight, you may be entitled to receive flight cancellation compensation for the inconvenience caused.

Under EU regulation EC 261, passengers have the right to claim compensation from airlines for cancelled flights, which can amount to as much as $650 per flight cancellation, provided specific criteria are met. In the following sections, we will delve into the details of how much flight cancellation compensation you might be eligible for based on your circumstances.

It's important to note that a flight that experiences a significant delay, often referred to as a delayed flight, is distinct from a canceled flight. However, even in the case of a delayed flight that results in an arrival delay of over three hours at your destination, you may still be eligible for flight delay compensation.

On average, 6.4 million people worldwide are eligible for compensation under European Regulation (EC 261) air passenger rights laws


Canceled Flight Compensation: What Are You Entitled To If Your Flight Is Canceled?

Certainly, we're here to provide you with essential information on flight cancellation compensation. The fundamental principle to remember is that when your flight is canceled, the airline is obligated to offer you a choice between two options: either they can provide you with an alternative flight or offer a refund.

Moreover, there's another critical aspect to consider. If your flight gets canceled within 14 days of its originally scheduled departure, you may have an additional entitlement – compensation for the canceled flight. We'll provide a detailed breakdown of all these entitlements in the sections below, ensuring you have a comprehensive understanding of your rights in case of flight cancellations.

Flight Canceled: Compensation, Flight Refund, or Re-routing

When it comes to flight cancellations, EC 261 makes it clear that the airline must offer the passenger the following three choices:

  • A full or partial refund of your original ticket - and a return flight to your original point of departure if needed.

  • The earliest possible alternative transport to your final destination.

  • A new ticket to your final destination at a later date of your choosing, subject to availability.

Let’s break down what your choices are here.

Refund:

This is a simple choice if you are yet to take any portion of your flight. You will be refunded the full cost of your ticket.

However if you have already departed it’s a little more complex. You can get a refund for the unused portion of your ticket.

If you have used part of your ticket, but because of the canceled flight it’s no longer serving your original travel plan, you can get a refund for that used portion of the ticket too.

Whenever relevant, the airline must also provide you with a return flight to the first point of departure, and at the earliest opportunity.

Either way, EC 261 says you must be reimbursed within 7 days.

Earliest possible alternative:

Under this choice, your airline must provide you with a new means of getting to your final destination as soon as they can. EC 261 specifies it must be under comparable transport conditions too.

Alternative on a convenient date for you:

If you would prefer, you can opt to take the alternative transport to your final destination on a different date – subject to seats being available of course. Again EC 261 specifies the alternative transport must be under comparable conditions.

A note about your final destination: Although airlines may offer to fly you to alternative airports to the one you originally booked, they must pay to transfer you to the original airport. Or to a nearby address if you agree that with them.

How Much EU Flight Compensation Should You Get?

When the airline informs you of a flight cancellation with less than 14 days' notice before your scheduled departure, it's crucial to be aware that you may be eligible for flight cancellation compensation. EC 261 outlines specific compensation amounts for cancelled flights, which can reach as high as $650 (€600) per passenger.

However, the precise compensation figure is contingent on several factors, including:

Travel Distance: The distance of your intended journey.

Flight Location: Whether your flight falls within the European Union or not.

Length of Delay: This is determined by how much later the alternate flight would arrive at your final destination.

We understand that these variables can be a bit complex to navigate, which is why we've prepared a comprehensive chart that provides a clear breakdown of compensation amounts for flight disruptions in euros (€) for your reference. This chart simplifies the process and ensures you have a better understanding of the potential compensation for flight delays you may be entitled to.

Compensation based on the length of delay (alternate flight vs. original flight):

Under 2 hours2 - 3 hours3 – 4 hoursOver 4 hoursNever arrivedDistance
€125€250€250€250€250All flights 1,500 km or less
€200€200€400€400€400Internal EU flights over 1,500 km
€200€200€400€400€400Non-internal EU flights 1,500 km - 3,500 km
€300€300€300€600€600Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km

You can see that the compensation amount is sometimes half, depending on the amount of time you would be delayed in arriving at your final destination (compared to your originally booked flight).

Under EC 261, all canceled flights qualify for compensation when the airline has given you less than 14 days’ notice, with one exception.

If the airline offers to re-route you, it can avoid paying cancellation compensation if the following criteria are met:

Advance NoticeRe-routing Requirements
14 DaysNone
7 – 13 DaysAlternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before and arriving less than 4 hours after the original flight
Less than 7 DaysAlternative flight departing no more than 1 hours before and arriving less than 2 hours after the original flight

Flight Cancellation Compensation: Other Entitlements Under EC 261

Right to Care

When you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track, you’re entitled to necessary assistance from the airline, depending on your situation.

For example, if your flight cancellation leaves you stuck waiting at an airport, the carrier must provide you with meals and refreshments during the delay. They must also offer you access to communications, including two telephone calls, telefax or fax messages, and emails.

If you need overnight accommodation, they must provide you with a hotel room and transport to and from the airport.

Upgrading and downgrading

If you’re offered an alternative flight and are lucky enough to be placed in a higher class than the one you booked, the carrier cannot charge you any additional payment.

On the other hand, if the class of the alternative flight is lower, you can get a reimbursement of between 30-75% of the price you originally paid.

Obligation to inform passengers about flight cancellation compensation

You have the right be informed about the content of EC 261. Every airline has to display information on passengers’ rights at their check-in counters at every airport in which they operate.

Further compensation

Your right to compensation under EC 261 does not affect your right to request further compensation. Although this rule does not apply in cases where passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservations. Note if you do claim further compensation the amount you are entitled to under EC 261 may be deducted from whatever additional compensation you receive.

If you’d like to know more about your rights, we have further explanations on our Air Passenger Rights page, or you can read the text of EC 261 here.


Are You Entitled to Compensation for a Cancelled Flight?

Where EC 261 Applies

EC 261's regulations extend their protective umbrella over flight routes and airlines, without regard to the passengers' country of origin. This means that U.S. citizens, for example, enjoy the same entitlements to flight cancellation compensation as their European counterparts.

It's worth noting that most flight routes originating from European airports fall under the purview of these regulations. Additionally, the scope of Europe extends further than one might initially assume. The regulations encompass what are known as "outermost regions," which include the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores, French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Réunion, as well as Saint-Martin. Furthermore, the regulations encompass European nations that are part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

Even if your flight was initially scheduled to depart from a location outside of Europe, as long as your final destination was within Europe and you were flying with a European carrier, you remain eligible for these protections. To simplify this complex web of coverage, we have prepared a helpful chart for your reference, making it easier to discern whether your specific situation qualifies for flight cancellation compensation.

ItineraryEU Air CarrierNon-EU Air Carrier
From inside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From inside the EU to outside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From outside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered❌ Not Covered
From outside the EU to outside the EU❌ Not Covered❌ Not Covered

Extraordinary Circumstances Are Not Covered

One way airlines avoid paying flight cancellation compensation is if they can show the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances.” That means that the reason behind the cancellation was something outside of their control. Airlines argue in these circumstances they could not have avoided cancelling the flight, even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Typically situations like lightning strikes, medical emergencies, serious adverse weather conditions, acts of sabotage or terrorism all fall under this exclusion.

There is some debate over what should be considered as “extraordinary circumstances”. Often airlines give reasons like “technical difficulties” or “operational circumstances” as the cause of a cancellation. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has repeatedly stated that those don’t qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” In April 2018 the European Court of Justice also rules that strikes by flight staff are not “extraordinary circumstances” meaning that passengers should receive compensation for flight cancellations resulting from airline staff strikes.

Connecting Flights and Cancellation Compensation

Determining what you're entitled to when a connecting flight faces cancellation is a nuanced matter, with no one-size-fits-all response. The extent of your entitlement hinges on a myriad of factors, encompassing your departure and destination, the airline you're flying with, which specific flight within your itinerary was canceled, and whether all segments of your journey were booked under a single reservation.

In broad strokes, if all the flights in your itinerary were purchased as a unified booking, then the regulations outlined in EC 261 will generally come into play.

For instance, if your entire journey, which includes a connecting flight, initiated in Europe or was slated to land in Europe while being operated by an EU carrier, the comprehensive protection of these regulations should extend across your entire itinerary. Consequently, the amount of flight cancellation compensation you may be entitled to would be calculated based on the entirety of your journey.

It's important to note that interpretations of these regulations can vary among EU courts, and some may not include prior connecting flights when calculating the eligible distance.

For more in-depth information regarding how EC 261 applies to connecting flights, we recommend visiting our dedicated page on missed connection compensation. However, the quickest method to ascertain your eligibility is by entering your flight details in the provided box below. This will provide you with a swift and precise assessment of your entitlements in the event of a canceled connecting flight.

If your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $650 in compensation.


How to File a Claim for Flight Cancellation Compensation

What To Do If Your Flight Is Canceled

If you’re traveling to or from the European Union, here’s what to do when your flight is unexpectedly scrubbed:

  • Collect proof that your flight was canceled, e.g. boarding pass, vouchers and any other travel documents.

  • Get the airline to provide written confirmation of the cancellation and reasons behind it.

  • Request an alternate flight to your destination - or a refund.

  • Make a note of the arrival time at your destination.

  • Ask the airline to pay for your meals and refreshments.

  • Don’t sign anything or accept any offers that may waive your rights.

  • Get the airline to provide you with a hotel room, if needed.

  • Keep your receipts if your canceled flight ends up costing you extra money.

How AirHelp Can Help You Claim

If you’re going to file a compensation claim under EC 261, you can expect some pushback from the airline. Just because the law is on your side doesn’t mean they are going to be enthusiastic – or swift – about paying you.

That’s where AirHelp can come in. We can handle all the negotiations with the airline on your behalf.

  • AirHelp is the leading flight compensation company in the world, helping passengers understand their rights and get compensation for delayed or canceled flights, and in instances of denied boarding.

  • AirHelp is the best-rated flight compensation company in the world with a 9.2 score on Trustpilot.

  • We have already helped more than 16 million passengers.

  • You can avoid the burden of time and navigating the complex legal system.

  • Airlines may deny your initial claim or ignore your claim request entirely, our team tackle bureaucratic hurdles to get you the money you deserve.

AirHelp will get no fee unless you get compensated. For the processing of claims, we used fixed fees that depend on the type of claim. The fixed fee frequently corresponds to around 35% of the potential compensation. For more information on our fee structure, check our price list.

If you would prefer to claim your flight cancellation compensation yourself, please still make use of our tools. Our leading edge claim eligibility check and air passenger rights education services will tell you what you are entitled to. All are completely free.

If your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $650 in compensation.


Common questions about flight cancellation compensation

Am I entitled to compensation for a canceled flight?

Yes, you can get compensation for a canceled flight depending on the laws of where you are flying. Canceled flights often qualify for compensation under EC 261 in Europe and ANAC 400 in Brazil. For flights within the US, however, there is no law that requires airlines to pay their passengers compensation for canceled flights, which means it is entirely up to the airlines to compensate you how they see fit.

If in doubt, you can always use our Compensation Check tool to see if your particular flight is eligible for compensation.

Can I claim compensation if my flight was canceled due to weather?

In some regions, such as the EU, you can claim compensation for canceled flights, but it gets complicated in the case of bad weather.

In a nutshell, most flight cancellations caused by bad weather are considered to be extraordinary circumstances. This means that something outside the airline’s control (in this case, the weather) caused the cancellation, so the airline shouldn’t be held accountable for it — especially if the cancellation is to protect the safety of the passengers and crew.

However, if bad weather conditions were expected and other airlines made plans that allowed them to take off in due time but your airline didn’t, you could be owed compensation.

Can you get money back when you cancel a flight?

If the airline cancels your flight — regardless of whether they are at fault for the cancellation or not — you are entitled to a refund or an alternative flight to your intended destination.

However if you decide not to fly, and you cancel your ticket that is a different situation. In this case, whether you get money back depends on the terms of your ticket. You should check with the airline whether you can get a full refund or not.

How long after a canceled flight can I claim compensation?

The time you have to claim for a flight compensation depends on the country where you are making your claim. As a guide, we say most passengers have up to 3 years from the date their flight cancellation to claim compensation. However, some countries give you as little as 2 months to claim, while others give you up to 10 years. To be on the safe side, always claim as soon as you can so that you don’t miss out on the compensation legally owed to you.

How much compensation can I claim for a canceled flight?

It depends on several factors. For example, the country where your flight departed from can affect how much compensation for a canceled flight you can expect to get. In the EU, under flight Regulation EC 261, you may get as much as $650, while in Brazil you can get up to $1,300. The distance of your flight, the length of the delay, and whether or not you’ve been informed of the cancellation more than 14 days before the date of your scheduled departure can all affect what compensation for canceled flight you can get. You can check exactly how much you’re owed with our easy Compensation Check tool.

How to claim compensation for canceled flight?

You have to be proactive and submit a claim. If you’re eligible, and ask yourself, “how do I get compensation for a canceled flight?” there are several options available to you:

  • Use a claim specialist like AirHelp, who can handle all the paperwork and negotiate with the airline on your behalf. A claim specialist usually charges you a service fee only after successfully receiving your compensation.

  • Contact a lawyer to do it for you. However, this option may have high upfront costs.

  • Contact the airline directly and try and negotiate the process yourself.

My flight was canceled and the airline offered me a new ticket. Can I refuse the ticket?

Yes. If your flight was canceled, airlines will offer a new ticket with a replacement flight. You have the choice to either accept the new flight, or to refuse and get a refund instead. In some cases, if your flight is eligible, you may also be able to get compensation.

What do I do if the airline cancels my flight and does not reply to me, or only offers me a voucher?

If your flight was canceled, you have the right to receive a refund. Vouchers may be offered as an alternative to a refund, but the airline must have your full consent to do so — so don’t accept a voucher without first reading the fine print. If they outright ignore your messages, keep trying as it may be taking them a while to process all requests.

You can also start a claim with AirHelp if you think you are owed compensation. We’ll check if your flight is eligible for free.

If my flight is canceled before take off, am I entitled to flight cancellation compensation or a flight cancellation refund?

There is a distinction between a flight cancellation refund and flight cancellation compensation. Whereas a flight cancellation refund is about returning the money a passenger spent on a flight ticket, flight cancellation compensation is focused on awarding passengers money for the loss and suffering endured from a flight mishap.

You are eligible to a full refund of your ticket if the airline canceled your flight. The USA doesn't have strong laws about flight compensation, but if you were flying internationally you may be able to claim compensation under other regions' air passenger rights.

Can I get compensation for a canceled flight in the US?

Unfortunately, unlike Brazil and the EU, the US doesn’t have laws requiring canceled domestic flights to pay compensation to their passengers. It is completely up to the airline to choose whether to compensate their customers or not.

Can I still get compensation for UK flights after Brexit?

The UK adopted a similar law to EU regulation EC 261, which means that passenger rights are still largely the same. Passengers departing from the UK, or arriving in the UK on a UK airline can claim up to £520 (approx $650) compensation for eligible flight cancellations under "UK261".

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