Coronavirus Flight Cancellations

Mar 20, 2020

Updated on March 25, 2020 at 11:03 am

COVID-19: European Commission Guidelines on EU passenger rights

In efforts to mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has published guidelines to ensure EU passenger rights are applied in a coherent manner across the EU.

The European Union (EU) is the only area in the world where citizens are protected by a full set of passenger rights, whether they travel by air, rail, bus and coach or ship.

But the guidelines remind that the EU’s passenger rights regulations do not address situations where passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip on their own initiative.

Whether or not a passenger is reimbursed in such cases depends on the type of ticket (reimbursable, possibility to rebook) as specified in the carrier’s terms & conditions.

You can find below a summary of some basic topics about air passenger rights according to Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 addressed by the Guidelines:

Right to reimbursement or re-routing

In the case of flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), the airline has to offer you the choice among:

a. reimbursement (refund) or

If you booked the outbound flight and the return flight separately and the outbound flight is cancelled, you should only be entitled to reimbursement of the cancelled flight, i.e. here the outbound flight.

However, if the outbound flight and the return flight are part of the same booking, even if operated by different air carriers, you should be offered two options if the outbound flight is cancelled:

  • to be reimbursed for the whole ticket (i.e. both flights) or
  • to be re-routed on another flight for the outbound flight.

b) re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or

Due to COVID-19 outbreak carriers may find it impossible to re-route the passenger to the intended destination within a short period of time.

Depending on the case, the “earliest opportunity” for re-routing may be considerably delayed and/or subject to considerable uncertainty.

Reimbursement of the ticket price or a rerouting at a later stage “at the passenger’s convenience” might, therefore, be preferable for the passenger.

c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience

Right to care

According to Article 9 of the Regulation, passengers who are affected by a flight cancellation must also be offered care by the operating air carrier, free of charge.

This consists of meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time; hotel accommodation if necessary, and transport to the place of accommodation.

Nevertheless, when the passenger opts for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, the right to care ends.

The same happens when the passenger chooses re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience.

The right to care subsists only as long as passengers have to wait for a rerouting at the earliest convenience.

The price paid for the ticket or the length of the inconvenience suffered should not interfere with the right to care.

According to the Regulation, the air carrier is obliged to fulfil the obligation of care even when the cancellation of a flight is caused by extraordinary circumstances.

Right to compensation

Regulation 261/2004 also provides for fixed sum compensations in some circumstances. This does not apply to cancellations made more than 14 days in advance or where the cancellation is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

The Commission considers that, where public authorities take measures intended to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, such measures are by their nature and origin not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of carriers and are outside their actual control.

For example, where public authorities either outright prohibit certain flights or ban the movement of persons in a manner that excludes, de facto, the flight in question to be operated, or where the flight cancellation occurs in circumstances where the corresponding movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to persons benefiting from derogations (e.g. nationals or residents of the state concerned).

Where the airline decides to cancel a flight and shows that this decision was justified on grounds of protecting the health of the crew, such cancellation should also be considered as “caused” by extraordinary circumstances.

You can find more information about air passenger, rail passenger, bus passenger, and maritime and inland waterway passenger rights here.

Published on March 20, 2020 at 10:44 am

Nowadays, the latest news about Coronavirus (COVID-19) is making headlines. Air passengers experience difficulties due to coronavirus.

Some countries around the world have already implemented travel bans temporarily and flight restrictions to or from countries with a high risk of COVID-19 infection.

Some airlines reduced flight frequencies on certain routes due to reduced passenger demand caused by the spread of coronavirus. As a result, air passengers face flight cancellations.

People fear to travel and had many questions around, like …

My flight is cancelled due to coronavirus. What should I do?

Can I ask for reimbursement,

1. If the airline cancelled my flight because of official travel warnings?

According to Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, the airline shall not be obliged to pay compensation if it can prove that the cancellation is caused due to extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

There is a discussion that the outbreak of coronavirus situation could fall under this exemption because of the global health emergency which has resulted in public measures (incl. official travel warnings) that are outside the control of airlines.

Nevertheless, you should still be entitled to get your flight ticket refunded or an alternative flight offered by the airline.

2. If the airline cancelled my flight because of low passenger demand?

Airlines are experiencing a significant decline in passenger traffic as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the latest figures from IATA (International Air Transport Association).

Low passenger demand makes airlines cancel flights in order to save money. But this should be considered as a decision based on financial considerations and not on considerations about passenger health and safety.

So, the air passenger might be entitled to cancelled flight compensation if the air passenger was informed about the flight cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled time of departure. But keep in mind that the airline liability would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

3. If I decide not to travel and cancel my flight?

The regulation does not apply in this case. You should contact your airline. Some airlines have already updated their change and cancellation policies due to coronavirus. You could also contact your travel agency for further information.

We will follow the latest news about air passenger rights in the light of the coronavirus situation and give you an update on it.

Sachin Suryawanshi

Sachin Suryawanshi

Digital Marketing Consultant

Sachin Suryawanshi is Digital Marketing Consultant at Claim Flights. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Information Technology. He loves to explore new places and learn new things.

If your flight delays for more than 3 hours, or was cancelled, you may be eligible for compensation up to €600 based on EU 261 rule.

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