Airport

Knowing your rights when there’s disruption to air travel could come in handy – as it did for me when I managed to get £520 from British Airways in flight delay compensation.

As it happens, there is also legislation around duty of care and compensation when a flight has been cancelled.

However, it’s complicated by the fact that the airline’s obligations will vary depending on when and why a flight is cancelled.

I actually had three flights cancelled in the last year under slightly different circumstances, which I’m going to use to explain how it all works.

When UK air passenger rights apply

As with delayed flights, the legislation around flight cancellation isn’t universally applicable. 

Some countries have air passenger rights written into law, and some countries don’t.

The UK adopted its air passenger rights legislation from EU Regulation 261/2004 – the same law that governs delayed flights.

For cancelled flights, the legislation applies if your flight is:

  • any airline departing from an airport in the UK
  • an EU or UK airline arriving at an airport in the UK
  • a UK airline arriving at an airport in the EU

What happens when your flight is cancelled?

Regardless of when your flight is cancelled, the airline must give you one of two options.

The first is that you can choose not to travel and receive a full refund for the flight, including any return journeys on the same booking.

Your airline should automatically issue you the refund if you decide to cancel.

Note that if you’re already travelling and are choosing this option, this automatically ends the airline’s duty of care (more below).

If you’re on a layover, the airline must also fly you back to your departure point if you’re choosing not to travel to your final destination.

This of course assumes the two legs of the flight were on the same booking, rather than booked separately.

The second option for you is a replacement flight, which can be as soon as possible or at a later date.

You can request to travel with another carrier if it will get you to your destination sooner, but you will need to discuss this with your airline.

My three cancelled flights

In the last year, BA cancelled three different flights I was booked on, all for operational reasons.

Glasgow to London

One, from Glasgow Airport to London Heathrow, was cancelled the afternoon before departure.

BA automatically booked me onto a flight from Edinburgh a day later.

Except I had a hire car on the same booking that needed to be returned to Glasgow and near to my original flight time.

Fortunately I was able to pick a different flight quite easily on its website.

And my new flight was just 15 minutes later than my original one – but to London City Airport rather than London Heathrow.

London to Paris

My second cancellation, a flight from London Heathrow to Paris Charles De Gaulle, came the night before I was due to travel.

This time the new flight BA automatically picked for me was more than three hours later.

Bizarrely, it also downgraded me from business class without offering any kind of redress.

I had to call BA for this switch but was able to get onto the new later flight in business class.

Moral of the story here is that you shouldn’t settle for the first option that’s offered to you without checking whether there’s a more suitable option first.

London to Malta

My third cancellation was for a flight from London Gatwick to Malta Luqa International, which came about three weeks before departure.

This was a package holiday with a hotel booking.

As there was only one flight a day, I had to call BA to move the entire holiday by one day and rearrange the hire car and airport parking we had booked separately.

Duty of care for cancelled flights

As in the case of delayed flights, airlines have a duty of care when your flight is cancelled and you’re already travelling.

That duty of care includes supplying you with the following:

  • meals and refreshments (but not alcohol)
  • a means for you to communicate, such as phone or data credits
  • overnight accommodation, if needed, and transport to and from that accommodation

Depending on the circumstances, you may be expected to sort these out yourself and then claim the costs back once you get home.

It’s important therefore to retain all your receipts and keep your expenses reasonable.

There’s very little guidance from airlines on what is considered reasonable.

Anything between £25 to £50 per 12-hour period for food and refreshments is a good boundary to stay within – this is what you might expect in a payout from travel insurance.

Hotels are a bit more tricky, but aiming for something average in the vicinity of the airport is a good bet.

Compensation for cancelled flights

Whether you can get compensation for a cancelled flight will depend on when the flight was cancelled and why.

If the flight was cancelled more than 14 days in advance, you won’t get any compensation at all.

But if the cancellation was less than 14 days before travel, you may be due some compensation.

However, the cause of the cancellation has to be something within the airline’s control, whether that’s a lack of staff or a lack of planes.

If it’s an extraordinary circumstance, like extreme weather, strikes by airport staff or air traffic controllers, or conflict and political unrest, then no compensation is due.

Remember, your claim should be submitted to the airline that you were due to fly with rather than the one you booked with.

How much compensation can you get?

Assuming you’re eligible for compensation, how much you can get for a cancelled flight is unusually complicated.

It depends on when the flight was cancelled, when you departed and how long you’re delayed, and where you’re travelling to.

Flights cancelled seven to 14 days before departure

For short haul flights, assumed to be distances under 1,500km, you’ll get:

  • £110 if your replacement flight leaves two or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than two hours late.
  • £220 if your replacement flight leaves two or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination more than two hours late.
  • £220 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than four hours late.

For medium haul flights, assumed to be distances between 1,500km and 3,500km, you’ll get:

  • £175 if your replacement flight leaves two or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than three hours late.
  • £350 if your replacement flight leaves two or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination more than three hours late.
  • £350 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than four hours late.

For long haul flights, assumed to be distances over 3,500km, you’ll get:

  • £260 if your replacement flight leaves two or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than four hours late.
  • £520 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than four hours late.

If your replacement flight leaves less than two hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than two hours later, you won’t get any compensation.

Flights cancelled less than seven days before departure

For short haul flights, you’ll get:

  • £110 if your replacement flight leaves one or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than two hours late.
  • £220 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than two hours late.

For medium haul flights, you’ll get:

  • £175 if your replacement flight leaves one or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than three hours late.
  • £350 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than three hours late.

For long haul flights, assumed to be distances over 3,500km, you’ll get:

  • £260 if your replacement flight leaves one or more hours earlier than your original flight, and gets you to your final destination less than four hours late.
  • £520 if your replacement flight gets you to your final destination more than four hours late.

If your replacement flight departs less than an hour before your original departure time and arrives less than two hours after your original scheduled arrival time, no compensation is due.

My flight cancellation claims

Back to my three cancelled flights.

The Glasgow trip was not due any compensation because my replacement flight got me back to London around pretty much the same time as my original flight, albeit to a different airport.

Had I chosen to fly back to London Heathrow the following day – there were plenty of options from Glasgow – I would have been entitled to an overnight hotel stay, meals and compensation.

I had work the next day so it wasn’t really an option.

And because I had chosen to fly back to a different airport, BA wouldn’t have covered any additional expenses once I landed, such as a taxi home.

For the Paris trip, my replacement flight got me there more than three hours later than my original flight, which meant I was due the full £220 compensation.

BA agreed, and promptly paid my claim.

As for the Malta trip, I was informed of the cancellation more than two weeks ahead of travel, which meant no compensation was due.

Fortunately the pre-booked airport car parking and car hire in Malta could both be moved without any penalties.

Had I been left out of pocket by this change in travel dates, I would have needed to turn to my travel insurance to see whether it would cover these.

How to make a cancelled flight compensation claim

Just like for flight delay compensation, you’ll need to gather some evidence.

This includes things like your boarding pass to show you’ve travelled, and documents that show why the flight was cancelled.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority actually has a handy list of cancelled flights where compensation might be due.

Then it’s just a case of submitting your claim to the airline, either through their website or a dedicated email, and wait.