EC 261 Regulation: Cancelled Flight

EC 261 Regulation EU Passenger Rights

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Since 2004, air travellers have various passenger rights under EU Regulation EC 261 in case of disruptions to their flight. In a 6 part series, I will cover the aspects of this regulation and also give tips on how to claim compensation from an airline.

EC 261 Regulation; Passenger Rights and Compensation 

Rights in the event of cancellation (this article)

Passenger rights in the event of delay (upcoming)

Rights in the event of denied boarding or downgrade (upcoming)

Claiming compensation (upcoming)

EC 261 : Remarks (upcoming)

In this article, I am going to look at passenger rights in the event of a cancellation. For the applicability of EU Regulation 261, please read the first article.

In case of a cancelled flight, passengers are (according to Article 5 of the regulation) entitled to:

  • Assistance
  • Care
  • Compensation, in some cases

Right to Assistance

Under Assistance (Article 8) passengers must be offered the choice between:

  • A full refund, within 7 days, of the fare paid for the segments not flown and also for the segments flown in case continuation serves no purpose. In case of cancellation of a connecting flight, the passenger is also entitled to a free flight to the point of origin.

    For example, you are travelling MAN-LHR-BCN v.v. . If you arrive in LHR and the BCN flight is cancelled, you can opt to not travel further and to fly back to MAN free of charge. You should then be refunded the entire fare for the roundtrip. If a flight on the inbound trip is cancelled, and you choose not to travel further, you only receive a refund for the return trip (i.e. 50%).

  • Rebooking on another flight to your final destination ‘under comparable travel conditions and at the earliest opportunity’. You can also choose to be rebooked on a later date to the same destination, if available. The regulation does not stipulate – and thus does not force – airlines to rebook on other (competing) airlines. ‘Comparable travel conditions’ mean that downgrades and extra transfers are to be avoided. Also, the flight timings should match the original timings as much as possible.

Right to Care

Article 9 obligates the airline to provide, in the event of a cancelled flight, irrespective of the cause of the cancellation, the following care:

  • Meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time
  • Two free phone calls or telex, fax- or e-mail messages.

And, if an alternative flight only departs the following day(s):

  • Hotel accommodation
  • Transport between the airport and the accommodation

Right to Compensation

In certain cases, airlines must also pay passengers compensation in case of cancellation according to Article 7. This obligation and the amount payable depend on the distance of the flight, reason for the cancellation and the timing of the notice of delay to the passengers.

In general, the compensation in case of a cancellation amounts to:

(a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less;

(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres;

(c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

If a passengers chooses to continue his journey on an alternative flight, this amount may be decreased by 50% if the new arrival time does not exceed the original scheduled arrival time:

(a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1500 kilometres or less; or

(b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres; or

(c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a) or (b)

These distances are ‘great circle‘ distances between the first departure point and final destination, even in case of a transfer.

If you are flying AMS-LHR-CDG, the applicable distance would equal a direct AMS-CDG flight.

If compensation is due, this must be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques, or (with agreement of the passenger) in travel vouchers and/or other services. You do not have to accept an offer in travel vouchers or Miles.


Compensation is not due if:

  • The reason for the cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances which cannot be attributed to the airline. For instance, exceptionally bad weather conditions, volcanic eruptions, sabotage, terrorism or strikes external to the airline, for instance at air traffic control. Various Courts have repeatedly ruled that technical failures do not constitute extraordinary circumstances, even if the airline takes all necessary precautions and performed proper maintenance.
  • The cancellation is announced at least two weeks before departure.
  • The cancellation is announced between 7 days and two weeks before departure and an alternative is offered which does not depart earlier than two hours before the scheduled departure time and which arrives not later than four hours later than the scheduled arrival time at the final destination.
  • The cancellation is announced less than 7 days before departure and an alternative is offered which does not depart earlier than one hour before the scheduled departure time and which arrives not later than two hours later than the scheduled arrival time at the final destination.

General remarks

  • If a passenger is notified the flight is cancelled, he must also be informed of the alternative (transport) options available.
  • The burden of proof about notifying passengers about the cancellation and the timing lies with the operating carrier.
  • A different flight number does not necessarily mean a flight is cancelled. It can also mean an excessive delay. According to the European Commission, this should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
  • In case the aircraft returns to the departure airport or diverts, the flight is considered cancelled except: if the passengers are brought to the final destination ‘under comparable travel conditions’ as fast as possible or when the airport of diversion ‘services the same city or region’ as the original destination airport. In that case, the flight is considered delayed.

Disclaimer: I am not a law practitioner. The above text is informative only and does not provide legal advice. The completeness or accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Any questions? Post them in the comments!


  1. Craig Sowerby says

    I’m not sure I follow the regulations for cancellations outside of the 14-day window. Is it just the “take it or leave it” alternative plans offered by the airline (sometimes negotiable) or a full refund?

    • The Flying Dutchboy says

      The timings of notification listed only affect the obligation to pay compensation. In all cases, whatever the cause of the cancellation/delay, you are entitled to Assistance (and Care). Hence, even if you are informed more than two weeks in advance, the airline is still required to refund you if desired, or to provide a suitable alternative flight following Article 8.

      • Craig Sowerby says

        Thanks. I suppose the point for many miles-collectors is that the “suitable alternative flight” offered is often the next direct flight one or two days later, which really messes with holiday plans. And a refund doesn’t help much if prices have increased or there is no more reward availability.

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