Budget airline Ryanair is cancelling 40 to 50 flights a day over the next six weeks in a bid to improve its punctuality – forcing 100,000s of passengers to rearrange their travel plans. Here's a rundown of your rights if you're affected.

Update 5.30pm Fri 29 Sep: This story refers to the initial wave of Ryanair cancellations announced on the weekend of 16/17 September. For the latest information on alternative flights, check Ryanair's latest statement on the situation, here.

Ryanair first announced the disruption last Friday, blaming it on pilots and cabin staff being owed leave and a drop in punctuality to below 80% in the first two weeks of September. The airline says cutting flights will restore punctuality.

A full list of cancelled flights is now on Ryanair's website, and if you're affected you should now have been contacted directly via email and/or text. See below for what to do if you're affected and what compensation you're due – for further info see our Flight Delays and Holiday Rights guides.

We will be holding a live Q&A on the disruption today at 5pm. You can ask questions and watch it live here.

Which flights are affected?

Ryanair has now published a full list of the cancelled flights on its website. It says a total of 2,100 have been cancelled, affecting 315,000 customers.

Anyone who is booked on an affected flight should now have been sent an email or text – but if you're worried, particularly if it's possible an email could have dropped into a spam folder, check the list.

If your flight's cancelled, you're due a full refund or alternative flight

Under EU rule 261/2004, if your flight is cancelled the airline must give you a choice of two options – regardless of how much notice you're given:

  • A full refund. This includes money back for both legs if you have booked a return ticket and either of your legs are cancelled (and Ryanair has confirmed this is what it's offering).
  • An alternative flight. If you still want to travel, your airline must find an alternative flight. Depending on the passenger's preference, this has to be a) at the earliest opportunity, or b) at the passenger's leisure, subject to the availability of seats.

What are the rules regarding alternative flights?

If your flight's cancelled and you choose an alternative flight, the Civil Aviation Authority says this could include an alternative flight on a rival airline, if this is earlier than the first alternative Ryanair flight by a "significant" amount of time.

Unfortunately it's not clear how this applies to Ryanair in practice. There's no set definition of what a "significant" amount of time is, and this hasn't been tested in court.

What's more, Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary reportedly said on Monday: "We will not pay for flights on other airlines, no. It is not part of the EU entitlement."

If there's an alternative flight on a rival airline which would get you to your destination much earlier than the alternative Ryanair flight you're offered, you should ask to be put on that flight instead.

But if Ryanair says no, it's tricky. While you could book yourself on the rival airline and try to claim the money back, there is no guarantee you'll be successful – and again, as far as we're aware this hasn't been tested in court.

Ryanair cancels 100s of flights - your rights
Ryanair is cancelling up to 50 flights a day

You should not be charged for switching flights

A number of you have said you were charged for switching to alternative flights, after your initial booking was cancelled. This shouldn't happen.

Ryanair has told us it has resolved this issue, and that it only happened to a 'small' number of customers.

It says anyone who was charged twice will be refunded. Ryanair has yet to say how long it will take for these refunds to come through, we will update this story when we know more.

If I wait for an alternative flight, should Ryanair pay for food etc?

Yes – if you choose an alternative flight "at the earliest opportunity" you are also entitled to care and assistance under the EU rules.

This usually means food, drink, access to communications (eg, refunding the reasonable cost of phone calls) and accommodation (if necessary).

Unfortunately, this doesn't apply if your flight is cancelled and you choose to go on an earlier flight that departs and arrives before your original flight was due to – as has happened to some MoneySavers. In this case, the airline is not liable for extra hotel and other costs resulting from you arriving at your destination early.

You may also be due compensation... but it depends when Ryanair lets you know

The EU rules mean you may also be due compensation in some circumstances, on top of your refund or alternative flight. But what's crucial is when Ryanair notified you that your flight was cancelled (and what counts is when it contacted you directly, not when it published the list of cancelled flights on its website).

  • If your flight was cancelled with up to 14 days' notice... you could be due between £110 and £355 compensation. It must be the airline's fault for this to apply, but in this case Ryanair has admitted it has "messed up".

    What you're due is based on the distance of your flight, how much notice you were given and the arrival time of the alternative flight you're offered – but you can claim compensation even if you opt for a refund instead and never actually take the alternative flight (although the amount you receive will be based on its timings). Even if you do not choose to take it, it may be worth keeping evidence of any alternative flights you are offered – for example by taking a screenshot. This may be useful if there is a dispute regarding your compensation claim.

    Flight cancelled 7-14 days before departure

    Flight length 0 – 1,500km, eg, London to Paris 1,500 – 3,500km, eg, London to Istanbul
    Time of alternative flight vs original (i) Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 2hrs after) Lands 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 2hrs+ after Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) Lands 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 3-4hrs after
    Compensation €125
    (i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on 19 September 2017 exchange rate of €1.13 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £5.

    Flight cancelled less than 7 days before departure

    Flight length 0 – 1,500km, eg, London to Paris 1,500 – 3,500km, eg, London to Istanbul
    Time of alternative flight vs original (i) Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 2hrs after) Lands 2hrs+ late Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) Lands 3hrs+ late
    Compensation €125
    (i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on 19 September 2017 exchange rate of €1.13 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £5.
    If you think you're due compensation, you can claim using our free flight delays reclaim tool which uses technology from the complaints site Resolver.
  • If your flight was cancelled with more than 14 days' notice... you'll still get a refund or alternative flight, but WON'T be able to claim compensation under EU rules.

What if I've lost out on hotels, car hire etc?

Flight cancellations or delays can have a large number of knock-on costs, and unfortunately the EU rules don't cover what's known as 'consequential loss' – ie, if you've booked non-refundable hotels, car hire or other parts of your holiday and are unable to use them because your flight's delayed.

As an alternative, it's worth checking if you're covered on your travel insurance. However, we've spoken to several major travel insurers and most told us you're unlikely to be able to claim.

Often you can claim for consequential losses if you've a policy offering fuller protection. But the Ryanair situation is complicated by the fact the airline's admitted its staff rota issues are to blame for the disruption, which many insurers say means you won't be able to claim even on a policy which usually covers consequential losses.

  • Aviva, Allianz, Churchill, Direct Line and Holidaysafe have told us that no policyholders will be able to claim for consequential losses as a result of Ryanair's cancellations.
  • Axa told us policyholders should first speak to Ryanair, but otherwise call the insurer to check if their policy offers "travel disruption cover".
  • Liverpool Victoria said its premium policy does cover consequential losses.

Remember, if you're set to lose non-refundable hotel bookings, car hire or more, it's worth speaking to the firms you've booked with to explain the situation. Even if you're not entitled to a refund, they may offer you something or allow you to move your booking.

We've also previously heard of a small number of cases where people have successfully claimed from their credit card companies for consequential losses using the Section 75 law, which protects purchases made on plastic of between £100 and £30,000. It's likely these claims would be decided on a case-by-case basis. See our Section 75 guide for full information.

Can I claim for losses under the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention, an international agreement about flights, is sometimes used by passengers to make claims for missing baggage or flight delays which aren't covered by the EU rules.

However, the Civil Aviation Authority and flight delay solicitors Bott & Co say it doesn't apply to flights which are cancelled, and isn't an option in this situation.

'Appalling customer service from Ryanair'

Since we first published this story we've had scores of emails from travellers affected by the cancellations. Here are some of your stories:

  • Nicola from Bedfordshire was on a work trip in Cologne when she found out on Friday that the last leg of her return trip from Stansted to Edinburgh was cancelled.

    She said: "I had to return to Scotland as I'm a single mum and had no further provision for my children. I managed to book an alternate flight from Luton with Easyjet – this, however, caused me stress and upset, having to travel from Stansted to Luton and making the necessary arrangements. All in all, appalling customer service from Ryanair with very little notice to make alternate arrangements."
  • James from Essex said: "I have had my flight cancelled for next Friday from London Stansted to Barcelona. I received a text saying check my emails, my flight's been cancelled – I read the email, went on the Ryanair site to rebook and the site was down for maintenance.

    "I finally managed to rebook my flight and am now not arriving in Barcelona until midnight. I have had to change my car parking and the other seven people I am flying with are all on different flights. It's my mates 40th so we are not happy at all."
  • Trevor from Berkshire was in Portugal when his flight home was cancelled. He said: "My return flight was meant to be this Friday night. The next available is Monday. We are due to leave our accommodation at 11am Friday. My car is at Stansted Airport for a midnight collection. Absolutely no clue as to what to do, I am self-employed, have clients to see on Saturday and will have to cancel."

If you want to share your story or have a specific question not covered in this article which you're struggling an answer to, email us at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

What does Ryanair say?

Ryanair's head of communications Robin Kiely said: "We have operated a record schedule and traffic numbers during the peak summer months of July and August but must now allocate annual leave to pilots and cabin crew in September and October, while still running the bulk of our summer schedule.

"This increased leave, at a time of air traffic control capacity delays and strikes, has severely reduced our on-time performance... By cancelling less than 2% of our flying programme over the next six weeks... we can improve the operational resilience of our schedules and restore punctuality to our annualised target of 90%.

"We apologise sincerely to the small number of customers affected by these cancellations, and will be doing our utmost to arrange alternative flights and/or full refunds for them."