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Martin Lewis: Thousands of flights are being cancelled this summer - make sure you know your refund rights

British Airways and Easyjet cancel more flights due to staff Covid-19 sickness

Tens of thousands of flights are being cancelled by airlines this summer, and with Heathrow placing a cap on the number of passengers that can depart from the airport, it's likely that more cancellations will be announced. So if you're due to fly over the next few months, it's vital you know your cancellation rights.

If your flight is cancelled, you're entitled to a full refund or alternative flight. Plus, you may be entitled to compensation on top if the flight is cancelled within 14 days of departure and it's the airline's fault.

The rules aren't always simple, though. See below for your cancellation rights in full, and our Flight delays and cancellations guide for further info. 

The latest on why flights are being cancelled

British Airways scrapped around 30,000 flights between October last year and April this year while Easyjet cancelled around 10,000 between October last year and July. Other airlines forced to cancel flights include TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air.

Airlines have typically blamed a combination of staff shortages due to sickness and industrial action for last minute cancellations - though they were warned by the Government in June to cancel flights with at least 14 days notice to avoid further disruption this summer. 

On top of that, Heathrow has today (12 July) put a temporary cap on the number of passengers who can depart from the airport. Under the rules, no more than 100,000 passengers a day can fly from Heathrow until 11 September, down from an expected 104,000 a day average. Heathrow says about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats needing to be cut have currently been sold to passengers.

Airlines may operate flights with empty seats though this announcement is likely to lead to further cancellations. We've asked Heathrow Airport how many flights are likely to be cancelled in response and we'll update this story when we know more. 

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, made the following statement when flights were cancelled on a large scale earlier this year: "Many flights have been cancelled, and the disruption to travel is likely to continue for many months.

"While firms are being mostly proactive about the fact you are due a choice of an alternative flight or a cash refund, and allow you to select this via their websites, I'm not seeing many mentions that you likely have far stronger rights than that.

"Under EU regulation 261/2004, which since Brexit has also been adopted into UK law…

"If you are on a flight leaving the UK/EU or returning to it (then it must also be an EU/UK airline), and the flight is cancelled within 14 days of departure resulting in a two or more hour delay, then –  providing the reason for the cancellation is the airline's fault – you are also likely entitled to fixed cash (not vouchers) compensation of between £105 to £505 per person depending on the flight.

"Many airlines say they are cancelling due to staffing problems because of Covid. Historically, courts have ruled staff sickness has been seen as an issue which is the airline's fault (as they should be able to roster for this within their schedules), so compensation is likely due. Easyjet has confirmed it will pay out compensation in these circumstances.

"Though as always, given these pandemic-related issues are unprecedented, some airlines may argue these are extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.

"Of course, it's worth remembering too that airlines have struggled financially ever since the pandemic began, so there is an ethical element to whether you should claim. If the delay was small and no hassle, perhaps don't.

"If the delay left you out of pocket, caused huge hassle, or you'd paid for an expensive flight and were moved to one that could've been cheaper, you may want to go for it. It's simple to do via the free MSE flight delay/cancellation guide and tool."

If your flight is cancelled more than 14 days before you're due to fly, you’re entitled to a refund or alternative flight

If your flight was cancelled more than 14 days before travel, you have the right to request a full refund or alternative route, but you are not entitled to compensation on top of your refund or reroute. These rules apply if you are departing from the UK/EU (on any airline) or arriving in the UK/EU (but then it must be on a UK or EU airline). If your cancelled flight is with a non-UK/EU flight, we've explained your rights below. 

You can usually manage bookings online or via an app, so you'll likely need to login into your account to arrange an alternative flight or to request a refund (see below for more on this). However, if you're in the airport you can also go to the airline's information, check-in desk, or departure gate to find out more. 

  • If you choose a full refund - That will be paid into the same bank account you originally booked the flight with, so make sure those details are up to date - if that account has now closed, then make sure you tell your airline and provide new details. You're legally entitled to a full cash refund and don't have to accept vouchers if the airline tries to push this alternative. 

  • If you choose to take an alternative route - If you still want to travel, your airline must find you an alternative flight. It’s up to you whether to fly as soon as possible after the cancelled flight, or at a later date that suits you - but the airline should try to re-route on the same day. If no flights with the airline you booked with are available, it can book you with a different airline or via another mode of transport.

    If your flight was cancelled you should also be provided with a reasonable amount to cover food, drink and communication costs, as well as accommodation and transport if you're stranded at the airport or abroad. 

  • Some airlines will offer the choice of a voucher instead of a refund - This will cover the same amount as your cancelled flight(s). British Airways, Easyjet, Virgin Atlantic, and Wizz Air, for example, all said they offer the choice of a voucher or credit. Frankly, there is no benefit to you of a voucher (unless the airline offers you more than the standard refund) over cash, however with the parlous state of airlines at the moment, and if you're loyal to that airline, you might want to take it out of goodwill.

What if my flight is cancelled and wasn't with an UK/EU-regulated airline?

This means you your flight didn't depart from a UK/EU airport (with any airline) or arrive to a UK/EU airport with a UK/EU carrier. 

In this scenario, you're not covered by the UK/EU cancellation and compensation scheme, so you'll need to check the terms and conditions of the airline you've booked with. Most base their terms on those recommended by the International Air Transport Association, which means that many airlines will offer the choice between a later flight, alternative transport or a refund. 

You should also check if the country where the airline is based has any compensation schemes similar to the UK/EU one. Failing that, check whether there are any compensation schemes in the country where the flight departed from (if it's different). 

Alternatively, check if you're covered by your travel insurance - so beware of any excess before claiming.  

Flight cancelled within 14 days of departure? You may also be entitled to compensation

You have a right to a refund or alternative flight as outlined above (so please see above before reading on), however if the cancellation was within 14 days of flying, and it was the airline’s fault, you could also be due £100s in compensation on top of that (see the table below for full details).

As Martin explained earlier, airline cancellations are mainly due to staffing issues, which is generally counted as the airline's fault, so you will be entitled to compensation. However, it's unlikely that you'll get compensation if your flight is cancelled as a result of Heathrow's (or any other airport's) decision to cap passenger numbers - as this out of the airline's control. 

Flight cancelled within 14 days before departure

Flight length Time of alternative flight vs original (i) Compensation

Flight cancelled 7-14 days before departure

 

0 - 1,500km, for example, London to Paris

Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands up to 2hrs after £110
Lands 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 2hrs+ after £220

 

1,500 - 3,500km, for example, London to Istanbul

Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) £175
Lands 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 3-4hrs after £350

 

3,500km+, for example, London to New York

Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 4hrs after) £260
Lands 4hrs+ late £520

Flight cancelled less than 7 days before departure

0 - 1,500km, for example, London to Paris Leaves 1hr+ before, lands up to 2hrs after £110
Lands 2hrs+ late £220
1,500 - 3,500km, for example, London to Istanbul Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) £170
Lands 3hrs+ late £350
3,500km+, for example, London to New York Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 4hrs after) £260
Lands 4hrs+ late £520

(i) Based on the timings of the alternative flight offered. 

Here's when compensation is likely to be paid

Bott and Co – a law firm specialising in flight delay and cancellation claims – said airports capping passenger numbers won't be grounds for compensation as it's outside of airlines' control. Though if your flight is cancelled from Heathrow, be sure to ask why. Airlines don't legally need to tell you though, according to Coby Benson, a solicitor at Bott and Co, unless you make a claim for compensation that is denied.  

Mr Benson told us: "On balance, I think if an airline cancels a flight because they’re told to do so by the airport then it’s probably going to be classed as 'extraordinary'." Mr Benson added that he believes this would also be the case if an airline knowingly booked you onto a flight despite being aware of an airport passenger numbers cap. 

Industrial action by air traffic controllers, airport staff and ground handlers is also considered extraordinary, meaning compensation would not be due.

However, staff sickness, including Covid related sickness, and strikes by the airline crew are NOT reasons for airlines to avoid paying compensation. Mr Benson told us: "Most staffing issues, for instance relating to crew sickness or staff on strike, are not extraordinary circumstances and the airline should therefore pay out for these."

We have heard many reports of BA and EasyJet paying out compensation. Please let us know via our Forum or by emailing news@moneysavingexpert.com how you're getting on with other airlines.

But if you're struggling to get compensation, Benson said affected passengers should cite the cases of Litpon v BA City Flyer (Court of Appeal) or Krüsemann and others v TUIfly GmbH (Court of Justice of the European Union) to back up their claims.

In the Litpon case, it was ruled that "staff illness, and the need to accommodate such illness on a daily basis, is a commonplace for any business. It is a mundane fact of commercial life: it is in no way out of the ordinary".

Meanwhile, the Krüsemann judgement ruled that wildcat strikes – those not officially organised by a trade union – are also subject to compensation: "The spontaneous absence of a significant part of the flight crew staff ('wildcat strikes')... which stems from the surprise announcement by an operating air carrier of a restructuring... following a call echoed not by the staff representatives of the company but spontaneously by the workers themselves who placed themselves on sick leave, is not covered by the concept of 'extraordinary circumstances'."

You can make a claim using our free tool or complain directly to your airline

If you believe you're entitled to compensation for a cancelled flight, you can make a claim using the MSE free online reclaim tool, which uses technology from complaints site Resolver. Alternatively, you can complain directly to your airline – this often includes emailing or filling in an online form. 

  • For British Airways refunds and rebooking, go to Manage My Booking. For BA compensation claims, see make a claim.
  • For a refund request from TUI, fill in its online form here. To make a compensation claim, use TUI's online form
  • To make a refund request with Wizz Air, login to your online account. To claim compensation from Wizz Air, follow this link and fill in the form. 
With Easyjet and Ryanair, we've linked to their complaints pages, which will explain whether you need to get in touch by writing or by using online complaints forms:

Additional reporting by the Press Association. 

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