Cancelled Flights Plane Transportation

How to claim compensation for cancelled flights (Part 2: Process)

The easy step-by-step guide to help you claim your rights

Photo: Iguazú Waterfalls, Iguazú, Misiones (Argentina); and Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná (Brasil) ©

Delayed Flight. Step-by-Step procedure to claim your rights

I assume you’ve already read the previous post, so after following the check list you know your rights in case of a cancelled flight.

As I told you I had it happened to me many times, I got flights cancelled to Brasil, the U.S., México, Argentina (several times), Spain, etc. (that’s why I’m posting photos from those countries as memories). Now it’s time for you to know how to claim your rights, step by step!.

Photo: Bridges Islands, Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia, Argentina) ©

Step 1: Check if your flight was “cancelled”

You have all the relevant information about your journey in the ticket, such as the reservation code and your flight’s data (airline, flight number, departure and arrival airports, scheduled departure and time, etc.)

You need to know precisely the scope of your rights if your flight was cancelled, to claim them. If the flight wasn’t cancelled but delayed, because you accepted a re-routing, you can check your rights in one of my previous posts “How to claim compensation for delayed flights (Part 2: Process)”, link here.

Let’s focus on cancellation, wich occurs when the planning of a flight is abandoned because:

  • the original flight schedule is left,
  • the plane took off but was forced to return to the airport of departure,
  • the flight arrives at an airport which is not the final destination indicated on the ticket, except if you accepted a re-reouting:
    • to the airport of the original final destination at the earliest opportunity, or to any other airport (this case is considered a delay, not a cancellation).
    • to another airport which is in the same town, city or region of the original flight (this case is also considered a delay).

Generally speaking, cancellation occurs when the flight number changes (even if the airline doesn’t issue an express decision, and/or if you are transferred to another flight).

Photo: Praia Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro (Brasil) ©

Step 2: Check the distance of your flight

There are several Mileage Calculators which you can find on-line, I’ve tried Web Flyer, link here. Just enter departure and arrival airports and you will know the distance of your flight.

The Interpretative Guidelines on Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 set rules to measure the distance in case of connecting flights:

  • In case of several connecting flights, the “final destination” is the one on the ticket used for the check-in; or
  • In case of directly connecting flights, the destination of the last flight;
  • In case of long delay at the final destination, the distance which determines the compensation to be paid should be based on the “great circle” distance between the place of departure and the final destination (i.e. the whole “journey”, and not by adding the “great circle” distances between the different relevant connecting flights composing the “journey”).
Photo: Mountain Cemetery, Provincial Road 13, between Iruya and Humahuaca, Jujuy (Argentina) ©

Step 3: Check which are your rights

First I recommend you to take a look at my previous post and to do the 4 steps’ check “How to claim compensation for cancelled flights (Part 1: Rules)”, link here:

  • 1. Does it apply to you?
  • 2. What are your rights in case of a delayed flight?
  • 3. What exactly can you get?
  • 4. When you don’t get a compensation?

I also prepared a table to make the checking easier:

ASSISTANCEWhile you wait after the cancellation of your flightFood and refreshments, depending on the waiting time;

2 phone calls/ faxes/ emails;

Hotel accommodation and transport to the hotel (if you have been rebooked and need to stay overnight)

If your flight has been cancelled, you have the right to choose between reimbursement and re-routingReimbursement whithin 7 days of the full cost of the paid ticket. For the part of the journey not made, or for the parts already made and not yet made made (if the trip makes non-sense for you after the cancellation); plus a
Return flight to the first point of departure, as soon as possible, if you have a connecting flight; or

Re-routing under comparable transport conditions to your final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
to your final destination at a later date at your convenience (subject to availability of seats).
If you get a new flight to a different airport compared to the original booking, the airline shall bear the transportation cost between both airports, or to another close-by destination agreed with you.
COMPENSATIONIf you have not been informed of the cancellation sufficiently in advance*.

Ticket reimbursed: compensation will depend on the distance of your flight.
Re-routing: compensation will depend on the distance of your flight and the delay (to reach your final destination)

Flights of 1500 km. or less

Intra-UE flights of more than 1500 km.
Extra-UE flights between 1500 and 3500 km.

Flights of more than 3500 km.

In case of re-routing please check my previous posts: delayed flights
REDUCED COMPENSATION: If the airline has offered you re-routing and you reach your final destination with a delay of 2, 3 or 4 hours the compensation may be reduced by 50%

* You have no right to compensation if the airline informed the cancellation in advance: a) At least 2 weeks (14 days); b) between 2 weeks and 7 days if you are offered re-routing, and the new flight departs no more than 2 hs. before the original schedule, and arrives to your final destination less than 4 hs. after the original schedule; or c) Less than 7 days if you are offered re-routing, and the new flight departs no more than 1 h. before the original schedule, and arrives to your final destination less than 2 hs. after the original schedule. Also, you have no right to compensation if the flight was cancelled due to extraordinary circumsantces.

As a passenger, you also have right to information, since Regulation EC 261/2004 provides that the airline must give you a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance, and explaining your rights.

Photo: Pirámide de la Luna, Teotihuacán, San Juan Teotihuacán, Estado de México (México) ©

Step 4: Claim it!

Right of Assistance

If you are entitled to claim Right of Assistance, do it immediately!!!

The airline might give you vouchers to use them at the airport, while you wait for a new flight. Ask anyone from the company operating the flight if you’re not offered any help.

If they don’t help you at the airport, keep all the receipts for expenses, because you can obtain reimbursement of the expenses incurred from the airline, provided they were “necessary, reasonable and appropriate”.

Right to Reimbursement and to be Offered a Return Flight

You don’t have to accept a re-routing. So if you don’t want a new flight, you have to immediately claim the Right to Ticket Reimbursement: full refund of the non-flown section; or a full refund of the total ticket, if the trip makes non sense for you after the changes due to the cancellation.

Plus, if you have a connecting flight, you have the Right to be offered a Return Flight as soon as possible to the first point of departure.

Contact the airline as soon as you decide you don’t want to be re-routed to claim your rights.

Right to Re-routing

If you prefer, you can always accept a Re-routing, under comparable transport conditions:

  • to your final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
  • to your final destination at a later date at your convenience (subject to availability of seats).

If the airline offers you a new flight to a differente airport from the one in the original booking, it shall bear the transportation cost between both airports, or to another close-by destination agreed with you.

So contact the airline as soon as you decide you want to be re-routed, to book a new flight and to claim your rights.

Right to Compensation

For claiming a Compensation due to a cancelled flight you need to contact the airline operating the flight (even if you booked it through another airline). I suggest to do it as soon as possible, before it’s to late; the expiration of the term to start the procedure depends on each country’s regulations, but as far as I know runs from 1 to 6 years from the date of the flight.

You can ask for help about how to claim your rights at the airport, if your are there, remember that you have Right to Information.

If you are at home, or if you cannot get any help at the airport, I recommend you to check the airline web page, specially the section “customer service”, and to look for their procedure to claim compensation, which is usually on line. In case of doubt send them a written message and keep a copy (screen capture is enough if you do it on their web).

Once you know where and how to complain, you need to write your claim, including flight details and booking reference numbers. If you need to fill a form on-line, I recommend to write a word document, to save it, and to copy-paste it afterwards (the first time I claimed I didn’t do that, and I lost everything I had written after clicking “send”). Save your case reference.
This is my suggested structure for drafting your letter of complaint:

  1. What you claim: compensation for cancelled flight, and/or reimbursement of expenses.
  2. Personal data (name, last name, passport number, postal adress, phone number, email adress).
  3. Booking reference.
  4. Flight details: operating airline, flight number, date, time, itinerary.
  5. Facts: explain what went wrong, what you asked or requested, and what the airline answered, and provided or not (be clear and concise).
  6. Attached copies of relevant documents: tickets, receips of expenses, proof of the cancellation, etc. (always keep the originals).
  7. Compensation and/or reimbursement claimed (say exactly how much money) and include the reason why you are entitled to that compensation in accordance to Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
  8. Closing.
  9. Signature (I would also include my passport number and country).

I insist, be sure to keep copies of your claim, and of any response from the airline. If you call the airline, ask and write the Name and Surname of the person answering your call, and take some notes of the conversation (including date, hour, telephone number and a summary of your requests and answers). If you claim on-line, take screen captures (as I said, you don’t usually get a copy after clicking “send” in the on-line form and you loose all the info you submitted). If you send e-mails, keep copies. If you contact the airline via postal address, also keep copies and proof of mail deliveries.

If you don’t feel like writing, there is a EU complaint Form for Air Passenger Rights, which can be used to lodge a complaint with an airline and/or a National Enforcement Body, for Passenger rights in case of denied boarding, downgrading, cancellation or long delay of their flight under Regulation (EC) 261/2004, link here. I didn’t use it because I didn’t know of its existence when I needed, I could have saved time and inspiration!.

The airline shall reply the complaint within 6 weeks of receipt.

Photo: South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida (U.S.A.) ©

If the airline doesn’t reply after 6 weeks, or if your are not satisfied with their response, you shall send the EU complaint Form for Air Passenger Rights to the National Enforcement Body (NEB) in the Member State where the incident took place. If the incident took place at an airport of departure outside the EU, you may contact the National Enforcement Body in the Member State of flight destination (worth to mention that generally they cannot take binding decisions on airlines in respect of individual complaints).

If you get a response but are still not satisfied, even following the answer from the competent authority, you can pursue the matter in Court or through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Photo: Nuevo Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit (México) ©

That’s it for now. I hope you liked reading this post and find it clear and useful! In the next one, I will explain which are your rights in case of denied boarding.

If you have any feedback, comment, or question please let me know. I’ll be very happy to hear from you!

Virginia, a traveling lawyer
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