EC261 & Coronavirus: Does It Apply?

Filed Under: Travel

The European Union has the most passenger friendly regulations anywhere in the world, which comes in the form of their EC261 policy.

EC261 applies to:

  • Flights departing from a European Union airport on any airline
  • Flights traveling to a European Union airport on a European Union airline
  • In other words, for non-European Union airlines this only applies to flights departing the EU, and not flights to the EU

How does EC261 apply in light of COVID-19?

There has been some confusion (both among airlines and consumers) regarding what EC261 policies apply in light of the current circumstances.

For example, under normal circumstances EC261 would entitle consumers to up to 600EUR in cash compensation in the event of a flight delay or last minute cancelation.

The question has been whether the current situation is considered “extraordinary circumstances” for the purposes of passenger care, compensation, and refunds. The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes, and the European Union has today clarified the policy in detail.

Here’s what you should expect:

Expect cash refunds if your flight is canceled

A lot of airlines have been trying to get out of this, but under EC261 you’re entitled to a cash refund or rerouting in the event that your flight is canceled. That still applies now, despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Some airlines are trying to get away with just giving people a voucher in the event their flight is canceled as a way of preserving cash, but the European Union has ruled that a cash refund is necessary.

Similar regulations apply in the US, according to the Department of Transportation.

Don’t expect cash compensation for delays & cancelations

With EC261 you’re entitled to 250-600EUR cash compensation in the event that your flight is delayed or canceled (if it’s done within 14 days of departure), unless the cancelation is due to “extraordinary circumstances.” It has been ruled that all coronavirus-related cancelations are “extraordinary” for these purposes. This includes:

  • Cancelations due to government restrictions
  • Cancelations due to protecting the health and safety of the crew
  • “Where the flight cancellation occurs in circumstances where the corresponding movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to persons benefitting from derogations (for example nationals or residents of the state concerned)”
  • “Depending on the circumstances, this may also be the case in respect of flights in the direction opposite to the flights directly concerned by the ban on the movement of persons”

This regulation broadly gives airlines the opportunity to not provide compensation in the event that flights are canceled due to lack of demand resulting from coronavirus. Frankly I think that’s fair enough, since this entire situation is unprecedented, and airlines are struggling enough.

Expect duty of care

Airlines won’t be happy about this, but under this ruling, airlines still have a duty of care in the event that flights are canceled, even in light of the current situation. This care includes providing meals, accommodation, and transportation, for as long as is needed to get the passenger on the way:

“The right to care subsists only as long as passengers have to wait for a rerouting at the earliest convenience.”

If passengers choose not to travel and cancel their flight then there’s no duty to care anymore, but this ruling potentially opens airlines up to some pretty major liability.

For example, if you become stuck somewhere due to government restrictions, it would be on the airline to provide accommodation for as long as you’re stuck before you can return home.

Bottom line

It’s nice to get some clarity regarding EC261 in this environment. I think it’s totally reasonable that airlines shouldn’t owe cash compensation for cancelations at the moment arising from the COVID-19 situation.

However, airlines do have to provide cash refunds, which many have been trying to avoid doing, though I suspect that will now change.

Lastly, arguably this decision is very pro-consumer when you consider the airline has the duty to provide accommodation and food for as long as a passenger is stranded, even if it’s due to government regulations.

See this post for tips on how to cancel flights during the coronavirus pandemic.

(Tip of the hat to You Have Been Upgraded)

Comments
  1. People who want to claim compensation at this time are idiots

    Whilst there is a duty of care, I don’t think it reasonable for airlines to be expected to reimburse people for being stranded a month or more.

    When the regulation was drafted , they only considered a possible delay of 24 hrs maybe 2 days, as the assumption was the airline could rebook people within this time frame

    It only became an issue after the Icelandic volcano eruption

    In this scenario there is a potential for the value of a ticket being say $400 the airline rerouting someone and being charged $1000 by the other company and on top of that reimbursing $ 5000 in expenses A net loss of $5600 and multiply that by hundreds of thousands

  2. hi Ben

    i can’t find the ‘cash’ refund when flight is cancelled. Consulted the EU site and doesn’t state cash refund… Can you share the source of this or link?

    thx

    KS

  3. Hopefully people aren’t trying to get compensation, but I’m glad the commission is requiring refunds. I have a United flight next month that’s already cancelled, and you’ve reported well on the “games” they are trying to play. I’m waiting to contact them as many people need help now, but will be citing the European Commission ruling.

    Here is the official communication from the commision in case anyone is curious- https://ec.europa.eu/transport/sites/transport/files/legislation/c20201830_en.pdf

  4. Ben, can you clarify the contradiction between your two headlines as they relate to the EU airline cancelling a flight:

    • Expect cash refunds if your flight is canceled
    … and …
    • Don’t expect cash compensation for delays & cancelations

  5. @David Ourisman – There is a difference between “cash refund” (viz. the money you already paid) and “cash compensation” (viz. the statutory payment of up to EUR 600 on top of what you paid).

  6. Can you please help by updating your post with a link for the below ruling:

    “Expect cash refunds if your flight is canceled
    A lot of airlines have been trying to get out of this, but under EC261 you’re entitled to a cash refund or rerouting in the event that your flight is canceled. That still applies now, despite the extraordinary circumstances.

    Some airlines are trying to get away with just giving people a voucher in the event their flight is canceled as a way of preserving cash, but the European Union has ruled that a cash refund is necessary.”

    Thank you

  7. Hi Ben,

    I think some clarification needs to be made between a last-minute/operational cancellation versus what I’d call a “schedule change/reduction.” It seems like some of the EC261 language attempts to delineate with this 14-day in advance wording. If you could help clarify that would be great since the word “cancellation” seems to get thrown around a lot.

    Thanks!

    John

  8. What about if BA cancels a flight, but keep flying to that destination? I mean that they only reduce the number of flights due to demand; would compensation apply?

  9. Most of those cancellation are cost cutting measures. Can’t believe the EU commission is letting these pigs off the hook

  10. Jackie. You are a moron. I guess your are debit with a new name since he vanished

    Airlines are in the business to transport people not intentionally disrupt their plans

    Countries imposed travel restrictions and some without any notice – hello Donald.

    The entire EU, USA, Canada , Costa Rica , Panama, Colombia , Dominican Republic , Argentina..and many others

    The EU has restricted entry from outside for 30 days. Moreover people simply are not travelling

    Furthermore this regulation only applies to all carriers ex-EU and EU carriers to the EU

  11. Sorry to bother with a besides the point question, but could someone tell me which airline the third plane is, the one between the Ryanair and the Thomas Cook one? Thank you!

  12. @ Rodents So many idiotic comments on here , as yours is

    If an airline cannot fly as the airport is closed it’s not cost cutting.

  13. My trans-Atlantic May flights on Norwegian seem unlikely to happen, since Norwegian has cancelled all intercontinental flights. How do I apply for a cash refund?

  14. @Icarus

    LOL, technically it is cost cutting. But the reason isn’t because of cost cutting , except @ Rodents experience at Mumbai, which is different than cancellations, that is unacceptable on First Class. (I give the no shower a 50/50 doubt due to health reasons). I would be mad if they served me TV dinner on LH F.

    Most airport remains open, just no flyers so not the right excuse of airport is closed.

  15. The real issue is 14 days and this is why most people will not benefit from this. Say you will travel in April, but the ban of flights to the US and cancellations happened much sooner than that, so you’re out of luck. Very rarely do such policies benefit the consumer in the end. It’s a big cat and mouse game.

  16. Klm and af is still saying that if your flight is cancelled, you bought on their website and you bought a non-refundable fare, you only get a voucher.

    Interesting though, af website says if you booked via a travel agent you can cancel and get a refund. That’s just crazy!

    I’m assuming that’s not true according to this ruling? I’m assuming this is af and Klm trying to confuse people to take the voucher and keep their cash?

    Reading this ruling says they have to give you the options and they clearly aren’t on their website…

  17. For sake give the airlines a break.

    This is an unprecedent situation. Far worse than 9/11 or the financial crash individually or even combined.

    They are beng forced to cancel flights left, right and centre with little or no notice from governments to enable the airlines to prepare themselves yet instantly they get a barrage of calls asking about flights in 3 months time when they don’t even know what is happening in 3 hours time

    Calling airlines ‘pigs’ is not helpful to anyone and says more about the person using terms like that than the airlines. And I’d say that even in normal times.

    People need to man up and think for a second. I’ve seen thousands of comments on e.g. flyer talk asking about whether their status is going to get extended with no thought that many airline crew and airport staff are going to lose their jobs in the near future.

    I’ve seen complaints that refunds aren’t instantaneous and that it takes an age for the phone to be answered.

    I’ve seen complaints – becuse of hygiene concerns – that inflight catering and services might be reduced on some flights. At least those flights are still operating.

    Some people need to get real and stop thinking of themselves.

  18. With a confirmed flight from Madeira to Canada on Mar 24 I stood in line at the Groundforce Booth at Madeira airport for 4 [email protected] 4 hours per day trying to get a flight earlier. Only managed to get to Lisbon on the 16th and no further.

    At Lisbon I stood in line at midnight and managed to change the return to Canada to the 21 at a cost of an extra 2100€. Since the fare was in Executive the agent stated it was fully refundable.

    BA has flights leaving today but my question is refundability.

    Since the first leg of my one-way flight has been flown (luckily as I would be stuck in Madeira as of yesterday) I am questioning whether I would be eligible for a refund if I cancelled the rest of the itinerary and flew BA today. Most airlines only refund unused tickets (no refunds if first leg flown).

    Does anyone think that a refund of a partial ticket would be possible for cash?

  19. @TPG

    I asked a simple question about eligibility of a partially flown itinerary for a refund.

    Politely

    No swear words, cussing or negative comments.

    Yet you have sent it for moderation.

    I really need an answer as time is of the essence.

    My email is not normally moderated.

    What’s up doc?

  20. So, my KLM flight departing in a few days has been cancelled. As explained by KLM i’m not eligble for a cash refund since i didn’t book a refundable fare, the best i can get is a voucher… The information given by KLM is then incorrect?

  21. SAS today cancelled a flight I had booked for next week and they have automatically refunded me.

    Under the circumstances I wouldn’t dream of attempting any further claim. I’ve always had excellent customer service from SAS (*G but not Eurobonus) and use them frequently. This situation is not of their making and they have done more than enough to satisfy me. I would have been happy enough with a travel voucher as I’ll be flying with them again once the current situation settles.

  22. @Alex – no, you might have asked before the ruling as it only happened today but KLM must refund you back to the card you paid with.

  23. OMAT friends — I REALLY need your help. I have a reservation booked directly with TAP. I booked an amazing deal in business last May from the U.S. to Europe. TAP cancelled both legs (booked separately) of my roundtrip flight. TAP refuses to issue me a refund. They will only either (1) allow me to re-book my flight by the end of next month (a year from when I bought the tickets) or (2) issue me a voucher good for a year. I was very clear with the agent that I didn’t want a voucher, I wanted a refund. I got nowhere. I know about HUCA, but that doesn’t seem to get me anywhere. I also plan to dispute the charge with my credit card company, but the charge was back in May, so I’m worried they won’t accept it. PLEASE — this is a lot of money for me as it was a once in a lifetime trip. I’d appreciate any help you could provide!

  24. @Justin: Thanks. Now if I could only get through to TAP on the phone again. This is such a nightmare.

  25. @red_robbo: many thanks. I was certain someone here would know and be kind enough to reply. Much appreciated.

  26. @ChrisC (March 19, 2020 at 6:43 am) : loved your sensible comments!

    “Some people need to get real and stop thinking of themselves.” … well that would certainly be one of the many lessons that you would expect from that “unique” event… so let’s dream this is going to happen … in the end 🙂

  27. The EU has now designated COVID-19 an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. EU261 compensation will not be paid for cancellations. The other rules regarding what airlines must provide still stand –

    https://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/passengers/news/2020-03-18-covid-19-guidance-eu-passenger-rights_en

    “In light of the mass cancellations and delays passengers and transport operators face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission wants to provide legal certainty on how to apply EU passenger rights. In case of cancellations the transport provider must reimburse or re-route the passengers. If passengers themselves decide to cancel their journeys, reimbursement of the ticket depends on its type, and companies may offer vouchers for subsequent use. Today’s guidelines will provide much-needed legal certainty on how to apply EU passenger rights in a coordinated manner across our Union. We continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation, and, if need be, further steps will be taken.”

  28. For those looking for the specific legislation, EC 261/2004 is here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32004R0261:EN:HTML

    You have a right to to reimbursement within 7 days for the full cost of the ticket according to article 8(1a). That states by the means listed in article 7(3). That allows them to an offer a voucher but ONLY with your signed agreement. Otherwise they may MUST pay it in cash.

    So do not accept the voucher. They must pay you 1) in cash 2) within a week and 3) for the full cost of the ticket (fare conditions and cancellation fees do not apply as they initiate the cancellation not you). Make sure you phrase it as claiming your refund for them cancelling the flight, not asking to cancel it yourself.

    However do not expect additional compensation as it’s beyond their control – see article 5(3)

  29. I just got the “A message from Johan” email in which CEO Johan Lundgren apologizes for the current situation and the resulting cancellation of my flight. Very nice.

    In the email he writes ” Our customer service team will be in touch to let you know how to switch to a new flight, get a voucher or be reimbursed. We are currently dealing with an unprecedented number of calls and are working hard to try and process these as quickly as we can – however, with a number of our service centers directly affected by government restrictions, it may take longer than usual and so we thank you for your patience.”

    Johan, I have an idea to free up all your hard working people and make their lives a lot easier – not to mention the countless hours you have us wait on hold trying to get help:

    Put the Cash Refunds button back on the Manage Bookings page where you removed it – see, that easy.

  30. Yep, easyJet are reprehensible. You can see the code on their webpage where the refund button has been deactivated and only a voucher is offered.

    If I have a good airline with good experiences, I would not press a compensation claim.

    If for example, they paid out £170m to shareholders a few days after this article and later cry about their financial difficulties…yep, my heart truly bleeds for them.

  31. I’m not sure if anyone is still monitoring this, but I’ve a question.

    I have a single ticket (one reservation number) from EasyJet with 4 flights on it:
    – Basel to Madeira
    – Madeira to Porto
    – Porto to Basel
    – Basel to Brussels

    Each flight is a week to 2 weeks after the previous one.

    EasyJet cancelled the first flight (on their rolling weekly cancellation schedule), and after clicking through multiple pages I eventually got to the page to claim a refund.

    My question is, though, am I entitled to a refund of the whole ticket once the first flight is cancelled as the first flight sets me off on a trip which eventually ends in Brussels 6 weeks later and if the first flight is cancelled, I won’t be able to get the subsequent flights?

    And, if so, what part of the regulation relates to that.

    Thx

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