Did An Airline Cancel Your Flight? The US & EU Authorities Confirm You’re Entitled To A Full Refund


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It’s no secret that a significant number of airlines around the world have been attempting to circumvent or ignore regulations that order them to offer passengers full cash refunds when their flights are cancelled by the airlines.

Actions taken by these airlines have resulted in passengers being fooled or frustrated into accepting vouchers for future travel when the cost of their trips should have been fully refunded, and a sudden rise in complaints to the authorities has seen some regulators take action.

The European Commission was ahead of the game on this issue and clarified the regulations in the face of the current crisis back in the middle of last month:

In the case of a flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), Article 5 obliges the operating air carrier to offer the passengers the choice among:

a) reimbursement (refund);

b) re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or

c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience

That could not be clearer – refunds are due “no matter what the cause is” when an airline cancels a passenger’s flight(s).

What this means is this:

  • When flights booked for travel within the European Union (which for the purposes of this regulation includes the UK, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland) are cancelled by an airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.
  • When flights booked for travel from the European Union (to any other destination worldwide) are cancelled by an airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.
  • When flights booked for travel to the European Union are cancelled by an EU-based airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.

In all three instances listed above, passengers do not have to accept vouchers for future travel when an airline cancels their flights.

Somewhat late to the game (but better late than never), the US Department of Transport waded into this debate last Friday and was equally clear in its opinion on the current situation in the Enforcement Notice it issued:

Carriers have a longstanding obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.

The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).

The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger. 

Accordingly, the Department continues to view any contract of carriage provision or airline policy that purports to deny refunds to passengers when the carrier cancels a flight, makes a significant schedule change, or significantly delays a flight to be a violation of the carriers’ obligation that could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.

Again, this really couldn’t be any clearer. The US DoT has stated that if a flight cancellation takes place for reasons outside of the passenger’s control, a full refund is due to that passenger.

This is is a shot across the bows of airlines like JetBlue who have been telling their passengers (in a truly disgraceful way) that the current crisis removes any obligations they have for providing refunds – if a US airline has told you this they are lying and are in breach of DoT rules.

Note: DoT rules regarding flight delays and cancellations apply to flights that operate to, from, or within the United States.

Bottom Line

With the European Commission’s ruling covering all European airlines, all flights within Europe and all flights departing from Europe, and with the US Department of Transport’s rules covering all flights to, from and within the United States, the number of passengers covered by these clarifications is significant.

With very few exceptions, if a European or US airline has cancelled your flight(s), you are entitled to a full refund regardless of the reason for the cancellation so do not let anyone tell you otherwise – quote the regulations to the airlines if you have to.

Airlines may try to tempt you into accepting a voucher for future travel in place of the refund you’re entitled to but I strongly advise that you think long and hard before taking them up on this offer.

In light of the recent clarifications, I’m more than happy to name and shame any airline that continues to attempt to circumvent the rules set down by the EU and/or the DoT so please let me know of any experiences you have in the comments section below.

12 COMMENTS

  1. In South Africa we booked 6 return flights within the country using Air Link.
    Their website automatically referred us to South African Airways portal which they use for their bookings.
    Air Link have cancelled our flights.
    They are refusing to refund us claiming that South African Airways have not remitted our funds to them.
    Our booking is with Air Link from their website using their designated portal for payment.
    Both airlines have refused a refund.
    They are both IATA registered airlines.
    Please help us we are severely out of pocket and incredibly frustrated.
    I can supply full details of ticket numbers/ PNR booking codes and payment dates etc.. The tickets were booked and paid in full nearly a year ago!

    • I’m not in a position to help you with the airlines as they won’t listen to me any more than they’ll listen to you but it sounds like you’re stuck in the middle of a dispute between the two airlines.

      The key facts appear to be as follows:
      1) You booked with Airlink and Airlink cancelled the flights so it’s airlink who owes you a refund.
      2) The fact that Airlink’s partner (whose payment processor you were redirected to) hasn’t remitted your money to Airlink should be an issue between Airlink and SAA – this isn’t your problem.

      I suggest:
      1) Continue to hound Airlink for a refund
      2) Check if you can do a chargeback on whatever credit card you used to pay (assuming you used a credit card).
      3) Sending in an official complaint to whichever body regulates Airlink and SAA

      Let me know how you get on.

  2. What if the return flight is cancelled? It happened to me and I booked the ticket via Chase Travel. I decided to stay in my outbound destination for longer and requested a refund. Then I was told by Chase that I would only get $34 out of the $1,200 paid fare back. I challenged by saying that out of $1,200 I paid, $610 is for taxes and fees. How is it possible that I only get $34 back? They said my outbound flight is priced at $2,100. So basically I should get nothing back. $34 is the taxes I can get back. It’s just ridiculous. I requested BA to give me a voucher, and the reply was that I have to contact Chase Travel because I didn’t book the ticket directly with me. Feeling totally ripped off and Chase is basically helping BA to keep the money in this case!

    • BA is right that you have to contact Chase travel but I’d be interested to see where Chase is getting their flight split from and where they’re getting their taxes and fees from. Do you have an invoice/confirmation sowing what you paid (including a breakdown of taxes and fees)?

  3. British Airways cancelled the entire flight. Website pretends to offer a refund, but when you go to that page it’s only good for a voucher. If you want a actual refund you must call during their (limited) hours. From the US you must call LONG DISTANCE INTERNATIONAL (!), to potentially be on hold for hours. No thanks. Previous calls only got to dead air — not even hold music.
    Disputing charge with credit card instead.

  4. I had a flight booked with Air Arabia from Marrakesh to London Gatwick. When they cancelled it they only offered me a voucher valid for 6 months. Have been in touch with their customer service reps via email, Twitter and Facebook and they all refuse to refund, claiming that this is a force majeure event.

    • That’s terrible customer service. Can you find out which body regulates Air Arabia and make a formal complaining with them?

      Better still, find out what advice this body is offering regarding cancellations and check to see if Air Arabia is in breach of that advice.

  5. I booked a return EDI-MNL-EDI out on 22 april in on 14may on Turkish Airlines & booked via Ticketstoindia.co.uk.
    On 1 april Turkish Airlines emailed me to contact their customer service call centre. I called on 2 april
    they advised they cancelled my flights, if i required a refund or rebooking i had to do it via my travel agency.
    On contacting Ticktstoindia they advised that Turkish Airlines were not remitting refunds to them for customers and i should get in touch with Turkish Airlines again.
    I explained that i have terminal cancer and would be lucky if i see Sept/Oct this year, so asked for refund and i will send to my granddaughter in Manila as i now cannot fly. They told me to send Email to their refund site. so far nothing heard’
    Could you advise if my best option now would be a chargeback on my visa card, and if so should i ask visa to claim from Turkish Airlines or Ticketstoindia

    • Hi, I’m very sorry you find yourself in this position – this really isn’t something you should have to be dealing with.

      In answer to your question: yes, go for a chargeback and request it from whomever charged your card in the first place (which I assume is Ticketstoindia)

  6. I also got scammed by Turkish Airlines (exact same story as James above), booked a ticket then the next day it was cancelled and have been told that I can request a refund, get this, 60 days AFTER an undefined period, ie, when their normal scheduling restarts. When that will be no one knows. Waiting and hoping to get my money back now. Who knows. Probably not, I’m not holding my breath. I’m a frequent flyer and will never fly with Turdish Air. Such a scam. They knew very well what they were doing.

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