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Airport display lists flight times in green, one line is red with ‘Cancelled’
If an airline cancels a flight, it must offer reasonably timed alternative transport or pay compensation. Image: SynthEx / shutterstock

Airline has cancelled a flight - What am I entitled to?

The regulations on claims in the event of flight cancellations by the airline are precisely defined in the Air Passenger Rights Regulation (EC No. 261/2004). Cancellation is therefore when you had reserved at least one seat on a flight that was not operated. If your flight is cancelled by the airline and you do not accept the offer of re-routing, the amount of compensation you receive depends on the length of the flight and whether the airline has to provide further assistance.

Assistance with replacement flight

If a replacement flight is organised at short notice, you are entitled to free refreshments or snacks in reasonable proportion to the waiting time and, if necessary, two free telephone calls or e-mails. The airline should inform you of these rights at the check-in counter or gate (e.g. information sheet).

If the replacement flight is not operated until the following day, you are entitled to a free transfer (there & back) to a free hotel accommodation, or in the event that you have to return home, a new transfer to the airport on the new day of departure.

Green pictogram shows hamburger and beverage cup with straw

Food and drinks

According to the regulation, the extent of the assistance benefit depends on your waiting time for the replacement flight and the length of your flight route. For short-haul flights, it also matters whether the flight only takes place in the European Economic Area (EEA countries, see above). In practice, airlines usually hand out vouchers for airport restaurants. Sometimes, however, nothing is offered and passengers waiting are not informed of their entitlements. As a result, the necessary receipts for expenses incurred during the waiting time are often missing. So keep all receipts for such restaurant, taxi or hotel costs! You are only entitled to care benefits if the waiting time and flight distance fall into one of the following four categories.

  • Short-haul (up to 1,500 km) only from 2 hours waiting time
    (e.g. Kiev- Vienna)
  • Short-haul within the EEA (up to 1,500 km) only from 3 hours waiting time
    (e.g. Graz - Madrid)
  • Medium distance (between 1,500 and 3,500 km) only from 3 hours waiting time
    (e.g. Innsbruck - Ankara)
  • From 4 hours waiting time, the length of the flight route does not matter

Timely notification of cancellation

Compensation due to a flight cancellation is not payable at all if you were notified of the flight cancellation at least two weeks before the departure date. The airline must be able to prove this notification.

If the airline offers you alternative transport (usually a replacement flight) for the booked route, this replacement flight must be announced to you within a certain time window and must also take place. If the following applies, the airline does not have to pay a compensation to you:

  • If the notification of the replacement flight was made between 14 and 7 days before departure, the departure may be a maximum of 2 hours earlier and the arrival a maximum of 4 hours later.
  • If the notification of the replacement flight was made less than 7 days before departure, the departure may be a maximum of 1 hour earlier and the arrival a maximum of 2 hours later.

If the airline did not offer a replacement flight at all and you had booked a replacement flight yourself, you are entitled to the additional costs incurred. In order to demonstrate your due diligence in finding a flight with ‘comparable travel conditions at the earliest possible time’, you should take screenshots of comparative offers when searching for the self-organised replacement flight.

Red pictogram shows calendar

Timely informed

Compensation payment

In the case of cancelled flights, an airline must make a financial compensation payment per person unless alternative transport is offered in good time (see above). The amount of compensation is based on the straight line distance between the point of departure and destination; connecting flights are not taken into account:

  1. 250 € for short-haul flights distances (1500km)  
  2. 400 € for medium-haul flights (3500km) 
  3. 600 € for long-haul flights (over 3500 km) but only if they go beyong the EEA

If passengers make use of alternative transport organised by the airline, these compensation payments may be reduced by 50%. However, this alternative transport must not exceed a certain arrival delay to the cancelled flight, otherwise the full compensation payment is due.

  1. 125 € for short-haul flights distances (1500km) - substitute arrival at most 2 hours later
  2. 200 € for medium-haul flights (3500km) - substitute arrival at most 3 hours later
  3. 300 € for long-haul flights (over 3500 km) - substitute arrival at most 4 hours later
Green pictogram shows an aeroplane in the upper half and euro banknotes below a dividing line

Compensation by airline

Wann muss die Airline nicht zahlen?

If a so-called extraordinary circumstance occurs, the airline does not have to pay financial compensation following the cancellation of a flight. Exceptional circumstances can be, for example, storms, natural disasters, strikes that do not affect the airline's own staff, terrorist threats, lightning strikes, bird strikes, medical emergencies or proven manufacturing defects on the aircraft.

However, the airline must still suggest an alternative flight (or alternative transport) in exceptional circumstances. Even if it does not have to pay any compensation.

Red pictogram shows volcanic eruption

Extraordinary circumstance

What should I do at the airport?

  • Check whether and when the airline informed you of the cancellation. If certain information deadlines were not met, you are entitled to financial compensation.
  • If the replacement flight does not depart until hours later in the event of an unannounced cancellation: speak to the airline staff and assert your rights to care services. According to the regulation, the staff should actually approach you and inform you of your rights.
  • Document your expenses during the waiting time: If you do not receive any care services from the airline, keep receipts for meals or refreshments consumed. If the replacement flight was not until the following day, also keep the hotel and taxi bills!
  • Screenshot for online complaints: If you fill in an airline complaint form online, you should take a screenshot before sending your entries to be on the safe side.
  • Record the arrival time of your replacement flight at your destination. If the arrival delay exceeds a certain duration, you are entitled to financial compensation even though you have taken a replacement flight. You should therefore record the duration of the arrival delay in order to claim the correct amount. You should also keep the details of the cancelled flight (flight number, departure and arrival time).
Pictogram showing flight cancellation

Flight cancelled - what now?


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