Ruth Emery
By Ruth Emery
Finance Journalist
Updated 29 April 2024
|Read time: 5 mins

Find out all you need to know about flight cancellations

You’re looking forward to a trip away… and then your flight gets cancelled. Cue panic as you scramble to find an alternative way to get to your destination and figure out your refund or compensation rights.

It can be very stressful working out what to do if your flight is cancelled, especially if it’s at short notice.

Our guide explains everything you need to know, from getting compensation or a replacement flight, to dealing with a travel company or airline that goes bust.

What happens when a flight is cancelled: your rights

Your airline must book you onto a replacement flight or refund you if your flight departs from the UK or EU. If your return flight to the UK is cancelled and you’re flying with a UK airline, you’re also entitled to a replacement flight or refund.

These rules are part of the Denied Boarding Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC).

If your cancelled flight doesn’t fall into one of the above criteria (for example, you’re flying with United Airlines from Chicago to London), you’ll need to check the terms and conditions of your booking.

Choose a replacement flight…

Under the Denied Boarding Regulation, if you choose the replacement flight option, you’re entitled to be rerouted to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or on an agreed date. This can include being booked onto a rival airline, so if your British Airways flight is cancelled and there’s only a Ryanair flight available, you can request this.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, you may also be able to request a different mode of transport if that will be quicker and more appropriate. For example, getting the Eurostar to Paris, rather than waiting for a replacement flight to the French capital.

Do check any alternative route offered to you carefully. If it involves a long stop-over (and your original, cancelled flight was direct), this may not be suitable.

Try and avoid booking your own alternative flight, as some airlines will do anything they can to avoid reimbursing you, and you may have to gather a large amount of evidence to support your claim.

…or a refund

If you’d prefer a refund, the rules state that the full cost of your flight must be reimbursed within seven days. The refund refers to all parts of the ticket you haven't used.

However, it doesn’t cover other aspects of your trip that you may have paid for, such as accommodation. You’ll need to check the terms of the booking to see if you can get a refund, or contact the accommodation provider directly. If not, you should contact your travel insurance provider to find out what cover is available under your policy.

If you need to book another flight urgently, your travel insurance may cover the difference in cost if it's more than the original ticket. Make sure insurance is on your holiday checklist and be prepared for any scenario.

Can I get compensation when a flight is cancelled?

Passengers are often entitled to compensation under the Denied Boarding Regulation – although there are some exemptions.

Unfortunately it starts to get rather complicated here, but we’ve tried to make it as simple as possible.

The exemptions include: if you were informed of the cancellation more than 14 days before you were due to fly, if you’re informed between one and two weeks before departure, and your alternative flight gets you to your final destination no more than four hours late, or your alternative flight gets you to your destination no more than two hours late.

The other big caveat is that if the airline can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances and is out of the airline’s control, such as extreme weather, then the compensation rules won’t apply. Strikes by air traffic control or Border Force staff are likely to be outside the airline’s control – but strikes by the airline’s employees are not.

If you are eligible for compensation, you’ll receive between €125 and €600 depending on the length of flight (those flying more than 3,500km, such as London to Hong Kong, receive the most) and also depending on the arrival time of the replacement flight.

There’s a handy compensation calculator on the Which? website that can help you work out what you may be entitled to.

What happens if your flight is cancelled at short notice?

If you were already at the airport when your flight was cancelled, and you’ve chosen to take a replacement flight, you’re entitled to free meals and refreshments while you wait, plus free hotel accommodation and transfers if an overnight stay is necessary. 

Don’t go overboard on the free expenses though. Airlines are unlikely to pay for a three-course meal with champagne, or a room at a swanky five-star hotel. Keep receipts for everything so you can make a claim when you get home.

What happens if the travel company or airline goes bust?

If the airline goes bust and your flight is cancelled, you will not be covered by the usual protections like getting a refund or an alternative flight.

Instead, you’ll need to try and claim the money back from your credit card or debit card provider, or your travel insurer.

If you booked a package holiday and the holiday company goes bust before you travel, check if it has ABTA or ATOL protection. If it’s ABTA- protected, you can claim a refund through the travel association. If it’s ATOL, you can apply to the Civil Aviation Authority for a full refund.

More broadly, if you booked a package holiday and the flight gets cancelled, you’ll need to contact the tour operator – rather than the airline – to discuss your options.

Travel money made easy

It’s always useful to have some local currency when jetting off abroad. For great rates and no commission, pop to one of the Bureaux de Change in our John Lewis & Partners shops around the UK, or order online for click & collect or home delivery.

If your flight does get cancelled, you can always sell your travel money back to us at one of our Bureau de Change locations.

Exchange rates in our shops may vary from those offered online.

 

 

This article is for promotional or information purposes only. You must not rely on it as advice. Please contact a financial adviser if you need advice before you buy a financial product or service.

Recommended guides

What you need to know on how to report a lost or stolen passport and how to get a new one.

Find out what GHICs cover and how you can apply for one for medical protection abroad.

Use our handy guide to find out the rules for UK passport photos so you can jet away on your next trip as soon as possible.

John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners Bureau de Change are both trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc introduce the panel of carefully chosen providers in Bureau de Change products and services, whom each hold the appropriate licences with the Financial Conduct Authority and HMRC.

Foreign Currency online from both John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners is provided by First Rate Exchange Services Limited registration number 04287490 (Money Service Business licence number MLR-64068), whose registered office is at Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, West London, TW8 9DF England.

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