Response from the European Commission [am200603]

Dear [am200603],

Thank you for contacting the Europe Direct Contact Centre.

Passengers and the European transport industry are hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak. Containment measures of authorities, such as travel restrictions, lock-downs and quarantine zones, imply that transport may be one of the most severely affected sectors of this pandemic. The situation is stressful for many passengers, whose travel arrangements have been cancelled and/or who do not wish or are not allowed to travel anymore.

Under EU law (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004), if your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to:
a) care by the airline while waiting (phone calls, refreshments, meals, accommodation and transportation to the place of accommodation, if necessary).
b) on a one-off basis, a choice between:
i) reimbursement of the full cost of the unused ticket segments (and in the case of a connecting flight, a return flight to the airport of departure at the earliest opportunity);
ii) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
iii) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at a later date at your convenience, subject to the availability of seats.

As regards re-routing, and as explained above, “the earliest opportunity” may under the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak imply considerable delay, and the same may apply to the availability of concrete information on such “opportunity” given the high level of uncertainty affecting air traffic. The application of Article 5 of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 may have to take into consideration these circumstances. However, at any rate: First, passengers should be informed about delays and/or uncertainties linked to them choosing re-routing instead of reimbursement. Second, should a passenger choose nonetheless re-routing at the earliest opportunity, the carrier should be considered to have fulfilled its information obligation towards the passenger if it communicated on its own initiative, as soon as possible and in good time, the flight available for rerouting.

Regulation 261/2004 also provides for fixed sum compensations in some circumstances. This does not apply to cancellations made more than 14 days in advance or where the cancellation is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. For details, see Article 5(1) and Article 7 of the Regulation.

The Commission considers that, where public authorities take measures intended to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, such measures are by their nature and origin not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of carriers and are outside their actual control. Article 5(3) waives the right to compensation on condition that the cancellation in question “is caused” by extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. This condition should be considered fulfilled, where public authorities either outright prohibit certain flights or ban the movement of persons in a manner that excludes, de facto, the flight in question to be operated. This condition may also be fulfilled, 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). Where no such person would take a given flight, the latter would remain empty if not cancelled. In such situations, it may be legitimate for a carrier not to wait until very late, but to cancel the flight in good time (and even without being certain about the rights of the various passengers to travel at all), in order for appropriate organisational measures to be taken, including in terms of care for passengers owed by the carrier. In cases of the kind, and depending on the circumstances, a cancellation may still be viewed as “caused” by the measure taken by the public authorities.

Again, 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. Where the airline decides to cancel a flight and shows that this decision was justified on grounds of protecting the health of the crew, such cancellation should also be considered as “caused” by extraordinary circumstances. The above considerations are not and cannot be exhaustive in that other specific circumstances in relation to Covid-19 may also fall under the ambit of Article 5(3).

You will find further practical information on how to claim your rights at:

The Commission published on 18 March 2020 interpretative guidelines on how certain provisions of the EU passenger rights legislation should be applied in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and thereby ensure clarity and legal certainty for all those involved.

We hope you find this information useful. Please contact us again if you have other questions about the European Union, its activities or institutions.