What to do when your flight is cancelled during the COVID-19 outbreak

Advise for people who are worried about airline flight cancellations in COVID times

Ever-changing travel restrictions between countries to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic have brought a number of holidays to a halt. However, you may be entitled to refunds, ticket transfers or vouchers from the airline depending on how the flight was terminated.

Flight ticket transfers and vouchers

An airline may offer you the chance to rebook with them for a later date without any additional cost if they cancelled your flight.

This means you can travel for up to the same, and sometimes greater, value of the original tickets, and often to a different destination. This may come in the form of vouchers or ticket transfers, which are usually redeemable up to 12 months after cancellation.

If you intend on giving your tickets to someone else, remember that passenger information usually can’t be changed without incurring a fee, and some companies don’t allow it at all.

Free ticket transfers or vouchers aren’t a legal requirement if the airline cancels the booking however refunds usually are.

Refund entitlement for flights

You should inform the airline as soon as possible if you want a refund from a booking they’ve cancelled, even if they don’t give you the option.

The law says flights departing an EU nation, which still includes the UK, or operated by an EU airline must be refunded within seven days of the request, or 14 days if it’s part of a package holiday.

You should also be entitled to compensation if the cancellation is made less than 14 days before the scheduled departure. You can read more about your air passenger rights on Europa.eu

However, the COVID-19 outbreak has placed asterisks around these timeframes due to the volume of refund requests airlines have been receiving.

The Civil Aviation Authority, for example, identified only a minority of airlines are actually able to meet the deadlines in the current climate. It’s therefore advised to allow airlines a longer period of time to deliver, but don’t lose sight of the fact you’re entitled to your money back.

If your flight isn’t operated by an EU airline and departs a non-EU country, you will instead need to follow the airline’s own terms and conditions. Most airlines will adhere to the cancellation guidelines set out by the International Air Transport Association.

What if I’ve cancelled the flight booking?

Many people are proactively changing or cancelling their travel arrangements in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, it’s advised to hold off for as long as you can and let the airline make the first move.

Bookings cancelled by customers aren’t usually eligible for full refunds, ticket transfers or vouchers. You might have to pay cancellation fees or there may be no option to cancel at all after 24 hours of booking, as is the case with most airlines.

Penalties for flight changes can vary from hundreds of pounds to zero, and you will generally have more time to request a change than a cancellation.

It’s recommended to make a move if cancellation or transfer fees are about to increase as you get closer to the departure date.