If an airline cancels my flight in advance, what compensation am I entitled to?

Q&A travel unravelled

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The Independent Travel

Q. I was booked to fly from Liverpool to Riga on Wednesday 18 January, but Ryanair has told me the flight has been cancelled. I have been offered a refund or a flight two days earlier. Airlines seem to have the ability to alter schedules without compensating the passenger for consequential losses. As the recession bites I can see schedules being revised weekly in order to reduce loss-making flights, leaving passengers with an array of problems. Dr John Holt, East Yorkshire


A. If a passenger cancels a flight, they lose most or all of their money. However unfair it may seem, if the tables are turned and the airline cancels a trip, you have few rights. So long as the carrier gives you at least a fortnight's warning, you can expect nothing beyond the choice of an alternative flight or a refund of your fare. The EU261 passengers' rights compensation – providing €250 for a cancellation – does not apply if you are told two weeks ahead or more.

Ryanair is by no means alone in making tactical cancellations: BA, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic have all been known to cancel midweek departures in winter. If the ticket revenue is predicted to fall well short of the costs of a there-and-back flight, considerations of cash may take precedence over customer service.

The practice makes it all the more valuable to book a package holiday – if the airline cancels your flight, the tour operator has to arrange an acceptable alternative or give you a full refund on the whole trip. But if you have booked a room separately, the proprietor may still charge you.


Q. What do you know about the closure of Bergerac airport this winter? Christine Bolton, Tooting, London

A. The handy little airport, about 40 miles inland from Bordeaux, is closing from 9 January to 23 March 2012 for runway resurfacing. Because most flights are summer-only, the only affected flights from the UK are on Ryanair from Stansted and Flybe from Southampton – both of which will be suspended, rather than diverted. The main alternative is Bordeaux, though the airport is inconveniently located on the wrong side of the city to the Dordogne valley. Another option is Brive, served from London City by Air France.