Nobody likes it when their flight is cancelled, but whether you’re a real road warrior or you fly less often, it’s something you’re bound to encounter sooner or later: and when it happens to you, there are steps you can take to minimise your delays and costs.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also qualify for cash compensation from your airline, or for an extra serving of frequent flyer points for your troubles.
Here’s what to do when your flight is cancelled, so you can get back on track.
Step 1: Calmly contact your airline or travel agent
As you’d expect, getting in touch with your airline or travel agent as soon as you become aware your flight is cancelled will get the ball rolling.
This is where flight monitoring apps like TripIt Pro come in handy, because you’ll sometimes receive a cancellation alert before the airline sends out an alert of their own: and if you’re already on the phone sorting our your new travel arrangements, you’re ahead of the hundreds of other people in the same boat.
Some airlines allow you to choose your new flight via their website or mobile app, including Qantas, which takes into account your ‘customer value’ when deciding which flight options to present. More valuable customers get access to earlier, non-stop flights than less-frequent travellers:
If you’re already at the airport when the cancellation occurs, the airline service desk in the lounge or in the terminal concourse is a better go-to, because the staff here can move you onto flights that are under “airport control” – that is, flights that are departing in the next few hours, which telephone reservation staff may not be able to secure.
Remember, your first priority is to get yourself a confirmed seat on another flight, so that you can arrive at your destination as quickly as possible – everything else comes later.
Step 2: Ask about accommodation, if delayed overnight
If you’ve been moved onto a flight the following day and you can’t get onto an earlier service, you’ll need a hotel for the night, and depending on the reason your flight was cancelled, your airline may or may not cover the cost.
If your airline says “no problem”, check if you have to stay at a specific hotel and need a printed voucher for your stay, or whether you’re free to make your own arrangements for the airline to later reimburse: an important step to take before incurring any accommodation costs yourself.
It doesn’t hurt to ask the airline about transfers to and from that hotel, meal costs incurred during your delay and telephone expenses, as there may be rules or limits you have to follow, or that ‘free meal’ might only be available at in-house hotel restaurants, as opposed to room service or off-site locations.
Should your airline not come to the plate with accommodation – or there are mass cancellations and you’re unable to reach the airline – it’s time to book your own hotel, for now.
Step 3: Request an “insurance letter” from your airline
Next up, you’ll want the airline to confirm your flight cancellation in writing, along with the details of your new arrangements. Most travel insurers require this as standard before a claim can be considered, but you may not receive this unless you ask.
With Qantas, you can request a letter through its Customer Care site – just click “Insurance Letter”, the reason your flight was cancelled and the details of your new flight in the text box – whereas with Virgin Australia, you’ll need to complete and return a Word document in a similar way.
For any other airline, just Google “(airline name) insurance letter”, such as “Cathay Pacific insurance letter”, to find what you’re after.
Step 4: Check if your flight is eligible for EU261 compensation
If your travel plans to, from or within Europe are delayed by a flight cancellation – as well as other events like denied boarding – you may be entitled to claim compensation from the airline, including on flights booked using airline frequent flyer points.
Known as EU261, the EU’s Flight Compensation Regulations cover journeys departing from EU member countries with any airline, as well as flights to EU member states from elsewhere in the world on European airlines.
For example, passengers flying Qantas from Singapore to London do not qualify for EU261 compensation, because the flight does not depart from within the EU and isn’t operated by a European airline, but British Airways travellers on the same Singapore-London route would fall under EU261, because BA is based in the United Kingdom, which is still part of the EU.
Qantas passengers would only be eligible for EU261 compensation on disrupted journeys departing from London, being a flight from an EU country, as long as their delay wasn’t caused by an “extraordinary event” like severe weather or air traffic control strikes.
(For a full list of current European Union member countries which fall under the breadth of EU261, click here.)
The amount of compensation you may be entitled to varies based on the distance of your affected flight, as below. This is in addition to any costs incurred for reasonable accommodation, transport and telephone charges during a delay, which your airline should also reimburse:
- Flights of 1,500km or less: €250 (A$393) when delayed by two hours or more
- Flights within the EU of 1,500km and above: €400 (A$630) when delayed by three hours or more
- Other eligible flights of 1,501-3,499km: €400 (A$630) when delayed by three hours or more (such as for London-Istanbul flights)
- Flights not within the EU of 3,500km and above: €600 (A$945) when delayed by four hours or more (such as Qantas flights from London to Singapore and Perth, flights from Europe to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, and all flights from Europe to Asia)
For more information on eligibility for EU261 and for help making a compensation claim against an airline, visit the European Union website.
Step 5: Contact your travel insurer
If a cancelled flight puts you out of pocket beyond the expenses your airline will cover, it’s time to talk to your travel insurer. Be sure to keep receipts for every purchase and expense you’ve incurred, as these will be needed to substantiate your claim, along with the insurance letter you requested earlier.
Depending on your insurer, you may not be able to submit a claim unless you’ve already contacted the airline and asked for your expenses to be covered, so check the claims process with your insurer carefully, including any deadlines for making a claim.
If your trip wasn’t covered by a paid-for insurance policy, check to see if your credit card offers any insurance as a backup – offered on many Gold, Platinum and Black cards, and often activated when you pay for a return trip using your card, or by charging a certain amount of travel expenses to the card before beginning your journey.
Step 6: Claim “original routing credit” from your frequent flyer program
After a flight has been cancelled, you may sometimes be booked onto a new flight with a different airline, or onto a different route than you’d originally planned.
This could mean earning fewer points and status credits than the ticket you’d originally paid for. That’s not fair, because the cancellation isn’t your fault, so many frequent flyer schemes allow requests for “original routing credit” in these circumstances.
It won’t happen automatically – you’ll need to contact your frequent flyer scheme and explain what happened with a copy of your original reservation – but if you’ve been short-changed on frequent flyer points and/or status credits, those can be fixed up.
As an added bonus, if you were rebooked onto a competing airline, you may be able to double-dip on points and status credits: both from the flight you took in the normal way, and the flight you booked for which you can request “original routing credit”.
For instance, if you were due to fly from Singapore to Sydney with Qantas, your flight was cancelled and Qantas decided to rebook you onto Singapore Airlines, you could attach your KrisFlyer or Velocity number to your new flight, and also request “original routing credit” from Qantas, giving you Qantas Points and status credits as per the ticket you booked, as well as Velocity points or KrisFlyer miles for the flight you took.