What to do if your flight is cancelled? 5 steps

Flight disruptions happen every day. Flights get delayed or cancelled due to number of reasons, including aircraft technical problems, extreme weather conditions and employee strikes. But, honestly, there is nothing much you can do about it. And even if you aren’t flying that often you may have to experience it yourself one day. What to do if your flight is cancelled? Can you get a compensation of any sort?

To help you not get lost in the world of bureaucracy, we have created this easy-to-follow 5 step guide. Save it for later, and you’ll always be prepared!

What to do if your flight is cancelled?

Step 1: Your flight is cancelled

Where are you right now?

  • If you are at the airport, wait for the following announcement. If you can, connect to the internet to check your email. Even though it’s highly unlikely to happen that fast, there is probably an email from the airline describing the situation already waiting for you.
  • Otherwise wait for the announcement from the airline, if you haven’t received it yet. They will offer you another flight (or several) to your destination with them or with another airline or refund.

If your flight is in less than 24 hours, you have learned that your flight is cancelled, but you haven’t yet received any message from the airline and you have a very strict schedule, call your airline to ask what to do next.

Step 2: Look at your itinerary once again

Do you have something that you may miss because of this cancellation? Other flight, train, bus or ferry? If no - go to Step 3.

If it’s a connecting flight that you have booked together with this flight, then there is nothing to worry about. The airline will take care of this by putting you on another flight at no extra cost to you.

If it’s a flight that was booked separately, even though it’s with the same airline, then you may lose it and will need to deal with all the consequences yourself. The same stands for train, bus, ferry or any other mode of transportation.

Step 3: Make a decision

Look at the options offered by your airline and make a decision. Which mostly will mean choosing between a new flight (for free) and refund.

If you are taking a refund and are planning to book another flight to your destination yourself, do it now.

A red alarm clock

Step 4: If you have to wait for more than 3 hours

If you are at the airport and if you will have to wait for more than 3 hours until the next flight (assuming that you have chosen another flight offered by your airline), then the airline must provide you with free meal and drink plus two free phone calls, e-mails or faxes.

Under the same circumstances and in case of an overnight wait the airline must provide you with free hotel accommodation and transport to and from it.

How you can get all of that? Wait for the announcement from the airline or if it’s not coming contact your airline yourself.

Step 5: Get compensation for a cancelled flight

Mostly people don’t know what to do when flight is cancelled, thus they are happy if anything at all is offered. What you should know is that whenever flight is cancelled and it’s the airline’s fault, you may be entitled to flight cancellation compensation of up to €600 per passenger.

And the airline still has to take you to your destination or give you a full refund. That’s if you are flying to or from Europe*. If you are flying to Europe from a country outside the European Union your flight must be with a European airline. And you don’t even have to be a citizen of the European Union.

Let’s go a little bit more into details now.

If you are notified of the cancellation between 7 - 14 days before the scheduled time of departure:

  • You choose a new flight offered by your airline, departing not more than 2 hours before the original departure time and you reach your final destination not more than 4 hours after the original arrival time. In this situation you are not entitled to compensation.
  • In other situations you are entitled to compensation.

If you are notified of the cancellation less than 7 days before the scheduled time of departure:

  • You choose a new flight offered by your airline, departing not more than 1 hour before the original departure time and you reach your destination not more than 2 hours after the original arrival time. In this situation you are not entitled to compensation.
  • In other situations you are entitled to compensation.

All thanks to Europe's Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 (EC 261), created to protect air passenger rights.

Submit your claim for flight cancellation compensation now.

What happens when a flight is delayed not cancelled? Read about it here.


*In this case, Europe means all EU Member States and Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

While some of the things mentioned in this guide apply only to flights to or from Europe and flights operated by European airlines, some of it applies to all situations no matter where you are flying to and with which airline.