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Brussels, 29 June 2010

Passenger rights in exceptional situations


Air and rail passengers continue to enjoy protection even in exceptional circumstances such as the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in April 2010. The situation caused many difficulties for travellers throughout Europe, but passenger rights still applied. Air passengers were entitled to:

  • the right to receive information from airlines (e.g. on your rights, on the situation as it evolves, cancellations and length of delays)

  • the right to care (refreshments, meals, accommodation as appropriate)

  • the right to chose between reimbursement of fares or be re-routed to final destination

However, in an exceptional circumstance such as this, passengers are not entitled to additional financial compensation as would be the case where delays or cancellations are the fault of the airline.

The Commission acted swiftly in April to remind air passengers of their rights and will continue to do so in future exceptional circumstances.

Passengers are always advised to first contact their airlines and in case of problems the national enforcement bodies. An up-to-date list of national enforcement bodies is available on:

If my flight is cancelled, does the airline have to offer me a choice between reimbursement and re-routing?

Yes. You as the consumer decide.

It is important to bear in mind that if you chose reimbursement (i.e. to get the money for your ticket back) then your rights cease at that point. The air company is no longer required to provide you with refreshment, accommodation from that point on.

If I chose reimbursement does that mean I get the full price of my ticket back – including taxes and any charges?

Yes, you should get back the money you paid for the ticket.

If you chose re-routing

The airline can re-route you through other modes of transport – train, rail etc. or by other air carrier. While you wait for re-routing, the airline has a duty of care – to provide refreshment as appropriate, depending on the length of the delay, to provide accommodation of one or more nights if necessary, or to provide you with transportation to the place of accommodation.

Where do I apply for re-imbursement?

You apply to the airline company that you booked a ticket with.

What if they tell me I have no rights in these "exceptional circumstances"?

Under EU law your EU passenger rights do apply even in these exceptional circumstances. The only part that does not apply is the additional financial compensation (extra money to compensate you for your inconvenience).

What if airlines do not accept this, or if they will not apply the rights I have?

Complain. If you have problems claiming your passenger rights you need to complain – firstly to the air carrier and if you are still dissatisfied with its answer, then to the competent national authority. They are best placed to help you and they are legally responsible under EU law to enforce the law.

Further information:

How can the EU Package Travel Directive protect consumers who are stranded because of cancelled flights?

If the cancelled flight has been purchased as part of a package holiday, consumers have more extended rights, including the right to obtain a refund for the entire package (including e.g. the flight and the hotel) and assistance on the spot if they are stranded.

Further information:

If you need more information on your EU rights and how to access them?

Travellers affected by the situation are advised to contact their airlines or travel agents first.

If you have problems or need more information or support to claim your rights can contact a European Consumer Centre in any country, a national consumer organisation or the competent enforcement body.

A European Consumer Centre (ECC) supported by the European Commission exists in every EU country as well as in Iceland and Norway. The centres are there to help travellers who have been affected by the crisis and who are having difficulties in having their rights respected, such as the right to be reimbursed or re-routed to the final destination and right to obtain meals and accommodation. The network of ECCs is working together to ensure a coordinated response to the crisis. Full contact details for ECCs for all countries and links to national websites can be found at

There is also a Europe Direct phone line, advertised on posters in many airports throughout Europe where you can also get more information on 00800 6 7 8 9 10 11

For more information on your rights see:

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