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Easter holiday flights chaos: What are your rights?

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Both easyJet and British Airways have cancelled scores of flights this week, with Manchester and Heathrow airports bearing the brunt of the cancellations.

Travellers hoping to get away for Easter face long airport queues and flight cancellations as airlines and airports struggle to cope with increased passenger numbers and staff sickness.

Easyjet cancelled 222 flights over the weekend and a further 62 on Monday. The budget airline is expected to cancel more flights in the coming days. The past few days has also seen British Airways cancel 115 flights to or from Heathrow Airport.

EasyJet said staff absences were double their normal levels due to Covid and claimed it was cancelling flights in advance “in order to give customers notice”.

The Easter holidays are the first major holiday period since Covid travel restrictions were removed, prompting a surge in passengers booking holidays. But increased Covid infections have exacerbated staff shortages at both airlines and airports.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “These cancellations will cause huge frustration for individuals and families who were eagerly awaiting an Easter getaway. This period was always likely to be a popular holiday time and there is a responsibility on airlines to ensure they have the capacity to run all of the flights they schedule.”

Manchester Airport’s managing director Karen Smart has quit her role amid chaotic scenes at the airport over the past few days. Smart plans to return to the south of England to “pursue fresh career opportunities”, according to the airport’s management.

Manchester Airport has struggled to cope with increased passenger numbers after laying off or furloughing staff during the pandemic. Travellers reported long queues, a lack of organisation and some people missing their flights despite arriving at the airport in plenty of time.

A statement on Manchester Airport’s website urged customers “to play their part in ensuring the airport experience is as smooth as possible by arriving at the earliest possible time for check-in”.

What are your rights if your flight is cancelled?

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to compensation for the loss of time and inconvenience suffered due to a delay or cancellation.

You can claim up to €600 per passenger – about £500 – if you arrive more than three hours late to your destination (rather than three hours late from departure) because you were denied boarding, the flight was delayed or it was cancelled less than 14 days before you’re due to travel.

The compensation amount is fixed, depending on whether your flight was delayed three or 24 hours.

The journey must depart from a EU country on any airline or it must be arriving in the EU on an airline which is based in the EU.

To be eligible for compensation for cancelled flights, the flight must be either leaving the EU or arriving in the EU on an EU carrier. If the flight was cancelled more than 14 days before it was due to depart, you’d be eligible for a refund of the cost of the ticket or a replacement flight, but not compensation.

If the flight was cancelled between seven and 14 days before it was due to depart, you could be eligible for flight cancellation compensation, depending on the circumstances.

For flights cancelled less than seven days before departure, you can claim flight cancellation compensation with the amounts depending on how much inconvenience you suffer.

With all flight cancellations, you’re entitled to either a full refund or re-routing to your intended destination on any airline at the earliest available opportunity. If the airline can’t get you to your original destination within a certain time based on your original arrival time, then you could claim compensation under the EU regulation.

Boland said: “Most passengers will just want to get where they need to be, despite this disruption, so airlines must meet their legal obligations and inform passengers of their right to be rerouted with other carriers or claim a refund. Affected passengers will be entitled to at least £220 compensation in these circumstances to cover out of pocket costs, and airlines should provide refreshments and accommodation as required while their customers await their new flight.”