Your passenger rights during the coronavirus outbreak

Monday, March 2, 2020

Last update: April 25

With the outbreak is still severely affecting countries all around the world, the aviation industry is one of the segments of the world economy that will see itself contract and adapt imminently. Travel bans have been put in place and several countries and airports have been completely closed off. Reuters has reported that more than 20 airlines have already been impacted considerably and have cancelled flights to and from cities that were hit the hardest by the outbreak. Furthermore, it is expected that a large total of passengers will reconsider their travel plans as the economic crisis intensifies. We’ve constructed this list of recommendations for if you are travelling in the following months.

Please head on to CNN's detailed list of countries that have travel bans in place for more information.

What are my rights as an air passenger?

All around the world, passenger rights when on international flights are protected under the Montreal Convention. Essentially, this piece of international law states that the airline is responsible for you if your flight is cancelled and you are left stranded at an airport waiting for a flight. These measures of care include:

  • Meals and refreshments
  • Communication to the outside world (two occasions)
  • Hotel accommodations when necessary
  • Rerouting to your final destination

In countries like Canada, Israel and the Member States of the European Union, your rights are protected even further. However, the coronavirus outbreak is considered an extraordinary circumstance and will limit your right to receive compensation due to a flight disruption that originates from the actions taken to avoid a further spread of the virus.

My flight was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, can I get a refund?

Most airlines that have decided to cancel flights to areas heavily affected by the outbreak will waive any cancellation fees and offer you a full refund of your ticket. If your flight is covered by EU 261/2004, then you should be rescheduled to your destination at a later date or, if the airline is not willing to operate any other flights (as is the case with certain affected areas), the company should offer you a full refund of your fare.

It’s important to remember that airlines will normally act based on the travel restrictions placed by governments. So check what the relevant organisations are assaying regarding your trip before you contact the airline. This might help you build a stronger case when requesting a refund. Have a look at the Foreign Office’s advice as well as the European Centre for Disease Protection and the World Health Organisation.

I’ve decided not to travel anymore, will I be entitled to a refund?

Unfortunately, if your country’s head department of foreign affairs has not prohibited carriers from flying to a destination, most airlines won’t waive any booking cancellation fees and some of them, like Ryanair, will argue that no refund is due since they are still willing to operate the flight as scheduled.

Our advice:

If you’ve booked with a credit card, contact them as soon as possible and enquire about the possibility of insurance coverage under your card. Some companies and banks offer this service and you may be able to cancel your trip and receive a refund through the insurance included with your credit card. If you have booked your flight directly with the airline, the best way forward is waiting to see if the airline decides to cancel the flight altogether. If this is not the case, unfortunately, your flight is not refundable under the current circumstances.

Coronavirus advice when flying

What about holiday packages?

If travel restrictions have been put in place, you should be allowed to cancel your trip without paying any additional costs or fees. However, is this has not been the case, it is unlikely that the company will refund you if you do not wish to travel anymore. Our advice regarding your credit card provider also applies for this scenario, as you might be covered if you’ve paid for your package with a credit card.

I’ve booked a hotel on my own, can I cancel?

This will depend on the hotel itself. Some hotels will let you cancel up to 1 day before your arrival date. If your flight has been cancelled or rescheduled, it would be wise to cancel your reservation as soon as possible. Some other hotels, especially when reserving at a reduced price, will ask you for an upfront payment, this payment is generally non-refundable.

Can we expect more travel disruptions due to the coronavirus outbreak?

Certainly, some airlines already expect severely reduced demand for the summer months. This will lead to fewer flights being operated. Since schedules are normally created months, or even years, in advance, it was impossible for airlines to foresee this dip in demand and we’ll see flights get scrapped from itineraries during the next months.

Some airlines, like KLM and EasyJet, have already begun adjusting in order to make up for the financial loss that is still yet to come. Both companies have instituted a hiring freeze and have put a stop to employee training and non-essential spending.

Claiming compensation if a flight is delayed or cancelled due to the outbreak of the virus

The virus itself will be considered an extraordinary circumstance. However, in the near future, airlines will have to cope with the reduction in demand and will have to reschedule flights in an appropriate manner. This means that your rights will still be protected under regulation EC 261 and if the airline fails to operate your flight on time or if it modifies your schedule (for example cancelling one of your flights) and does not inform you as stipulated by the regulation, you may still be entitled to compensation.

Should passengers be concerned about what is going on?

Passengers should follow the travel advice provided by the Foreign Office, the European Centre for Disease Protection and the World Health Organisation. Airlines operate under the strictest rules of safety and will continue to do so.

Flight delays and cancellations not caused by extraordinary circumstances

If your flight has been delayed or cancelled without reason, you may be entitled to compensation. Unfortunately, airlines often refer to extraordinary circumstances in order to scare off passengers. However, every situation is different and the decision as to whether or not one is entitled to compensation is not always black and white. Our team of experts is trained to analyse each situation and offer tailor-made advice. is also able to corroborate the conditions in which a flight was operated, even if the airline has argued that the occurrence of an extraordinary circumstance on a previous leg of the aircraft’s itinerary.

Some of the most common overuses of the “extraordinary circumstance” argument are: technical and operational issues, bad weather conditions on a previous flight, air traffic control restrictions on previous flights, overbookings and system failures. As mentioned previously, every case is different and sometimes the airlines might be right. However, it is their obligation to prove the occurrence of an extraordinary circumstance.

Was your claim already rejected? You can still submit your claim with We will review the airline's answer and determine if we can proceed legally or if, in fact, an extraordinary circumstance occurred. We will take over the correspondence with the airline and, if needed, we will initiate legal proceedings. All of this is covered by our 25% win fee that you will only have to pay if we succeed with claiming your compensation. Don’t wait any longer, exercise your rights!

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