COVID-19 Related Advice – Guidance on Regulation EC261/2004

(23 Mar 2020)

We have updated this note to provide further clarity to airlines and passengers during this period of unprecedented air travel disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Regulation EC261/2004 sets out passengers’ rights where flights are cancelled or there are long delays. 

On 18 March 2020 the European Commission published guidance on the application of Regulation EC261/2004[1] during the COVID-19 outbreak.  We have updated our guidance accordingly.  

Airlines are required to provide passengers with information on their rights.  Where flights are cancelled passengers must be offered the choice of:

  • a refund; or
  • re-routing (alternative flights) at the earliest opportunity; or
  • re-routing at a later date (subject to availability).

It is important that airlines assist passengers by clearly setting out these options to them.  In addition, it is open to airlines to offer incentives to passengers to encourage them to fly at a later date, for example through providing vouchers of a higher value. We recognise that, at present, it may be difficult for airlines to provide alternative flights, for example, where government advice is to avoid travel to particular destinations affected by COVID-19.  A refund for the passenger may therefore be the only practical option available. 

Where flights are cancelled or there are long delays, airlines are required to help passengers by providing care and assistance (e.g. meals, accommodation and transfers to and from the airport where an overnight stay is required). 

Regulation EC261/2004 also provides for the payment of compensation in some circumstances.  However, this does not apply for cancellations made more than 14 days in advance or where the cancellation is due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.  While we will consider each case on its own merits[2], it is our view, in the current unprecedented circumstances, that compensation is unlikely to be payable where the Government advises against all travel, or all but essential travel, to a destination impacted by COVID-19 or for cancellations or long delays resulting from COVID-19 related restrictions or requirements imposed by competent authorities – for example closing airspace or an airport to an airline, seriously restricting the airline’s operations in other ways, or where the corresponding movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to persons benefitting from exemptions (e.g. nationals or residents of the state concerned).

There may be other circumstances where airlines seek to cancel flights within the 14-day period due to the economic and environmental consequences of operating flights with only a small number of passengers aboard. Such circumstances could arise as a result of restrictions applied within the country of destination, for example restrictions on movement within the country (e.g. lockdown/ shutdown measures implemented by the local or national government) as well as restrictions on access to local services that are critical for non-residents (e.g. hotel closures, restaurant closures, etc), which will have affected whether passengers take their flights.  This may be viewed as extraordinary circumstances and therefore compensation would not be payable, but this may not be the case in all circumstances.

Where a flight is cancelled and the airline can demonstrate that this decision was justified on grounds of protecting the health of crew, such cancellation should also be considered as caused by extraordinary circumstances.  The above considerations are not exhaustive.

In assessing airline compliance with the regulation, we will take account of the challenging operating conditions that airlines are currently facing.  We expect airlines to act in a way which best serves the interests of their customers and demonstrate that they are being proactive and flexible in managing the situation and minimising the impact on passengers of the disruption.

The table below sets out some questions and answers that may prove helpful to passengers. We will further update this guidance note as required in light of developments. 

COVID-19 related advice:

Question  Answer 

I booked a package holiday to x (e.g. accommodation and flight) and am worried about going.

Check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website for latest updates and talk to your travel agent/tour operator and then make your decision.

I have booked flights and/or accommodation myself and am worried about going. Check the DFAT website for latest updates and talk to your airline/accommodation/other service providers and then make your decision.
Airline x has cancelled my flight as a result of COVID-19 (outside the control of the airline e.g. inability to fly into/out of an airport) and I am unable to go on my trip.

If you booked a package with a travel agent/tour operator, then talk to your travel agent/tour operator to find out your options.

If you booked directly with an airline and other service providers, then talk to them. Discuss rerouting options with your airline. You may be due a refund from the airline (e.g. an airline departing from an EU airport), but it is unlikely that you will be due compensation. Visit www.flightrights.ie for further information. 

I am not in a quarantined area and airline x has cancelled my flight as a result of COVID-19 (outside the control of the airline e.g. inability to fly into/out of an airport) and I am unable to return to Ireland.

If you booked a package with a travel agent/tour operator, then talk to your travel agent/tour operator to find out your options.

If you booked directly with an airline, then talk to them. Discuss rerouting options with them. Airlines departing from airports within the EU are obliged to reroute at the earliest opportunity and to provide care and assistance (accommodation, meals and transport to and from the airport) while passengers await their rerouted travel. Alternatively, you may opt for a refund from the airline.  It is unlikely that you will be due compensation. Visit www.flightrights.ie for further information.

I am unable to travel back to Ireland as planned due to COVID-19 (e.g. not allowed to leave my location). Contact the Irish Embassy accredited to the country in which you are located. These contact details are available on the DFAT website https://www.dfa.ie/embassies/irish-embassies-abroad/

 

 

 

 

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[1] https://ec.europa.eu/transport/sites/transport/files/legislation/c20201830.pdf

[2] Our interpretation of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is for guidance only and each case will be judged on its own merits.

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