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Major European airlines canceled many flights to Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak. Lufthansa announced that up to 25% of short-haul and medium-haul flights could be canceled as well. I was supposed to flight tonight with Lufthansa from BSL (France/Switzerland) to KRK (Poland) with a connection in MUC, but my flight to Munich was canceled. I've been rebooked for a flight tomorrow with a connection in FRA.

Since I'm going to have over 12 hours of delay, I'd expect to be entitled to compensation under EU261 regulation. It's almost certain that cancellations of intra-EU flights are done due to decreased demand. This cancellation can't prevent virus spread since LH didn't cancel other flights from/to this airport and I'm going to travel on almost the same route anyway, only with a major delay.

However, given the current situation in Europe, I'm afraid that the airline might hide behind extraordinary circumstances. After all, the airlines are never happy to lose money and they tried to use this exception incorrectly many times in the past. Is there a good way how I could prepare myself for filing the request for compensation after my travel tomorrow? Is there any better way to inquire about the reasons of flight cancellation rather than just calling the airline? Are they even required to tell me the reason?

  • Leaving aside your legal right to compensation, in this time of global concern, I’m just interested how seriously the 12 hour delay will actually inconvenience you? I don’t mean to sound pompous or judgemental but I’d like to think that in the circumstances I’d just be happy to be able to complete my trip without feeling the need to pursue a compensation claim, however justified. – Traveller Mar 7 at 21:22
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    Sure. The inconvience comes from the fact that I need to reschedule my transportation which is much more complicated than getting a cab to a hotel. I could arrive at the airport with public transportation, whereas the new flight requires finding a ride because it's too early. Not everyone has a car, not everyone lives closely to an airport and morning flights are often not practical. Besides, airlines are just a business and they wouldn't think twice before making a decision that is beneficial to them and not to passengers. I don't see a reason why I shouldn't exercise passenger rights here. – mcopik Mar 7 at 22:37
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    Regulators have a difficult decision coming up - accept this is an “extraordinary event” that affects multiple flights and allow EU261 rules to be relaxed, or face multiple large airlines going out of business because of the cost of both adjusting to lower yields and compensation claims for those adjustments. This will be an interesting one to watch. – Moo Mar 7 at 22:37
  • @Moo yes, it's quite interesting, although this situation is not yet different from other economical slowdowns that happened multiple times in the past. Major travel bans for multiple regions in Europe can change everything. – mcopik Mar 7 at 22:43
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    IANAL, but I would expect that these cases will end up in the European courts before your question can be answered. I don't think there has been a similar situation in Europe since the regulation came into force. My interpretation would be that you are entitled to compensation as long as the delay or rerouting was not directly caused by quarantine, travel bans or official restrictions. Fluctuations in demand are not necessarily extraordinary and a risk the airlines must bear and take responsibility for. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Mar 8 at 9:57
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If the delay is due to decreased demand (as opposed to government measures) they are liable for compensation. In fact, if they claim extraordinary circumstances it is on them to prove that to you.

I‘d flatly state that the cancellation was their responsibility and therefore you are entitled to compensation.

If they refuse, you can still decide if you want to fight it yourself or give it to a flight-lawyer-portal.

Notes:

  • Regulators cannot decide wether this is an extraordinary circumstance, only the courts can.
  • Given previous decisions on the matter, it would be very surprising if a court would side with the airline - cancelling the flight is a voluntary business decision by the them. Courts have consistently ruled that extraordinary circumstances are only things that are completely out of the airline’s control.
  • The compensation will not kick in if you voluntarily re-book the flight to a different date (e.g. by using Lufthansa‘s current rebooking offer)
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