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My wife and I were meant to fly from Vienna to London with British Airways at 11:05 on Sunday, 24 September. That morning we received an email from BA to say that the flight was cancelled, with no reason given. The rebooked flight was for 19:50 on Monday, 25 September. We had to get back to London on the 24th so I bought return flights with another carrier as there were no BA flights available.

I eventually got an official receipt from BA stating that the cause of the cancellation was "Operational".

My insurance company will not cover the cost. It says:

If I may refer you to the policy wording under Section 4 Page 32 (Travel delay or Abandonment) where it states that:

"If your outward or return flights, sea crossing, coach or train departure to or from your home country, which is due to commence within 36 hours after the departure date and time of the start of your outward or return journey, are delayed for more than 24 hours beyond the intended departure time (as specified on your travel ticket) as a result of":

a) Strike or industrial action (provided that when this policy was taken out, there was no reasonable expectation that the trip would be affected by such cause);

b) Adverse weather conditions if these are the underlying and continuing cause;

c) Mechanical breakdown of the aircraft, coach, train or sea vessel

As detailed above, the policy does not provide cover for flight cancellation/delay due to any reasons outside the policy coverage as stated above.

Also

The Airline/operator are legally obligated to compensate you for the delay with any additional travel and accommodation expenses incurred.

I contacted BA but they say:

I'd like to inform you that when a flight is cancelled, we offer passengers the options to either rebook, reroute or a refund of their tickets. Since, you made your own travel arrangements, I'm afraid we cannot reimburse the cost of your new flight ticket. I'm sorry to disappoint you.

However, I was never given any option to return to London with BA that day. As far as they are concerned I had to pay for another nights stay in Vienna and travel with them the next evening, over 32 hours from the original departure.

Is there any way I can convince BA that this was unreasonable and that they should cover the cost of the return flight?

BA did give me a partial refund for the return tickets and also the EC261 refund from BA. So I have received some compensation, but that is all that they will do.

Edit: This is the main text of the email from BA to say that the flight was cancelled:

We're really sorry that your upcoming flight to London Heathrow on Sunday 24 September 2023 has been cancelled. To get your travel plans back on track, you can review your options below: To help get your travel plans back on track, we've rebooked you onto the next available flight.

What do I need to do? Please let us know whether you'd like to travel on this flight by selecting 'accept' in Manage My Booking. You can review other available flights and also claim a refund here too.

Your new flight details are saved under the same booking reference number: XXXXXX. You can find useful information at ba.com/helpme, however if you'd like to talk to someone, please call us and we’d be happy to help: 0800 727 800 - if you're calling from inside the UK +44 203 250 0145 - if you're calling from outside the UK We ask that customers only make their way to the airport if they have rebooked onto a new flight.

Edit: I did 'accept' and cancelled the rescheduled flight and then got a refund of the unused portion of the ticket.

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  • What did their e-mail say? Did that e-mail tell you of the three options? You can find the CAA's guidance on this topic here. Note that in this case they should have given you the option to rebook on an alternative airline at their cost.
    – jcaron
    Nov 24, 2023 at 12:14
  • @jcaron The email to say the flight had been cancelled didn't tell me any of those three options. As they hadn't given me any instructions in the email and hadn't offered an alternative I just went ahead and bought the tickets.
    – camden_kid
    Nov 24, 2023 at 12:21
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    If the cancel a flight airlines are legally obliged to give you a full refund if you want. However they often make it very, very hard to do that. Their usual approach is: "your flight is cancelled, we've booked you on this other flight" and pretend it's the only option. If you accept the other flight then they will consider that's the end of their responsibilities. The best way is always to ask for a refund at the time they tell you about the cancellation. Nov 24, 2023 at 12:55
  • @DJClayworth After I cancelled the rescheduled flight I was automatically informed that I would get a refund. I then had to separately apply for the ec261 compensation. But they refuse to pay for the tickets I bought even though I had to get back that day. It's bonkers that they were forcing me to come back a day later but I also was scared that the new flight could be cancelled.
    – camden_kid
    Nov 24, 2023 at 13:12
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    They will probably argue that the site did offer you the option between the suggested rerouting, rebooking at a later date or refund. But they should have offered an alternative the same day, even if on a different carrier. The law is clear, they must reroute you "at the earliest opportunity".
    – jcaron
    Nov 24, 2023 at 14:17

2 Answers 2

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The airline has to give you the choice between:

  • re-routing at the earliest opportunity
  • re-booking (later, at your choice)
  • a refund

In their e-mail, they made a suggestion of a possible re-routing, and pointed you towards their website which gives you all these options, but with a caveat, which I'll discuss below.

Once you have chosen an option, that's it (unless the new flight itself gets delayed or cancelled, and then the whole process starts again). You chose a refund, and they paid the refund, so for them, the case is closed, they have fulfilled their obligations.

Here's the caveat: they didn't really suggest a re-routing at the earliest opportunity.

"At the earliest opportunity" really means that.

  • If they have to upgrade you to fly you earlier, they should.
  • If they have to re-route you on a partner airline, they should.
  • If they have to re-route you to nearby origin/destination airports and you are OK with it, they should.
  • If they have to re-route you via a third airport and that makes sense and you are OK with it, they should.
  • And in some circumstances (generally if there are no other options the same day), if they have to book you on another airline, they should.

So they didn't really fulfil all their obligations by not offering the option of rebooking you on the flight you found independently.

The UK's CAA, who is their infinite wisdom compiled relevant case law and issued guidance tell us (emphasis mine throughout):

C-354/18 Rusu v SC Blue Air — Airline Management Solutions SRL

The case of Rusu v SC Blue Air4 confirms that Article 8 requires airlines to offer passengers the option of reimbursement or re-routing. It also states that airlines must provide comprehensive information to passengers about the re-routing options, including flights on other airlines, to allow them to make an informed choice. The Court also found that there was no obligation on the passenger to do their own research to find information on alternative flights. In addition, the Court found that airlines were responsible for offering and organising re-routing and had the burden of proving that the re-routing offered was at the earliest opportunity.

(...)

European Commission Interpretative Guidelines

(...) The air carrier has to bear the costs for re-routing or a return flight, and must reimburse the costs for the flight borne by the passenger where the air carrier does not comply with its obligation to offer re-routing or return under comparable transport conditions at the earliest opportunity

(...) re-routing should be offered at no additional cost to the passenger, even where passengers are re-routed with another air carrier or on a different transport mode or in a higher class or at a higher fare than the one paid for the original service

(...)

Guidance on identifying re-routing options, including on other airlines

(...) However, in circumstances where there is no re-routing option under Article 8(1)(b) on its own services or, where applicable, on the services of its partner airlines, on the same day as the original flight and via the same route, the CAA’s view is that the airline should next seek to identify re-routing options on the services of alternative airlines on the same day as the original flight and via the same route. If such a re-routing option is available, affected passengers should be offered the choice of this option at the same time as they are offered the choice between the options set out in Article 8(1)(a), (b) and (c).

So they didn't do their job, and they're still on the hook. If you hadn't received a refund, they would have to reimburse you the full cost of the new flight. But since they issued a refund, they owe you the difference between that refunded amount and the cost of the new flight.

But expect them to fight tooth and nail to try to avoid that. Good luck!

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    Thanks for that. They aren't going to give me a refund and they are sticking with it for the moment. Not sure how they can justify it. They couldn't get me back the same day and expected me to wait 32 hours for the next flight. When I last spoke to BA they said that it was incumbent on me to contact them at the time for any alternatives but contacting them for an alternative was not mentioned in the cancellation email. I assumed that there was no other flights back except for the rescheduled one since they didn't mention any other and hence booked with another carrier.
    – camden_kid
    Nov 24, 2023 at 18:32
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    @camden_kid as the CAA writes, it is their responsibility to prove they have notified you of your choices, including the flights they have suggested, which must be the earliest opportunity. They must be able to show all the flights they have considered. If they do not respond favourably, check the CAA website for your options.
    – jcaron
    Nov 24, 2023 at 21:11
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    @camden_kid As explained in the answer, you are in the right here but you will probably need a lawyer to actually get them to pay you. This is unfortunately so common that there are law firms who explicitly specialize on getting passengers their right with respect to airlines. You probably need to contact such a firm (and pay them for their services).
    – quarague
    Nov 25, 2023 at 10:32
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    @quarague A lawyer isn’t needed; the amount is well within the small claims limit, and if taken to the small claims court (which can be done online) they will almost certainly just pay up rather than defending the case.
    – Mike Scott
    Nov 25, 2023 at 18:31
  • @MikeScott Thanks for that information.
    – camden_kid
    Nov 26, 2023 at 9:11
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The ticket is covered by EU 261 and hence BA should be liable to

  1. Refund of the unused portion of the ticket
  2. Delay compensation (assuming you got to London sufficiently later than planned)

BA DID inform you about your options:

Please let us know whether you'd like to travel on this flight by selecting 'accept' in Manage My Booking. You can review other available flights and also claim a refund here too.

If you did not actively select any of these option, BA may claim that you "silently" accepted the new flight and that you were a no show. They probably did hold the seats for you, so they may be able to claim they fulfilled their part of the contract at non-trivial cost (since they didn't resell those seats). Whether that would hold up in court or not is anyone's guess.

BA will not reimburse you for the new ticket. I suggest filing a EC261 claim with them and then see what happens.

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    I did select the option (I'll update my post) and cancelled the rescheduled flight and then got a refund of the unused portion of the ticket. I also filed a EC261 claim and got that money too (I'll update to make that clearer).
    – camden_kid
    Nov 24, 2023 at 12:57

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