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A friend of mine is due to be flying to Rome tomorrow, to Fiumicino (FCO) airport. Last week there was a fire there though, badly affecting Terminal 3, so there are understandably some disruptions to flights at the airport right now.

Reading through the Europa.EU page on air passenger rights (which summarises Flight Delay Compensation Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, aka EU-261), I gather that as the fire counts as extraordinary circumstances, my friend won't be entitled to any compensation.

However, I had thought that my friend would be entitled (despite extraordinary circumstances) to be rebooked onto other similar flights that are still running, including with other airlines.

My friend's flight is with Vueling, who have this page on the matter. Vueling have suggested that my friend can have a full refund (not much help, flights today are much more expensive than when booked), take a 10pm flight instead of a 10am flight, or take a 8am flight via 6 hours in Barcelona.

Under EU regulations, should my friend be able to request that Vueling put them on a similar-timed departure with an airline who are still flying into Rome? Or are they stuck with Vueling-only rebookings, no matter how bad?

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    They offer 3 alternatives. Not so bad. Maybe you should challenge the claim that these are extraordinary circumstances (they fire happened last week ...) so as to get the compensation on top. – Maître Peseur May 12 '15 at 9:45
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What the regulation says is that your friend is entitled to “re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity”.

Europa.eu and the Commission's Passenger Rights website include similar language (“transport to your final destination using comparable alternative means” and “re-routing to your final destination under similar conditions”).

“Comparable conditions” presumably means a flight rather than a bus, not necessarily a flight at the exact same time of the day. The text does not explicitly say anything about rebooking on other airlines and I am not aware of any case law in that direction (but I am neither a lawyer nor an expert in passenger rights).

Beyond that, everything hinges on the meaning of the phrase “earliest opportunity”. If Vueling was the only airline serving this destination, getting a flight within a few hours would surely be reasonable. It happens all the time and I don't think the courts have a problem with it.

Does the availability of other airlines' flights mean that the evening Vueling flight is not the “earliest opportunity” anymore? I don't know but that seems a bit thin to provide useful ammunition in a discussion with the airline. Always worth a try, I guess, but I couldn't find anything stronger to bolster your friend's case.

Incidentally, that's not useful since your friend is apparently not stuck at the airport in a far-away city but passengers are also entitled to a few other things in case of cancellation: “meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time”, “two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails” and, if the expected departure time is on the next day or later, hotel accommodation and transportation to the hotel (that's called the “right to care”).

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