My flight was cancelled: Should I let easyJet book a new one for me, or get a refund?

My family and I went on holiday to Portugal in early June. We had a great time. When it was time to head home, we arrived in the small and very busy airport, and were set to fly with easyJet from Faro to Liverpool, at 10:30pm on a Friday.

Shortly before we were due to board, we started hearing rumours from passengers that our flight had been cancelled. There were no easyJet staff around to answer our questions, just rumours of an email from easyJet about how to rebook. 

Eventually, an airport staff member began handing out sheets of paper with information on how to rebook our flights and what kind of compensation we would be owed, so we collected our suitcases.

EasyJet has reportedly cancelled 10,000 flights before the end of the summer holiday season, which could leave millions of passengers stuck in airports and missing their trips

We made the decision to get our flights refunded and rebook ourselves, rather than letting easyJet handle it for us. The next available flight with easyJet wasn’t until Monday evening, so we got a hotel for the night and booked a flight with Jet2 on Saturday morning. 

We did receive our refund reasonably quickly, but I haven’t heard anything back about my expenses, which came to £2,500 including the hotel, transfers, food, and replacement flights for four people, or my compensation claim.

I’m starting to regret asking for a refund, as easyJet just seemed to wash its hands with us once they cancelled the flight, and offered no support. I’ll never be flying with easyJet again.

I can’t help but think that if I’d let easyJet sort my return flight, I wouldn’t have been left with thousands of pounds of credit card debt just to get home. Did I do the right thing by asking for a refund and booking my own return flight home? S.S. via email.

Emilia Shovelin of This Is Money replied: It’s been a long summer already when it comes to flight cancellations, with tens of thousands of flights across numerous carriers getting cut since the start of the holiday season.

So sadly, the fact that you were left to fend for yourself at almost midnight in a foreign country isn’t surprising, but I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this stressful situation over the last month.

I contacted easyJet on your behalf to discuss what was going on, and to find out why you had yet to be refunded for your reasonable expenses.

While the majority of flights being cancelled at the moment are due to staff shortages and strike action, easyJet said your flight had been cancelled due to a ‘bird strike’ on the journey your plane took to get to Faro airport. 

This is when the aircraft makes contact with a bird or multiple birds whilst in the air, which can often result in significant damage to the aircraft.  

Unfortunately, it means you aren’t entitled to compensation.

According to European regulation, passengers have the right to be financially compensated if their flight is delayed or cancelled, but, there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ where airlines don’t have to pay out. 

Airlines have long argued that events such as bird strikes are beyond their control, and in May 2017, the EU regulation added that a bird strike did count as ‘exceptional circumstances’, meaning passengers can’t claim compensation.

Passengers face long queues at check in desks and sleeping on airport floors as a mix of staff shortages and strikes continue to make air travel difficult leaving thousands stranded

Passengers face long queues at check in desks and sleeping on airport floors as a mix of staff shortages and strikes continue to make air travel difficult leaving thousands stranded

The easyJet spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of flight from Faro to Liverpool due to the aircraft experiencing a bird strike on its previous flight. 

‘We provided customers with options to rebook or receive a full refund, along with information on how to arrange this online or via the app.  

‘We also offered customers hotel accommodation and advise customers who were required to book their own that they will be reimbursed. 

What compensation am I entitled to if my flight has been cancelled? 
Less than 14 days notice of cancellation with no ‘exceptional circumstances’
Distance  Compensation 
Less than 1,500km Up to £220
1,500km to 3,500km  Up to £350
More than 3,500km  Up to £520 
Read our guide for more information: 
What are your rights if your flight is cancelled? 

‘Our customer service team are available for extended hours to help support impacted customers and help get them to their destination as soon as possible. 

‘Unfortunately, Mr S’s expense claim was initially not to be processed as not all of the correct information was submitted, however our team are in contact with Mr.S to resolve this and reimburse him.’

You then told me that easyJet had contacted you to discuss your expense claim. You received £225 to cover the difference in costs for your flight, as well as a full refund for your accommodation, food and transfers.

Frustratingly though, you were not given the appropriate support in the airport in order to arrange a return flight with easyJet and as the airport was closing, this left you with no other option but to arrange for the refund and book yourself.

> Read our guide to everything you need to know about travel insurance     

The easyJet spokesperson said that they had an available flight on Sunday morning, but when checking the app yourself, you could only find a flight option for Monday morning.

Despite that, there were available flights with other carriers available on the Saturday, which easyJet did not offer to you.

Which? have recently found that easyJet was directing passengers to the ‘manage my booking’ section of its app and website following cancellations. This only allows them to rebook an easyJet flight.

EasyJet cabin crew and staff based in Spain are expected to go on strike throughout July, as passengers are warned to expect disruption, long queues, and cancelled flights this summer

EasyJet cabin crew and staff based in Spain are expected to go on strike throughout July, as passengers are warned to expect disruption, long queues, and cancelled flights this summer

Airlines are required by law to offer passengers new flights to their destination at the ‘earliest opportunity,’ even if this means offering them a flight with an alternative airline – which easyJet has been accused of failing to do. 

When Which? asked easyJet why it was not offering passengers the option to book alternative flights with other airlines, the firm suggested that passengers were better off booking these alternative flights themselves. 

EasyJet appears to be encouraging passengers to apply for a refund by not offering them the next available flight, and leaving them to fend for themselves. 

Travel tips: pay by credit card and check the small print 

Take out comprehensive travel insurance: Check the policy small print to ensure it covers the cost of all travel failures. Make sure the cover includes ‘scheduled airline failure insurance’. You may have to pay extra for this as a bolt-on – but it is money well spent. 

Pay for your travel with a credit card: It means you may be able to claim under ‘section 75’ of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if an airline or holiday company goes bust – or the travel trip paid for using this card is unexpectedly cancelled.

Know your rights: Do not allow airlines to fob you off with ‘extraordinary circumstances’ excuses. The Civil Aviation Authority has full details of when and how to claim. If your airline rejects a claim you may take the case to AviationADR. 

And as you did not receive an update from easyJet to let you know about the errors in your expense claim, it looks as though airlines are simply hoping that you would give up pursuing your claim.

I’m glad to hear that you finally received your refund on your expenses, but I’m appalled at the lengths that passengers are needing to go to just to get their money back. 

As for whether you would be better off applying for the refund, or getting your airline to arrange another flight for you, this seemingly depends on the circumstances.

If easyJet had rebooked you onto another flight, you likely would have needed to stay in Portugal for an extra day and got the Sunday morning flight home. 

You told me that your wife had run out of essential medication, so this wasn’t an option for you. A refund was likely your best chance to get home safely and quickly.

You did the right thing in applying for a refund instead of asking easyJet to organise your flight home.

But for those who can’t afford to pay their way home upfront, it is incredibly frustrating that easyJet are leaving their passengers in the dark and scared to fly because of the lack of customer service support.

Travellers should always have a back up plan for their trip in case they can’t make it home, as airlines have been showing how unreliable they can be of late.

Make sure you take out appropriate travel insurance with disruption cover, and have a credit card that you can use in case of emergency.

And if you are worried about how quickly the airlines are refunding you, make sure you book your flights on a credit card. This can give you extra protection if the airline refuses to refund you.

How to find travel insurance 

The simplest way to look for travel insurance is to use a comparison site.

Results will similar across most comparison sites but some may have special deals, so it could be worth using more than one. 

If you have previous serious medical issues consider a specialist insurer or broker.

This is Money has partnered with Compare the Market to help you find great travel insurance. You can compare prices and cover at the link below.

> Travel insurance: Check policies with Compare the Market