Natural disasters, armed conflict and cancelled holidays: what are your rights?

Fires in Greece, earthquake in Morocco, war in Israel... Your holiday plans may be disrupted by a natural disaster or armed conflict. What are your rights if your flight or trip is cancelled? What are the consequences for your separately booked accommodation? Who should you contact? All the answers to your travel questions in our FAQ.

Cancellation, refund, return... what should I do with my flight?

If you were departing from an EU airport or returning to the EU with a European airline, you are entitled to :

  • either reimbursement of your ticket
  • or re-routing on another flight.

If your flight took off from a non-EU country with a non-European airline (Marrakech-Paris with a Tunisian airline, for example), check the airline's conditions of carriage to find out your rights.

More information in our article Airplane passengers: your rights to compensation

If the cancellation of your flight is due to an exceptional, unavoidable event outside the airline's control, such as an earthquake, flood, fire, armed conflict or Covid-19, you cannot claim compensation.

If your airline gives another reason for cancellation, check whether it is an exceptional circumstance.

Check your carrier's website for the exceptional measures offered and the refund procedures, there are usually dedicated forms.

In the event of a dispute with a European carrier that cannot be resolved amicably, contact the ECC of your residency country.

Regarding flight cancellations due to strikes, a distinction must be made between

  • the strike of the airline staff which gives you the right, in principle, to compensation ;
  • a strike by airport personnel (security agents, air traffic controllers, etc.), which constitutes an extraordinary circumstance and exempts the airline from paying you compensation.

If your flight is maintained but you ask for your tickets to be cancelled because you can no longer or do not want to leave (e.g. positive covid test,fires, floods or armed conflict in the country visited...), your right to a refund will depend on the terms of your tickets.

If they cannot be changed or cancelled, there is no guarantee of a refund.

Many airlines offer flexible booking conditions (paid or free of charge) which allow you to change your flight or obtain a credit note if you are prevented from travelling. 

However, you must generally make your request within a certain period of time before departure. Contact your carrier as soon as possible.

Before making any request to the company, make sure you check whether you are entitled to a refund or only to a modification of your tickets. If you ask for a cancellation when only a modification was possible, you risk losing the amount of the tickets.

No, if you purchased tickets only, the cancellation of your flight does not cancel your hotel, rental car or any other service you booked separately and reimbursement of these services is not automatic or guaranteed..

Check the cancellation conditions for your reservations to find out what amounts could be refunded. Contact the hotel owner, the vehicle rental company, the owner of the accommodation to at least negotiate a postponement if there is no provision for reimbursement.

The company that cancelled the flight is not required to reimburse you for these lost benefits.

If you did not buy your tickets on the airline's website but via a booking platform, price comparison website or online travel agency, you will have to apply for a refund or credit note to this intermediary first.

Legally, the airline is obliged to provide a refund, but in practice, you have to go through the intermediary to obtain it. The intermediary is a relay between you and the airline and must communicate the carrier's proposals to you. The intermediary is not obliged to reimburse in place of the airline and it is not the intermediary who decides whether to offer a refund or a credit note. 

If you are blocked, contact the airline to check whether your request for a refund has been issued by the intermediary, whether the refund has already been validated at that intermediary or whether the airline refuses the refund on principle. 

If you are considering legal action to get your tickets refunded, don't take the wrong person! You will have to take legal action :

  • against the airline if it is the airline that refuses to refund your tickets via the intermediary;
  • against the intermediary if the airline confirms that the refund has been passed on to the intermediary but not returned to you.

Be aware of the statute of limitations for legal action! If your carrier refuses to reimburse you for the credit, you must take legal action. But the time limits to take legal action are not the same everywhere in Europe. For example, they are only 1 year in Belgium, 2 years in Italy or 5 years in France.

Example: your cancelled flight took off or landed at Brussels airport, you have one year from the cancellation of the flight to take legal action before the Belgian courts against the airline company that offered you the voucher and refused to reimburse you.

Each insurance has its own conditions. It is therefore important to check what it covers and especially what it excludes. Most insurances exclude pandemic situations in particular and therefore will not reimburse you for this reason alone. 

Cancellation insurance generally covers an event that is specific to you (health problems, loss of identity documents, cancellation of holidays by the employer, etc.). They do not cover travel restrictions imposed by a government or events that occur in the destination country (political crisis, natural disasters, etc.).

Good to know: some insurances provide "COVID" options which will mainly cover the case where you are tested positive at the time of departure, but not a lack of vaccination, PCR test, a new restriction or an increase in contamination at destination. 

If a strike leads to the cancellation of your flight by the company, the insurance does not cover this situation since it is up to the company to offer you a re-routing or a refund of your ticket.

If the strike affects another mode of transportation (the train for example if the train and plane tickets were purchased separately) which prevented you from taking your flight, ask your insurance company about your guarantees.

Tip: Consider the flexibility options offered by the carrier when you book. They may allow you to get a credit note for whatever reason you are unable to travel.

If you are in a country where there are fires, floods, an earthquake or armed conflict and you wish to return home earlier than planned, contact the airline.

If they refuse to change your return date, you should be aware that you will have to pay for a new ticket.

Don't hesitate to contact the consulate or embassy, as repatriations may be arranged depending on the event.

I want to cancel my hotel or rental on site

If you cancel your hotel, campsite or holiday rental, you cannot be sure of a refund, whatever the reason given (fear of the virus, medical reasons, professional impediment...).

The reimbursement of your accommodation will depend solely on the conditions of your reservation (cancellable AND refundable) or on the goodwill of the hotel or accommodation owner.

The possibility to cancel does not automatically mean that there will be a refund

First contact the hotel owner or the owner of the accommodation and try to negotiate a postponement of your stay or a credit note. Then contact the platform on which you made your reservation.

The intermediary platform can help you to facilitate the cancellation of the reservation with the hotel or the owner of an accommodation (cancellation free of charge, modification of your reservation ...).

But be aware, these online platforms remain intermediaries that connect a buyer and a seller so they have no obligation to refund the price of your reservation. Find out about the support and reimbursement policies implemented by the platform used for your reservation.

As with accommodation, there are no European regulations for hire cars. To find out how to cancel your booking, check the car hire company's terms and conditions. You should be aware that most rental companies apply charges if you cancel after a certain period.

Good to know
If you do not cancel your booking and do not collect the vehicle, you may have to pay a no-show fee, which is considerably higher than the cancellation fee. Your reservation will not be refunded.

The first thing to do is to contact your rental agency immediately, but also to check the terms and conditions of your rental contract.

No refunds are due for early returns, and some agencies apply additional charges. But given the circumstances, try to negotiate a solution with the rental company.

More information in our article Car rental in Europe

Cancelled trains in the EU: refund or re-routing?

If you have not been offered re-routing by the rail company within 100 minutes of your scheduled departure time, you can arrange re-routing with another carrier, by train or bus. You can then request reimbursement of these costs from the railway company concerned by providing a copy of the invoice for the new ticket booked.


  • book the shortest route possible,
  • select a 2nd class ticket
  • organise re-routing from the same departure city to the same arrival city as on the original ticket

European regulations do not expressly provide for this.

However, if you did not have the choice between a refund and re-routing, and in order to reach your destination you had to buy another ticket at a higher price than the refund you obtained, you can try to ask the railway company to reimburse you for the difference in price. You will need to prove that the costs incurred were necessary and appropriate.

No, in the case of a rockfall or any other exceptional circumstance that is not the fault of the railway company, the latter is not obliged to pay you compensation if your train is cancelled.

More information in our online tool on your rights as a rail passenger

You are entitled to assistance while waiting for your re-routing. The railway company must pay for your meals and drinks, in reasonable quantities given the actual delay, and for your accommodation.

Please note! Accommodation is limited to 3 nights, as the cancellation of the train is due to force majeure.

More information in our online tool on your rights as a rail passenger

Package travel (flight + hotel for example)

package travel is composed of at least 2 touristic services (flight + hotel for example) purchased from a single trader in a single contract or separately, but from the same sales point. A cruise is also a package holiday.

If the travel agency cancels your trip, you are in principle entitled to

  • either an equivalent alternative trip (other destinations, other dates, etc.),
  • or to a refund of the sums paid.

The agency cannot impose a refund in the form of a credit note. You are free to accept or reject this method of reimbursement.

If your trip has been cut short or extended due to the cancellation of your return flight or the closure of your hotel, it is up to your agency to take care of your return. Contact them.

They should book you on an earlier flight or a later flight if your original flight was cancelled by the agency or airline. If you have had to organise your own return journey because the agency has not responded to your request for a return flight, ask for a refund of the expenses incurred (on presentation of proof of payment).

If you have not been able to take advantage of touristic services already paid for because of a delay in arrival or early repatriation (prepaid excursion, lost nights, etc.) or if you have had additional nights (delayed return), you can also ask your agency to reimburse you for these expenses, up to a limit of 3 nights and on presentation of the supporting invoices.

When you book your trip, you can take out cancellation insurance. This can cover you in the event of serious illness, redundancy or the death of a relative. Read the clauses of the insurance contract you have signed carefully to check whether the reason for your cancellation will allow you to obtain a refund of the sums paid. 

Be careful! In most cases, climatic risks (cyclones, tsunamis, etc.), health risks (dengue fever, etc.) and political risks (terrorist attacks, civil war, etc.) are excluded from these insurance policies.

Yes, but only in the event of exceptional and unavoidable circumstances at or near your destination.

For example, if you had booked a package holiday to the islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia this summer, you could contact your travel agent and ask for your holiday to be cancelled because of the ongoing fires. If this was accepted by the tour operator, you were entitled to a full refund but not to compensation. However, you could not request cancellation of your package holiday before departure if your destination was not one of the three islands affected by the fires.

Good to know
In the event of extraordinary events, tour operators may offer postponed travel or new destinations to holidaymakers due to fly to the affected areas in the near future. Find out more!


Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.