Five million EU-bound flight tickets could be cancelled by no-deal Brexit: find out your rights before it's too late

22 January 2019

A no-deal Brexit could spell disaster for holidaymakers with to up to five million airline tickets being cancelled, a consumer watchdog has warned.

The EU has said that in the event of a no-deal outcome the number of flights between the UK and the EU will be capped at 2018’s level for 12 months to enable “basic connectivity”.

However, the number of bookings has risen dramatically since.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates up to five million extra seats are scheduled for 2019 compared to 2018, in order to meet the rise in traveller demand.

The contingency planning put in place, therefore, risks the cancellation of these five million extra seats.

The IATA warns that many of these holidays will be in the peak summer season, with families being hit the hardest.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s chief executive, says: "With two months left until Britain leaves the EU, airlines still do not know exactly what kind of Brexit they should be planning for.

“There is legal and commercial uncertainty over how the [European] Commission’s plan to cap flight numbers will work."

A Department for Transport spokesperson says: “We are committed to ensuring that flights between the UK and EU continue, and the European Commission has published a proposal to make sure this happens.

“This clearly shows that in the event of no deal, both sides are committed to maintaining connectivity. These combined reassurances should allow businesses and passengers to continue to book and travel with confidence.”

93,000 flights at risk

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit has significantly increased after Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected in a vote by MPs last week.

The Airports Council International has warned that the cap could lead to the loss of 93,000 new flights and affect nearly 20 million passengers.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says: “The limitation on flights at the same levels as 2018 is yet to be agreed - it is a proposal that is still to be voted on by members of the European Parliament who will have to take into account the impact on their own economies. 

“In any event, people who book a package holiday have the greatest level of protection as it is down to their travel company to make sure their holiday is provided or offer a full refund if that is not possible.”

Your rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit

The government has said that for air passengers on a flight departing the UK the same passenger rights that apply today will continue to apply after the UK leaves the EU.

Under contingency plans drawn up by the EU, flights will continue between the UK for 12 months after 29 March – even if there is a no-deal Brexit.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, travellers will need to have at least six months left on their passport from the date of arrival, so make sure your passport is up to date before you travel.

The government has set up a specific passport checking service to help those worried about the validity of their passports for EU travel. 

Book with a credit card

Prospective holidaymakers and travellers who have yet to buy a trip should consider booking EU-bound holidays that cost more than £100 with a credit card.

This is because they will be protected from any loss or cancellation over £100 under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act - a piece of UK legislation not reliant on the EU. 

What are the flight delay/cancellation reclaiming rules?

Under EU rules, if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, you may be able to claim compensation of up to €600 per person as long as you meet a certain number of criteria – including the delay or cancellation being the airline’s fault.

The government has said that this legislation will still apply after 29 March, but it may not take into account any cancellations as a direct result of Brexit.

What happens if you book a package holiday?

Customers who book a package holiday with a UK travel company enjoy comprehensive consumer protection.

ABTA says that if you book a package holiday you have a right to a full refund if it is cancelled because of Brexit.


It is essential to take out travel insurance to make sure you are covered against any unexpected events.

If there is official confirmation of flight disruption ahead of Brexit and you have not bought your travel insurance yet, it may already be too late.

So make sure you get your travel insurance well ahead of when you plan to leave.

When it comes to Brexit, a lot will depend on the policy you have taken. Make sure you read the small print to check whether you are covered.

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