The coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine... The events of the last few years have thrown airlines from one crisis to another. Some smaller airlines were unable to survive and had to file for bankruptcy. The result: cancelled flights, stranded passengers, uncertainty.
We answer important questions about passenger rights, the insolvency process and how to protect yourself from airline bankruptcy. We also provide a list of insolvent European airlines.
Normally, an airline must offer you alternative transport or refund your money if a flight is cancelled. However, if an airline goes bankrupt, things look bad. This is especially true for travellers who bought their flight directly from the airline, a travel agent or an online booking portal (individual travellers). In most cases, you will have to book a new flight yourself if the airline goes bankrupt.
If the airline is unable to meet your claims because of the provisional insolvency proceedings, your only hope of compensation is in the insolvency proceedings.
In practice, however, individual travellers are usually left with their own costs. This also applies to additional travel and accommodation costs incurred as a result of a cancelled flight.
This is how you can try to get your money back
- Chargeback for credit card payments
If you paid for your flight by credit card, you can initiate a chargeback procedure. To do this, contact the bank that issued your credit card. Please note the applicable deadlines.
- Contact your payment service provider
If you paid through a payment service provider such as PayPal, you should contact them as soon as possible to request a refund.
Package holidaymakers are covered by a safety certificate and do not have to worry too much if the airline becomes insolvent. In such a case, the tour operator must organise a replacement flight.
A package holiday always consists of at least two travel services, e.g. flight and hotel. Or train and flight.
In principle, the risk of airline insolvency can never be completely ruled out.
It is best to find out in advance about the airline in question and whether there are any reports of the airline becoming insolvent.
If you want to be on the safe side, you can consider taking out insolvency insurance. Benefits vary from provider to provider. Some insurers will reimburse you for the cost of your ticket, while others will provide replacement tickets.
Compare offers and costs, and read the terms and conditions carefully.
If an airline becomes insolvent, you should contact the insurance company immediately to discuss how to proceed.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer insurance companies are offering such protection against airline insolvency these days.
In general, insolvency insurance cannot be taken out for a flight where the airline is already insolvent.
Details of insolvency proceedings
When an airline becomes insolvent, it is no longer able to meet its financial obligations. Insolvency proceedings are always opened when a petition is filed with the insolvency court. This is usually done by the company itself to avoid delays in filing for bankruptcy. Under certain circumstances, however, creditors may also be entitled to file a petition.
How do insolvency proceedings work?
After an insolvency petition has been filed with the relevant insolvency court, the first step is to determine whether there are grounds for insolvency and whether the assets (known as the insolvent estate) are sufficient to cover the costs of the insolvency court and the insolvency administrator.
Insolvency proceedings can then be opened by court order. From this point on, the liquidator manages the company's affairs. The aim is to satisfy the airline's creditors in equal measure. The liquidator has several options to achieve this. For example, he can try to restructure the company or sell off parts of it.
In the so-called opening order of the insolvency court, the creditors are then asked to register their claims with the insolvency administrator in the insolvency table within a certain period of time.
In addition, the airline's debtors may only pay the liquidator and no longer directly to the insolvent airline.
Will you get your money back at the end of the bankruptcy proceedings?
Insolvency proceedings are based on the principle of equal treatment of creditors in order to to avoid a "race of creditors" in insolvency proceedings.
However, insolvency proceedings usually take some time before creditors get their money back - sometimes only partially.
If there are no assets left, some creditors are left empty-handed. In practice, passengers are often the losers.
The Norwegian airline Flyr AS went into liquidation on 1 February 2023.
Affected passengers should register their claims within 4 weeks of 1 February 2023 by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The liquidator is the law firm Kvale, postal address PB 1752 Vika, 0122 Oslo.
British airline Flybe ceased operations for the first time in March 2020. A small relaunch failed, and the airline will have to cease operations again in January 2023.
Individual travellers will in most cases be left empty-handed. Claims can only be made to the relevant liquidator after insolvency proceedings have been opened.
On 28 January 2023, David Pike and Mike Pink of Interpath Advisory were appointed Joint Administrators of Flybe.
The latest information is available from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
According to the Italian aviation authority ENAC, the airline Blue Panorama will cease operations in October 2021.
The airline is in judicial liquidation. The proceedings were opened by the competent court in Milan on 15 December 2022 after the airline's restructuring plan failed and no agreement could be reached with potential investors.
Passengers with claims against Blue Panorama had until 3 April 2023 to register their claims. Anyone who missed this deadline can still file a "late" claim within 6 months without any adverse consequences.
Anyone wishing to file a claim in the bankruptcy proceedings must send the claim, together with the necessary supporting documents, by certified electronic mail to email@example.com. Other means of communication (e-mail, fax, etc.) will not be accepted. The claim must be submitted in Italian.
However, creditors should be aware that the procedure can take several years and it is very doubtful whether passengers will actually get their money back in the end, as they are not among the preferential creditors.
Further information on the procedure can be found on the creditors' portal (Portale dei creditori).
The Italian airline Alitalia ceased operations in October 2021. ITA (Italia Trasporto Aereo) Airways was unveiled as its successor in the same month.
Italian lawmakers had set up a guarantee fund to reimburse passengers for cancelled Alitalia flights. According to the relevant ministry, Alitalia was credited with the money in March 2022, but some passengers are still waiting for their money.
The European Consumer Centre (ECC) Italy contacted the relevant Italian authorities following numerous consumer reports and drew their attention to the passengers' situation.
At the end of September 2022, the lawyers responsible informed us that the claims for reimbursement are currently being examined. It is not known whether ECC Italy will receive further feedback on individual complaints or claims.
Affected consumers can fill in this Alitalia online form to (re)request a refund.
The Austrian airline Level Europe GmbH discontinued its flight operations in June 2020. Affected passengers had until mid-July 2020 to file their claims with the Korneuburg Regional Court. The insolvency administrator was Dr Michael Lentsch.
The British tourism group Thomas Cook Group plc filed for insolvency on 23 September 2019.
Just two days later, the German subsidiaries Thomas Cook GmbH, Thomas Cook Touristik GmbH, Bucher Reisen & Öger Tours GmbH, Thomas Cook Airport Service GmbH, Thomas Cook Vertriebs GmbH and Neckermann also filed for insolvency.
Affected package travellers had until 31 May 2021 to submit their documents in order to claim compensation from the government.
Further information is available here: Contact for the Thomas Cook companies.
Other EU airlines that have ceased operations and/or are insolvent. This list is not exhaustive.
- Niceair (Iceland)
- Novair (Sweden)
- Blue Air Aviation SA (Romania)
- Jota Aviation (United Kingdom)
- Air Leap (Sweden)
- EGO Airways (Italy)
- Air Antwerp (Belgium)
- Stobart Air (Ireland)
- Orange 2 Fly (Greece)
- Great Dane Airlines (Denmark)
- Air Italy (Italy)
- Adria Airways (Slovenia)
- Aigle Azur (France)
- XL Airways Germany (Germany)
- Wow Air (Iceland)
- Flybmi (Scotland)
- Germania Fluggesellschaft mbH (Germany)
- Astra Airlines (Greece)
Do you have any questions about one of the EU airlines listed? Then please use our contact form.
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.