Q. I had a friend who, while on a trip to Europe, was notified that his return flight was canceled and that he had been re booked on a flight a day earlier. He had pre existing reservations and had to forfeit a deposit as he changed his plans to accommodate the new return flight. Is the airline responsible for this lost deposit?
A. According to European Commission Transport laws:
1. In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers
(a) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accord-
ance with Article 8; and
(b) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accord-
ance with Article 9(1)(a) and 9(2), as well as, in event of re-
routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of
the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it
was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified
in Article 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c); and
(c) have the right to compensation by the operating air carrier
in accordance with Article 7, unless:
(i) they are informed of the cancellation at least two
weeks before the scheduled time of departure; or
(ii) they are informed of the cancellation between two
weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of
departure and are offered re-routing, allowing them to
depart no more than two hours before the scheduled
time of departure and to reach their final destination
less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival;
(iii) they are informed of the cancellation less than seven
days before the scheduled time of departure and are
offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more
than one hour before the scheduled time of departure
and to reach their final destination less than two hours
after the scheduled time of arrival.
2. When passengers are informed of the cancellation, an
explanation shall be given concerning possible alternative trans-
3. An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay
compensation in accordance with Article 7, if it can prove that
the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances
which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable
measures had been taken.
4. The burden of proof concerning the questions as to
whether and when the passenger has been informed of the
cancellation of the flight shall rest with the operating air
We're not quite sure when the airline notified your friend, but this seems to suggest a 2 hour cap on early rerouting. So, yes, it would have been within your friend's rights to demand a reroute on the scheduled day of departure. In regards to compensation, the language is a bit vague. While there's plenty on delays, they make no specific mention of departures ahead of schedule in terms of compensation:
Right to compensation
1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall
receive compensation amounting to:
(a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1 500 kilometres or less;
(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than
1 500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1 500
and 3 500 kilometres;
(c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).
In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destina-
tion at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delay
the passenger's arrival after the scheduled time.
2. When passengers are offered re-routing to their final
destination on an alternative flight pursuant to Article 8, the
arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival
time of the flight originally booked
(a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1 500 kilometres
or less; or
(b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of
more than 1 500 kilometres and for all other flights
between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometres; or
(c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a)
the operating air carrier may reduce the compensation
provided for in paragraph 1 by 50 %.
3. The compensation referred to in paragraph 1 shall be
paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank
cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in
travel vouchers and/or other services.
4. The distances given in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall be
measured by the great circle route method.
According to section 1, your friend could probably argue that they are entitled to anything from EUR250 - EUR600, depending on mileage, although section 2 only mentions exceeding flight schedules, not preceeding them.
As tricky as this particular case is, European law does offer greater passenger protection than our own. Even passengers traveling on an American carrier departing from Europe are entitled to compensation under their laws, in the event of cancellation or delay. Exactly how much? More on this in the blog.