With news of flights being delayed and cancelled by airlines, it is important that we understand our rights in relation to refunds and compensation; the assistance that airlines should provide to delayed passengers; and how we can go about claiming it.
With claims of staff shortages, air traffic control restrictions, runway works, and airport handling delays, a number of airlines have cancelled dozens of flights over the half-term holiday and beyond (Source: BBC).
So, what are our rights when it comes to delayed and cancelled flights?
Delayed Flights – ‘Denied Boarding Regulation’
For customers who booked a flight that was with a UK or European airline, or that departed from the UK or Europe, protection is offered by the ‘Denied Boarding Regulation’ or ‘EU Regulation 261/2004’ if your flight is either delayed or cancelled.
The Denied Boarding Regulation is applicable if:
- You have a confirmed booking
- You have checked in on time, or if no check-in time was given, then at least 45 mins prior to when your flight was due to depart
- You are departing from a UK / EU airport, or from a non-EU airport and flying into a UK / EU airport on a ‘community carrier’ (this is an airline with its headquarters and main place of business within the UK or EU – including all European discount and ‘no frills’ airlines).
The airline does not have the same duty to look after you if you are travelling with a non-EU based airline flying from a non-EU destination – you can check the airline’s ‘Condition of Carriage’ to see what compensation you are entitled to (if any).
Delayed Flights – What am I entitled to?
Entitlement to recourse depends on the length of the delay and the length of the flight.
Delay of more than 2 hours – Depending on the distance you are flying, and if your flight is delayed for more than 2 hours, your airline must give you –
- Two free phone calls, faxes, or emails
- Free meals and refreshments (this should be appropriate to the delay)
- Free accommodation / hotel transfers if overnight stay is required
When am I entitled to assistance?
Short Haul – Distance up to 1,500km (932 miles) Flight time usually 2 hours or less – You must wait 2 hours or more.
Medium Haul – Distance between 1,500km – 3,500km (932-2,175 miles) Flight time usually between 2 and 4 hours – You must wait 3 hours or more.
Long Haul – Distance more than 3,500km (2,175 miles) Flight time usually more than 4 hours – You must wait 4 hours or more.
Each passenger who is affected by delays is entitled to claim flight delay compensation if the delay is NOT due to EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES.
For flights that are delayed for more than five hours, you are entitled to choose between being rerouted on a different flight or getting a refund, as if your flight had been cancelled (we will look more at cancelled flights later). Each passenger who has been affected by delays is still entitled to claim flight delay compensation if the delay is NOT due to EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES.
What are these ‘EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES’?
If the airline you are flying with can demonstrate that any delays were caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, then they will not have to pay you compensation. These are circumstances that are out with the control of the airline and may include:
- Unlawful acts
- Security risks
- Political instability
- Drone disruption
- Long security queues
- Severe weather (making flying dangerous)
- Restricted Air Traffic Control operations
- Strikes by non-airline staff (e.g., baggage handlers who are airport employees).
If delays are because of airline staff striking, this would NOT be considered an extraordinary circumstance, and compensation will be due if the above criteria have been met.
Just because you are not entitled to financial compensation when there is an extraordinary circumstance, does not mean that you are not entitled to assistance when a flight is delayed. You are still entitled to refreshments, meals, accommodation, and hotel transfers, depending on the length of flight / delay.
The airline used ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’ as a reason for not compensating me, but I don’t agree – what can I do?
You are entitled to challenge the airline’s decision if you do not agree with it. Airlines can sometimes designate a situation as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ when this is not necessarily the case. If you can demonstrate that other flights / airlines are still operating the same / similar flights despite the reason offered by your airline of choice, then you may be able to make a case.
You may also be able to claim in circumstances deemed as ‘extraordinary’ by the airline if this is due to a ‘knock-on’ situation. For example – strikes by baggage handlers (employees of the airport) on a Monday could delay the Monday flights – you may be able to challenge their designation of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ if the delay to your flights on the Wednesday are because of a ‘knock-on’ effect as a result of the strike.
What is the process for claiming flight delay compensation?
For flights arriving at their destination late by three hours or more, each passenger is entitled to claim flight delay compensation.
There are several factors that will influence the amount of compensation you can claim, including the distance travelled, length of flight, and the reason(s) for delay. You can claim flight delay compensation in line with the section below – ‘How much can I claim?’
The airline will be able to provide specific information on how to make a claim through them directly. This can usually be found in booking terms and conditions, as well as on airline websites.
How long do I have to do this?
You can make a claim for delayed flights up to six years after the delayed or cancelled flight – as long as you flew in / out of a UK airport.
How much can I claim?
- Flight distance up to 1,500km (932 miles) – Arriving more than 3 hours late – Entitled to €250.
- Any flight in EU over 1,500km (932 miles) or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500km (2,175 miles) – Arriving more than 3 hours late – Entitled to €400.
- Flight distance more than 3,500km (2,175 miles) – Arriving between 3 and 4 hours late – Entitled to €300.
- Flight distance more than 3,500km (2,175 miles) – Arriving more than 4 hours late – Entitled to €600.
To claim, for delayed / cancelled flights, you should get in contact with the airline directly. Most airlines will have a process in place on their websites to make a claim, however you can also put this in writing (letter or email).
Compensation for issues with connecting flights
Consumers are entitled to compensation if a flight departing from the UK is delayed by at least three hours at the final destination, as a result of a missed connection outside Europe.
This mean that if your journey started in the UK / EU and a delay is incurred on a later leg of the journey (e.g., a stopover in Dubai when travelling from London to Australia), for more than 3 hours, or is cancelled, then you will be entitled to claim EU Flight Delay Compensation.
Extra ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses for delayed flights
You may be entitled to additional compensation in addition to that owed under EU Regulations 261/2004. Under the Montreal Convention, you may be able to claim compensation if the delay or cancellation caused you to –
- Miss a night of pre-booked accommodation
- Miss a concert / event you would have bought tickets to
- Miss a day of car rental you have already paid for.
This can be quite a difficult argument to prove, and it may be beneficial to seek legal advice from a solicitor when seeking compensation for these types of expenses.
If your flight is regulated by the EU for example it’s leaving from or travelling to an EU country or the airline is based in the EU, then the airline will have certain obligations to you should your flight be delayed or cancelled.
If your flight was not EU regulated, you should still contact the airline as you may still be able to make a claim, but this will depend on the airline.
If an airline cancels your flight, then you can ask for a refund or you can choose to take an alternative flight, where again you should be provided with food and drink, access to a phone / email and accommodation if required.
If you choose to take an alternative flight, then you may also be entitled to compensation if you were given less than 14 days’ notice of the cancellation. This amount will depend on the length of delay caused by the alternative flight and how much notice you were given of the cancellation but usually starts at €125.
You can find more information about what your entitled to on the Civil Aviation Authority’s Website; https://www.caa.co.uk/Passengers/Resolving-Travel-Problems/Delays-and-cancellations/
You are only entitled to compensation if the cause of the delay was within the airlines control for example staffing issues or a technical fault. You can’t claim compensation if the delay was due to bad weather or political unrest *(See ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’ in ‘delays’ section).
How do I make a claim?
To make a claim for a delayed or cancelled flight you should contact the airline directly. It’s usually best to this in writing and send it by signed for mail which will allow you to check that it’s been received, but some airlines may send you a claim form to complete or have an option to submit your claim online.
Appealing a decision – Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
If the airline rejects your claim, you can look at Alternative Dispute Resolution as a way of resolving your complaint. This is a process run by independent third parties to try and resolve disputes between consumer and traders outside of court. It’s generally cheaper and quicker than court action and tends to be less formal.
ADR is not a legal requirement so you’ll have to check if the airline is a member of a scheme you can contact or whether they are willing to use one to resolve the dispute.
If the airline is not a member of an ADR which is approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) then you can ask the CAA’ Passenger Advice and Complaints Team to look at your complaint and contact the airline on your behalf. You can find more information on doing this their website; https://www.caa.co.uk/Passengers/Resolving-Travel-Problems/How-the-CAA-can-help/Refer-your-complaint-to-us/.
For free, practical, and impartial advice and information on a range of consumer-related issues, including travel, you can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000. We are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday-Friday.