18 Dec 2018

Flight delays and cancellations – know your rights

Flight delays and cancellations are downright frustrating. No-one wants to be stuck in an airport when they should be on holiday or doing business abroad. But exercising your rights could help you make the best of a bad situation – for example, you may be entitled to compensation.

Here, we explore your rights according to the Denied Boarding Regulation under EU law. This applies to flights that are with a European airline or departing from Europe.

Flight delays

Depending on how long you’re made to wait, you may be entitled to things like free accommodation, compensation or a refund.

Over two hours

If you’re stuck on the ground for over two hours, the airline must provide free:

  • Food and drink
  • Access to phone calls and emails
  • Accommodation if you’re delayed overnight, as well as transport to and from the airport

You may be given vouchers for these expenses. Otherwise, keep the receipts so you can claim money back later. Note that airlines only pay for ‘reasonable’ expenses – you probably won’t get refunded for a luxury hotel or alcohol.

Over three hours

You may be entitled to compensation (as well as the expenses listed above). This means the airline gives you money to say sorry for making you wait.

You’ll only get compensation if the delay was the airline’s fault – e.g. it overbooked a flight or had a technical issue. You’re unlikely to get a payout if the problem was caused by bad weather or a security risk.

How much you get depends on your arrival time and how far you’re travelling:

Flight distance/destination Delay to your arrival Compensation*
Under 1,500 km 3 hours or more €250 (~£222)
1,500 km to 3,500 km between an EU and non-EU airport
OR
Over 1,500 km between EU airports
€400 (~£356)  
Over 3,500 km between an EU and non-EU airport 3-4 hours €300 (~£267)
4 hours or more €600 (~£533)  

*Compensation amounts are set in euros. We’ve shown them in pounds sterling too – but remember that exchange rates can change.

Over five hours

You can decide not to take the flight. If so, the airline will treat you as though your flight had been cancelled. If you take the flight, you may still be able to claim compensation up to a maximum of €600 (as shown in the table above).

Flight cancellations

If your airline cancels your flight, you usually have two options: a replacement flight (called rerouting) or a refund.

Refund

If you don’t take the replacement flight, the airline must give you your money back. The refund may include any onward or return flights with the same airline. You should get your money back within seven days of making a claim.

Rerouting

You’re entitled to a flight (at no extra charge and possibly with another airline) to either:

  • The airport you just left – if you’re part-way through your journey
  • Your final destination – you can choose the earliest flight available or one at a later date

If you arrive late because you’ve been rerouted, you can treat this as a delay (unless the delay was your choice). This means you may be able to claim compensation and expenses.

How to get a refund or compensation

Contact the airline that operates the flight (this isn’t necessarily the airline you booked through). Make sure you have your flight details and booking reference to hand. It’s sensible to put your claim in writing – this means you can prove what was sent and when. Take notes if you do speak to anyone on the phone.

It’s generally sensible to:

  • Be clear, calm and matter-of-fact
  • Give details, such as exactly how late you arrived
  • Send the airline copies of your ticket and other relevant evidence
  • Follow up and respond promptly

If you think the airline isn’t respecting your rights, you can report it to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).


Next, learn about using your statutory rights to return purchases that are faulty or unwanted.

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