Flight cancellations and delays continue to affect British holidaymakers, making it more important than ever to know your rights when it comes to compensation, refunds and rebooking options.
Multiple airlines cancelled scores of flights due to strikes, staff shortages and flight caps this summer, and British Airways has axed a further 10,000 short-haul flights between October and March
In the coming days, travellers may be hit by further events including the September 16 French air traffic control strike, the Queen's state funeral on September 19 and ongoing Spanish cabin crew walkouts.
See below for our guide to your compensation rights when travel is disrupted. For more advice, see the top things you must do now if your flight has been cancelled here.
What happens if my flight is cancelled?
The airline will be in touch if your flight is affected. Note that each individual airline has different options in this eventuality; for example, with easyJet, you can either switch to another flight for free, accept a voucher for the full value of your booking (valid for 12 months), or request a full refund. With Ryanair, you can either apply for a refund or change your cancelled flight for free. With British Airways, you can claim a refund. Check the airline's policy online for more information on what to do if your flight is impacted.
Could the French air traffic control strike affect my flight?
Air traffic controllers in France will stage a walkout on September 16. There are likely to be cancellations and lengthy delays all day as the French government asks airlines to cut flights by half on Friday. Ryanair and easyJet are set to be the worst affected airlines.
Flights to and from Spain will also be impacted as planes avoid flying through French airspace.
Will my flight be cancelled because of the Queen's funeral?
While no official announcement has been made in regard to flight cancellations, officials at Heathrow Airport said schedules may be subject to change as the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is broadcast on screens on Monday September 19.
Changes may also be seen as the UK takes part in the National Moment of Reflection with a one-minute silence at 8pm on Sunday September 18.
Could Ryanair's cabin crew strike in Spain impact my holiday plans?
Members of Ryanair’s Spanish cabin crew union are striking on four days every week until January 7. The budget airline has downplayed the impact of the action, but was forced to cancel some flights this summer due to strike action. Find out more information, here.
The silver lining for travellers is that Spanish law requires airlines and staff to maintain a minimum level of service.
Can I get compensation if a flight is delayed?
Due to bad weather
If your flight has been delayed, airlines encourage you to travel to the airport ahead of the original departure time anyway. In severe weather warnings, passengers are advised to leave plenty of time to get to the airport, as there could be delays on trains and on the roads. You will not be entitled to compensation if the delays are due to bad weather, and your only option is to wait until the flight departs. You may, however, be entitled to a small amount of compensation to cover food costs, and accommodation if your flight is delayed overnight (see below).
If it is the airline's fault
To claim compensation for a flight, it must have been delayed for more than three hours beyond the scheduled arrival time, and it must have been the airline’s fault.
Note, however, that new proposals could mean that travellers will be able to claim for delays of more than an hour on domestic flights.
Can I get compensation if my flight is cancelled?
Due to bad weather
If your flight has been cancelled due to bad weather, your options are to wait to be placed on an alternative flight, or to request a refund (which will include a refund for the return leg). Contact your airline direct if you do wish to claim a refund, but beware that in doing so you will waive your right to being placed on another flight.
Note that you will not be eligible to claim additional compensation for your cancelled flight if it is due to severe weather, and not the fault of the airline.
If you opt for an alternative flight, it is your choice as to whether you take the next available flight, or to travel at a later date. If you decide to travel at later date, you may be able to claim compensation on reasonable expenses, such as overnight accommodation and a reasonable cost of phone calls. If you cannot contact your airline direct, you will be expected to pay for the accommodation yourself and then claim the cash back later. Keep your receipts.
If it is the airline's fault
Similar rules and amounts for compensation apply as for delays and there are particular conditions and variations depending on how far in advance the flight was cancelled (see caa.co.uk/consumers). See below for how much you could be entitled to.
Am I entitled to refreshments if my flight is delayed?
Yes, if the delay is of a certain length. Whatever the reason for the delay, the airline must, after three hours, provide food and drink appropriate to the time of day (often in the form of a voucher) and a means of communicating your delay or a refund of the cost of essential calls. For overnight delays, you must be given hotel accommodation and transport to it – or to return home if you are on the outward leg. If there’s a major disruption, you may have to make your own arrangements and claim back the cost. Don’t expect a full refund for an expensive hotel unless there is no alternative. Receipts are essential.
Which flights qualify for compensation?
Under current EU and British law, you must be departing from, or arriving at, a British or EU airport (this includes Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) on any airline to qualify for compensation. The rules also apply to anyone travelling anywhere else on an EU or British airline.
How much can I expect for a delayed flight?
For delays of three hours or more which are the fault of the airline, you are entitled to a cash payment of £220 for short flights and £350 for a flight of 1,500–3,500km. For flights over 3,500km you should receive £520 for a delay of three to four hours. You don’t have to take the flight if it’s delayed for five hours or more, and will be entitled to a full refund within seven days. However, compensation does not apply in all cases.
If your delay is due to severe weather, you will not be entitled to compensation.
What is covered?
You should get compensation for delays caused by most things within an airline’s control, including technical problems such as component failure and general wear and tear. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said that a strike by the airline’s own staff comes under its responsibility and could mean a right to compensation. It might depend on how far in advance the carrier has given you warning of disruption.
What is excluded?
Compensation is not payable in “extraordinary” circumstances, such as war or civil unrest, security issues, natural disasters, extreme weather (including an airport’s failure to de-ice the aircraft on time), air traffic control restrictions, strikes by airport staff, a medical emergency on board, and some crew issues.
I know my flight had a technical fault because the pilot said so. So why has my claim been refused due to a ‘hidden manufacturing defect’?
This is a defence airlines often use to avoid paying out, but it is not washing with the courts. Judgements have made it quite clear that a hidden manufacturing defect is comparable to a product recall; it has to be initiated by the manufacturer.
Can I claim if my flight delay happened four years ago?
You can claim for qualifying delayed flights over the past six years. Airlines have tried to limit claims to the past two years but this has been rejected by the courts.
Can I claim if I travelled on a codeshare flight?
In days gone by it was the nationality of the airline operating the flight that applied. For example, if you were delayed on a flight from New York to London booked through British Airways but the operating carrier is American Airlines, you were not covered by the Regulation even if your e-ticket shows a BA flight number. However, the European Court of Justice recently ruled in passengers’ favour when claiming from the selling carrier, which may mean future success for thousands of travellers.
Can I claim if a shorter delay means I miss a connecting flight?
Yes, if all the flights are made under the same booking reference and the connection is made at an EU airport. For example, if you are due to fly from London via Madrid to Buenos Aires and you miss your connection in Madrid because the flight from London arrives an hour late, you can claim for long-haul compensation as long as the delay in arriving at your final destination, in this case Buenos Aires, is more than three hours.
Can I claim for a delayed flight outside the EU on a non-EU airline if my journey began in the UK?
It depends. If, for example, you were flying London-Dubai-Singapore and your London-Dubai flight arrived more than three hours late you can make a claim. However, if the delay was on the Dubai-Singapore sector you probably would not be eligible for compensation. There is also no compensation for delays on any sector of your return flight to the UK.
The airline has offered me vouchers as compensation, what should I do?
It is your choice whether to accept them or not. The Regulation says that the airline should pay compensation in cash.
I have submitted a compensation claim to the airline but it says the delay was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. What do I do next?
Double-check that you have a case by reading through the CAA’s ‘Delays and Cancellations’ information at caa.co.uk/passengers. If your delayed flight departed from a UK airport you can ask the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints team to review your case and it will contact the airline on your behalf if you have a valid claim. Use the online form to send details of your complaint including copies of supporting information.
However, most large airline have signed up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme, in which case, the CAA will no longer look at the complaint. In these cases, if your case is not resolved after eight weeks, you can refer it to the ADRS - these are listed by the CAA.
If your flight departed from another EU country you need to contact the National Enforcement Body (NEB) in the country where the airline has its home base. The NEB will eventually - usually months later - provide a written ruling on your claim. This is not legally binding but most airlines pay out at this point.
Is there another route to pursue my claim?
You can take a UK-based airline to court once you have a written rejection. Use the Money Claim Online service, which costs £35 depending on the value of your claim (to a maximum of £1,000). This service only covers England and Wales. For Scotland visit scotcourts.gov.uk; for Northern Ireland visit courtsni.gov.uk.
I’m worried about all the form-filling involved. Is there another way?
Some specialists will handle claims for you on a no-win, no-fee basis, though they take about 30 per cent of the payout. Try Bott & Co (01625 415800; bottonline.co.uk), for example, which will deal with flights that depart or arrive in England and Wales and any eligible flights on UK-registered airlines. Its website has a free flight checker to find out if you have a valid claim. Dutch-based EU Claim (020 3318 3583; euclaim.co.uk) runs a similar kind of service.
What about travel insurance for delays?
Your travel insurance policy will probably offer compensation for a delay, though in most cases, it is likely to be a derisory amount – say £20 – and even then it is only available after an extremely long delay – typically of 12 hours or more.
What about other arrangements I have paid for?
If you have booked a hire car, a hotel, a villa or other accommodation independently of your flight, and you are delayed or unable to travel, the airline is not liable for any losses you may incur. You are still responsible for paying the bill.
What happens if my airline goes out of business?
If you have booked a seat-only ticket on a charter flight, or are on a package holiday, the CAA under the Atol protection scheme will arrange a refund or, if you are abroad, will take responsibility for repatriating you.
In such cases they can claim the fare back from the card company. Stranded passengers may still lose out, however, because they will have to buy a new ticket home, which will probably cost more than the original.
What can I do to protect my scheduled flight tickets?
Apart from paying with a credit card, you could take out insurance. Some policies offer cover for the failure of an airline. This is often referred to as Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI). The level of this protection varies, but Travel Plus – offers cover up to £2,500, not only for loss on air tickets and the extra cost of replacing flights, but also for items such as a villa deposit, which you may lose if you can’t travel because of the airline’s failure. Check with your provider if it offers SAFI cover — it may be an optional extra. Alternatively, buy a policy from a specialist insurer like protectmyholiday.com that covers the flight alone.
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