This summer millions of Brits will be trying to get away for a well-deserved break.

However, with thousand of flights already cancelled and strikes planned throughout the summer, it’s possible that lots of people will be facing travel disruption.

This scenario can be incredibly stressful, but if you find yourself facing a severely delayed or cancelled flight, you might be able to claim assistance and compensation of anywhere from £110 and £500.

Here we explain what your rights are if your flight is delayed or cancelled and how to go about making a compensation claim.

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What are your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

There’s a set of regulations catchily known as the Denied Boarding Regulations, or EC261, that mean you might be able to claim compensation and/ or assistance in the airport if your flight has been delayed, cancelled, or you’ve been denied boarding.

These regulations cover all flights that are scheduled to:

  • Depart from a UK airport
  • Arrive in the UK with a UK or EU airline (also known as an air carrier), or
  • Arrive in the EU with a UK airline. 

For these regulations to apply, your flight will need to meet the above criteria and you’ll need to have a confirmed booking, which usually means you’ve had a confirmation email from your airline with a booking reference number, and you’ll need to have checked in on time for your flight. 

The specifics of what you’re eligible to get will vary depending on whether your flight is cancelled or delayed, how far you are intending to travel, how long you have to wait in the airport and how delayed your arrival time is.

Delayed flights

If your flight is delayed, you could be entitled to:

  • Assistance in the airport, including free meals and refreshments
  • Compensation if your arrival time is more than three hours later than scheduled.

Your flight will have to be considerably delayed for you to be entitled to assistance or compensation, and will vary depending on how far you’re meant to be travelling. To be able to make any claim, your flight will need to have been delayed by the following times:

Flight distance (km)Length of delay
Up to 1,5002 hours
1,500 – 3,5003 hours
More than 3,5004 hours

It’s important to bear in mind that the distance to your destination is worked out using something called the “great circle route method”, which essentially means that the shortest possible route around the world between your departure and destination airports. There are lots of online tools that can help you work out the exact distance between your departure airport and your destination, including distance.to and greatcirclemapper.net.

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What you can claim in the airport for a delayed flight

If you’re delayed for at least the time spans outlined above, your airline has to provide you with assistance until you depart. This includes:

  • Free meals and refreshments, appropriate to the length of time you have to wait – Airlines will often issue vouchers for you to use in the airport
  • Two free calls or emails
  • Hotel accommodation (if necessary) with transport between the airport and the hotel

For hotels and transport, the airline might book this for you, but you may also find that you need to pay for this yourself and then claim it back from the airline.

Delayed flights - how much compensation are you entitled to?

When your flight is delayed, you might also be able to claim compensation. The amount you can claim is based on the length of delay between your initial scheduled time of arrival and the time you actually arrive, rather than the length of time you spent waiting in the airport.

It’s worth knowing that airlines judge the time of arrival to be when at least one of the plane doors is opened once you’ve reached your destination, even if you don’t get off the plane at that point.

To be able to claim compensation, your arrival will need to be delayed by at least three hours. So, for example, if you boarded your flight three hours late, but you made up time and only arrived two hours late, you wouldn’t be eligible for compensation.

Additionally, the cause of the delay has to be within the airline’s control. If the cause is due to extraordinary circumstances, for example, a storm which prevents the flight from leaving, they won’t have to pay you any compensation. Here are some examples of scenarios that fall into these categories:

Things within the airline’s controlExtraordinary circumstances
Staff lateness or sicknessBad weather, unless the type of weather is typical to the destination
Airline staff strikesIndustrial action by air traffic control, airport staff, ground staff
Late submission of documentsPolitical problems
Routine technical problems Shut airspaces
Underbooking flightsSecurity issues
Overbooking flightsNon-routine technical problems

How much compensation you’re able to claim will vary depending on how long your delay is and the distance you’re travelling. Here’s how much you could get: 

Flight distanceDelay in arrivalCompensation entitlement per person
Up to 1,500kmMore than 3 hours£220
Any flight within the EU over 1,500km or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500 kmMore than 3 hours£350
3,500km+Between 3-4 hours£260
3,500km+More than 4 hours£520
3,500km+More than 5 hours£520 and you’re entitled to a full refund of your fare if you didn’t travel, regardless of the reason for the delay.

Cancelled flights

If your flight has been cancelled and is covered by the Denied Boarding Regulations explained above, you could be entitled to:

  • A refund of your fare or rerouting on an alternative flight
  • Assistance in the airport, including free meals and refreshments, accommodation and travel
  • Compensation for your cancelled flight

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Your right to a refund or reroute

When your airline notifies you that your flight has been cancelled you have the right to choose between the following options, whether it was cancelled two hours or two weeks before you were due to fly and regardless of the cause of the cancellation:

  • Getting a full refund for your cancelled flight, or;
  • Rerouting (switching) to an alternative flight 

If you choose to get a refund, your airline must return your money within seven days.If you choose to reroute, you can choose whether you would like to be:

  • Rerouted to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or;
  • Rerouted to your final destination at a later date that suits you, or;
  • Flown back to your original point of departure – this is an option you might choose If your flight wasn’t direct and was cancelled part of the way through. So for example, if you were flying from London to Seville with a stop in Barcelona on a single ticket, if when you reached Barcelona your onward journey to Seville was cancelled, you could either request a flight back to London, or a refund.

If you choose to be rerouted at the earliest opportunity, most airlines will aim to get you on a flight the same day either with them or another carrier. What airlines class as the earliest opportunity will vary, but if you go for this option, the difference in time between your initial flight time and your rescheduled flight will be treated as a delay and you will therefore be entitled to the same assistance and compensation.

What can you claim in the airport for a cancelled flight?

If your initial flight was cancelled and you chose to be rerouted, you’ll likely remain in or near the airport while you’re waiting for your new flight. The difference in time between your initial flight and your rescheduled one will be treated as a delay and your airline has to provide you with assistance until you depart, which includes:

  • Free meals and refreshments, appropriate to the length of time you have to wait. Airlines will often issue vouchers for you to use in the airport
  • Two free calls, emails or faxes
  • Hotel accommodation (if necessary)
  • Transport between the airport and the hotel

For hotels and transport, the airline will sometimes book this for you, but in situations where an airline is dealing with a large number of delays, you may need to pay for this yourself and then claim it back from the airline.

To be eligible for this assistance, your delay will need to exceed the following times:

 

Flight distance (km)

Length of delay

Up to 1,500

2 hours

1,500 – 3,500

3 hours

More than 3,500

4 hours

 

If you chose to be rerouted at a time or date suitable to you, you won’t be eligible for this assistance.

Cancelled flights - what compensation are you entitled to?

This is where things can get even more confusing. Compensation for cancelled flights is still based on the amount of time you are delayed, rather than the cancellation itself, and you can claim compensation, even if you choose to get a refund and don’t end up travelling.

To be able to claim compensation, you’ll need to meet the following criteria:

  • Your flight needs to have been cancelled by the airline within 14 days of your journey. If you are told about the cancellation more than two weeks in advance, you won’t be eligible for compensation
  • The reason for cancellation needs to have been the airline’s fault, and not due to circumstances outside its control
  • Your rescheduled flight (or the alternate flight you were offered if you opted for a refund), needs to have arrived at your destination later than your original flight arrival time.

Airlines have a little wiggle room to get you on a similar flight without having to pay you any compensation, so if they meet the following parameters for your new flights, you won’t be eligible for compensation:

  • Your airline told you about the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before you departed, and the re-routing they offered departed less than two hours before your original departure time and/or reached your destination less than four hours after the original arrival time, or; 
  • Your airline told you about the cancellation between less than seven days before you departed, and the re-routing offered departed less than one hour before your original departure time and/or reached your destination less than two hours after the original arrival time.

The amount of compensation you can claim is based on the date your flight was cancelled, how far you’re going, the departure time and the delay you experience. You’ll notice that if the flight is rerouted, but set to arrive within the relevant grace period, the compensation you will receive is halved. Here’s what you might get:

Flight cancelled less than seven days before departure

Flight distancearrival times of new flightsCompensation entitlement per person
Up to 1,500km

Departs: More than 1 hour before original flight

Arrives: Up to 2 hours after original flight

£110
Arrives: More than 2 hours after original flight£220
1,500km to 3,500km

Departs: More than 1 hour before original flight

Arrives: Less than 3 hours after original flight

£175
Arrives: More than 3 hours after original flight£350
More than 3,500km

Departs: More than 1 hour before original flight

Arrives: Less than 4 hours after original flight

£260
Arrives: more than 4 hours after your original flight£520

Flight cancelled between seven and fourteen days before departure

Flight distanceDeparture and arrival times of new flightsCompensation entitlement per person
Up to 1,500km

Departs: More than 2 hours before original flight

Arrives: Up to 2 hours after original flight

£110
Arrives: More than 2 hours after original flight£220
1,500km to 3,500km

Departs: More than 2 hours before original flight

Arrives: Less than 3 hours after original flight

£175
Arrives: More than 3 hours after original flight£350
More than 3,500km

Departs: More than 2 hours before original flight

Arrives: Less than 4 hours after original flight

£260
Arrives: more than 4 hours after your original flight£520

Can you claim compensation if your flight is delayed or cancelled due to a strike?

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to a strike, your right to compensation depends on which party called for the industrial action, and whether it was within your airline’s control.

If the strike is called by your airline’s staff, and you are notified less than 14 days before you’re meant to travel, this is seen as within their control and you might be able to claim compensation.

However, if the industrial action is called by other airport staff, such as air traffic control, airport staff, or ground staff like baggage handlers, this is considered to be beyond your airline’s control and you won’t usually be entitled to compensation.

It’s important to know that even if you aren’t entitled to compensation, if your flight is delayed or cancelled due to a strike, you should still be able to claim assistance from your airline. You can read more about this in our article Airport strikes – what are your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

How to make a claim

Whether your flight was cancelled or delayed, the process for making a claim is the same. To start the claims process, make sure you know exactly how much compensation you think you’re entitled to. There are a number of calculators that can help you work this out, including this compensation calculator from Which?.

When you’ve worked out how much you might be entitled to, you can start making your claim. The best way to do this is by going directly to the airline concerned and either following their compensation claims process or sending an email or letter to their customer services department. There are free online tools available, such as Resolve,r that say they can help you make your claim, but beware, some airlines won’t accept any claim made through a third party, so it’s usually safest to start by going directly to your airline.

If your airline has its own process, it will likely ask you for all of the following information. If you need to email your airline with your complaint, make sure you cover all of the below points clearly and concisely and outline exactly what compensation you are expecting. Regardless of the method, it’s useful to gather the below information in advance of making a claim:

  • Your name and contact details
  • The names and contact details of any other passengers you are making a claim for – if you all have the same surname, you will be able to make a claim on behalf of everyone, however, if there are different surnames on your booking, you will need a signed letter of authority from that person to make a claim on their behalf
  • Your original flight details with booking reference
  • Details of the delay or cancellation – outlining how delayed your arrival time was and any other information that you feel is relevant
  • Anything else you need to make a claim for, for example, you might need to make a claim for transport to and from the airport and/or overnight accommodation, with copies of all relevant receipts.

To find out whether you’ll need to write a letter or fill in a form, visit your airline’s website or call their customer service. Here are the links to the complaints sections of some of the largest UK airlines:

For more information on how to make a successful claim, have a look at the Civil Aviation Authority’s list of tips on complaining here.

Once you’ve submitted your claim, your airline should come back to you with its decision on whether you are entitled to compensation or not. If they don’t come back to you, or you disagree with the outcome, you can escalate it to a third party. Some airlines and airports are members of alternative dispute resolution bodies (ADR) and when your airline replies to you, they will usually provide you with the details of the relevant ADR scheme, if they are part of one. You can see the detail of ADRs on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.

How to protect yourself

We’ve covered the Denied Boarding Regulations here as they’re based on UK legislation and provide protection for all passengers on flights from the UK, on board a UK-bound flight with a UK-based company and on flights within the EU with an EU airline. However, with thousands of flights arriving and departing every day, there will be a huge number of flights that fall outside of this. 

International flights will be subject to legislation and regulation in their governing countries, so it can be a good idea to get to grips with what you are covered for before you book.

Regardless of whether you are automatically entitled to compensation or assistance, it’s important to make sure your travel insurance covers you. 

Not all travel insurance policies will cover you for delayed or cancelled flights. As many as one in twenty insurance policies offer no cover for delayed flights and another five percent won’t cover you for missed departures, if your flight is cancelled, according to financial information provider Defaqto. 

To make sure your travel insurance policy covers you, make sure you read the fine print to understand what is and isn’t included. You can read more about this in our article How are holidays protected.

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