There is nothing more annoying than arriving at the airport to discover that your flight has been significantly delayed. Don’t take it lying down: read on to see whether you are entitled to assistance such as free calls, free food and free accommodation or even a cash sum in compensation.
In practice, anyone flying out of the UK will be protected by the Denied Boarding Regulations. The rules are as follows:
- You must be flying on an EU-based airline.
- Flying with a non-EU based airline from an EU airport (i.e. all UK airports)
- Flying from an airport outside EU for an airport within the EU, but the airline must be based in an EU state.
However, anyone flying from a non-EU airport on a non-EU carrier is not entitled to the same level of assistance and you will have to look at the airline’s Condition of Carriage to see what their duty of care is.
Are you entitled to compensation when your flight is delayed?
Whether or not you are entitled to anything depends on the length of your flight and the length of your delay. You must fall within one of the following categories:
- A flight of 932 miles or less with a delay of at least 2 hours
- A flight of more than 932 miles within the EU with a delay of at least 3 hours
- A flight outside the EU of between 932 and 2,174 miles with a delay of at least 3 hours
- Any other flight with a delay of at least 4 hours
So long as you fall into one of the above categories you are entitled to:
- Two free telephone calls, emails, telexes or faxes
- Free food and drink depending on the time of day
- Free hotel accommodation and transport between there and the airport if the flight is delayed to the following day
If the flight is delayed for 5 or more hours
You’re not obliged to take the flight it’s 5 or more hours late. In this instance, it doesn’t matter if it was the airline’s fault or an external matter.
If you don’t take the flight then the airline has the following legal requirement it must fulfil:
- Give you a full refund.
- A full refund on any connecting or return flights provided it was all booked as a single booking.
- If you’re in the middle of flying back to the airport you originally left from.
Do talk to someone as soon as you decide you no longer want to take this flight.
What happens if you take the flight?
- You can still claim up to €600 in compensation provided that the delay is caused by an airline’s error. But remember, this compensation will take into consideration things like the distance and destination of your flight.
- However, you won’t receive compensation if the delay was because of an external problem such as bad weather or a security problem.
If you’re on a non-EU flight but it connects to an EU flight, you can also claim compensation but these rules apply:
- You must have booked both flights in a single booking
- The flight was delayed for more than 3 hours
- The delay was an internal fault rather than external (i.e. the airline’s and not because of security reasons)
Financial compensation is due as follows:
- For flights up to 932 miles delayed by more than 3 hours – 250 Euros.
- For flights over 932 miles and within the EU delayed by more than 3 hours – 400 Euros.
- For flights outside the EU between 932 miles and 2,175 miles delayed by more than 3 hours – 300 Euros.
- For flights over 2,175 miles delayed by between 3 and 4 hours – 300 Euros.
- For flights over 2,175 miles delayed by more than 4 hours – 600 Euros.
If you find yourself in a position where your flight is cancelled, the airline must give you the option to either be refunded or rerouted. You’re also entitled to free meals and telephone calls; the airport must provide this for you. You can also qualify for hotel accommodation if you choose the rerouted option and the flight is leaving the next day.
However, you will not be given compensation if:
- You were informed about the cancellation at least two weeks before your flight.
- You were told about the cancellation one to two weeks before but with the option to reroute, you will still reach your destination with no more than 4 hours later than the intended time.
- Regardless of the time notice, the rerouting will ensure you reach your final destination no later than 2 hours late.
Compensation if your flight is cancelled:
You can qualify for compensation if your flight is cancelled. Below it lists the prices depending on the distance:
- For flights up to 932 miles – 250 Euros.
- For all longer flights within the EU and other flights ranging from 932 – 2175 miles – 400 Euros.
- For flights that are more than 2175 miles, and they’re outside of EU – 600 Euros.
The distance given here is measured to the final destination.
It must be noted that the airlines have the option to cut your compensation by half if:
- Your flight is under 932 miles and you reach your final destination within 2 hours of the original time.
- Your flight is under 2175 miles and you reach your destination within 3 hours of the original time.
- Your flight is over 2175 miles and you reach your destination within 4 hours of the original time.
Compensation can be paid in various forms such as cash, bank transfer or cheque. It can also be paid in travel vouchers but only if the passenger agrees.
The only time the airline can wriggle out of paying you the financial compensation detailed above is where there are “extraordinary circumstances”. You will, however, still be entitled to the assistance package i.e. free calls, refreshments, overnight accommodation and transport.
However, what exactly is meant by the phrase “extraordinary circumstances”?
Extraordinary circumstances are circumstances out of the airline’s control such as a security problem, political unrest, extreme weather and strikes.
EU Regulations EC 261/2004 states the following as Extraordinary Circumstances:
- Bad weather, for instance, if there’s heavy rain, thick fog, thunderstorms, snow and strong gusts of wind.
- If there’s a strike, such as if the airport’s baggage handlers suddenly walked out.
- Political circumstances, this includes the threat of a potential terrorist attack or anything else that cause security risks.
- Natural disasters, this would include a volcanic eruption or a hurricane.
- Bird strike, this means if there’s the chance of a potential collision between the aircraft and the birds or another foreign object.
- An ill passenger
It is not unheard of for airlines to stretch the meaning of “extraordinary circumstances” so if, for instance, you see that other airlines are managing to take off on time during an extreme weather event but yours is not, it may be worth challenging the airline’s decision on compensation. If you are still not happy, the Civil Aviation Authority may be able to help.
What can you still be reimbursed in the case of an extraordinary circumstance?
As you all will remember the recent drone threat, this would have counted as an extraordinary circumstance as this was a security threat. In this case, your airline will most likely tell you to either go home or reroute you because the nearby hotels are all full.
If they cannot give you a transfer such and you need to find your own transfer home, the airline is obliged to reimburse you. Although a word of caution, the cost still has to be reasonable so don’t go booking a really expensive hotel!
What might count as a reasonable transfer?
For instance, if you had taken a train to get to Heathrow Airport but upon getting there, you find out all the flights are cancelled because of a security threat. In this case, you can ask for the following to be reimbursed to you:
- You can claim your train ticket to the home as well as your return train ticket to the airport. So, don’t throw away any receipts!
- However, if the train is no longer operating and you need to take a taxi instead, the airline should reimburse you for that too. In most cases, they prefer to arrange this themselves so speak to a member of staff. They should be able to help you.
- You can also claim petrol money if you drove or you were given a lift by someone to your home and back again. If in the process, you had to pay for parking, you should be able to claim for these too!
It must be noted that technical defects no longer count as an extraordinary circumstance because it is said that it was the airline’s responsibility to keep it in working order.
Late to collect your parked car?
If your flight back to the UK is cancelled or delayed and your car is in an airport car park, you are likely to be charged for the excess parking period at the normal “gate rate” so, unfortunately, you will not get the benefit of any special deals.
After the Icelandic volcanic disruption a few years ago many car park operators waived the extra fee so long as passengers were able to provide evidence of the date on which they should have arrived home. This, however, was a one-off and unlikely to be repeated by car park operators. Your airline is not likely to pay your extra parking costs, given that the compensation under the Denied Boarding Regulations is designed to cover such consequential costs.
What to do if your claim isn’t taken seriously?
Is your airline ignoring you? If so, you can report this issue to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and they’ll be able to assist you.
However, they will only consider your complaint if the airline you’re with is not part of the approved alternative dispute resolution body.
The following shows who to contact depending on your situation:
- If you were flying from the UK to anywhere with any airline, use this form on the CAA website.
- If you were flying from somewhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland to anywhere with any airline, you can email your complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you were flying from outside the EU to the UK with an EU based airline then use this form
- If you were flying from outside the EU to inside the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland with EU based airline then email your complaint to email@example.com
Will Brexit affect your flight delay rights?
Brexit. It’s a question on everyone’s mind these days. But, because there’s no conclusion reached on this topic, it is hard to say how it will affect your rights. However, we’ll let you know what we know so far:
- If a withdrawal agreement is reached, it was decided that the consumer’s rights will remain the same from the date the UK leaves the EU to 31st December 2020. In the transitional period, further discussions about the future will take place.
- In the instance of a no-deal Brexit, then there could be potential disruption from the day the UK leaves. This is because the UK would no longer be part of the Common Aviation Area.
- If the flight is disrupted because of a no-deal Brexit, it would count as an extraordinary circumstance. This means that you wouldn’t be compensated any admin fees such as accommodations losses. But you could try getting a refund on your ticket.
- The government recommends that you check with your travel insurance to check if they will cover flight delays because of a no-deal Brexit!