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 from the UK, it doesn’t matter what the airline is
- You are landing in the UK with a UK or an EU airline
- You are landing in the EU and you were with a UK airline
However, anyone flying with a non-UK airline landing in a non-EU country, you may not be 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 up to 1,500km with a delay of at least 2 hours
- A flight between 1,500km and 3,500km with a delay of at least 3 hours
- A flight of over 3,500km with a delay of at least 4 hours
So long as you fall into one of the above categories you are entitled to:
- You’re given a “means of communication” so this probably means that the airline should reimburse you for any phone call.
- Free food and drink will be provided
- 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 £520 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-UK flight but it connects to a UK 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 1,500km delayed by more than 3 hours – £220.
- For flights over 3,500km delayed by between 3 and 4 hours that are between UK/EU and non-UK/EU airport – £260.
- For flights between 1,500km and 3,500km delayed by more than 3 hours – £350.
- For flights over 1,500km that are within the UK/EU delayed by more than 3 hours – £350.
- For flights over 3,500km delayed by more than 4 hours that are between a UK/EU and non-UK/EU airport – £520
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 AND you will still reach your destination with no more than 4 hours later than the intended time. Plus, you board this flight no more than 2 hours earlier than the intended time.
- The delay was caused by an extraordinary circumstance.
- You were told about the cancellation less than 8 days before your intended time of departure. You were given the option to reroute which meant that you left an hour before your scheduled time and reached your destination within 2 hours later than the intended time.
- You were on board a flight that departed and landed from both non-UK and EU airports. It doesn’t matter what the airline was. Or, you were coming from a non-UK or EU country on an airline that was both non-UK and EU. It doesn’t matter where it landed.
You can qualify for compensation for flight cancellations but it depends on the distance and the time from when the flight was initially cancelled. Below we list the prices for flights cancelled from 7/14 days before departure. Where it mentions that you leave earlier, that is to say, that the rerouted flight will leave slightly earlier and so you should reach your destination earlier too. But if you do leave early and still don’t reach your destination in time, you may be able to get compensation.
- For flights up to 0-1500km miles you’ll get £110 if it leaves more than 2 hours before and lands within 2 hours. But it will be £220 if it lands either 4 hours late or, it leaves more than 2 hours before and lands 2 hours later.
- For all longer flights ranging from 1500 – 3500km you’ll get £170 if the flight leaves more than 2 hours before and it lands up to 3 hours later than intended. But it will be 350 if it lands more than 4 hours late. Or it leaves more than 2 hours before and lands later than 3/4 hours.
- For flights that are more than 3500km+ you’ll get £260 if it leaves more than 2 hours before and it lands within 4 hours. But it will be £520 if it lands more than 4 hours late.
The distance given here is measured to the final destination.
You’ll get the following compensation for flight cancellations if it was cancelled at least 7 days before departure.
- For flights up to 0-1500km miles you’ll get £110 if it leaves more than 1 hour before and lands within 2 hours. But it will be £220 if it lands 2 hours later than the intended time.
- For all longer flights ranging from 1500 – 3500km you’ll get £170 if the flight leaves more than 1 hour before and it lands up to 3 hours late. But it will be 350 if it lands more than 3 hours late.
- For flights that are more than 3500km+ you’ll get £260 if it leaves more than 1 hour before and it lands within 4 hours. But it will be £520 if it lands more than 4 hours late.
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 you’ve contacted the airport or airline separately and you’re dissatisfied with their response. So what to do next?
- You can file your complaint to an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) body
- But if the airline or the airport is not part of the approved alternative dispute resolution body, then you can file a complaint with CAA. They will try to help you with your matter and give you their opinion. But it should be noted that they don’t have a legal entitlement to enforce their view
- Or you can take direct legal action. But please note, you cannot appeal against CAA’s opinion.