As the relentless terrible weather drives us all to distraction, chances are you’ve booked a holiday abroad or you’re thinking about a last-minute break.

If you’ve not flown for a year or two, prepare yourself! Prices have increased for every aspect of your flight.

You’ll need to measure your cabin bags to make sure you don’t fall foul of carry-on bag charges. You’ll need to check in online and keep a phone battery charger handy so you can get flight updates on your phone and download your boarding pass. Oh, and most important of all, you’ll need the ensure your passport isn’t due to expire soon.

The good news is if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you are entitled to compensation, depending on how long the delay has been. Nothing in life is ever that simple, of course! Airlines have a knack for trying to get round the law that governs compensation for flight delays and cancellations. So knowing how the rules work can help you fight back if you get fobbed off. Here’s my guide.

When do I get compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

Even though we’ve left the European Union, we have still retained may laws that give us rights that have now been incorporated in to UK law. The law governing compensation for delayed and cancelled flights is The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

At heart, the law requires airlines to pay out compensation if the delay or cancellation is as a result of something that they could have foreseen or could have anticipated. So a delay arising from a technical problem with the aeroplane would result in compensation if it lasted longer than three hours. The same goes for strike action by pilots or cabin crew.

However, other things that could have an impact on your flight fall outside of the airline’s powers. For example, strike action by air traffic controllers or airport staff isn’t the fault of the airline. The same goes for weather related delays, or unexpected events like an Icelandic volcano eruption grounding flights. That’s where your travel insurance should kick in instead.

Of course, some things are subjective. An airline might cancel flights in advance citing an upcoming air traffic controller strike in France, even though the actual flights are more or less still going ahead over different airspace. You could complain about this, though you’d need to do your research to be successful.

How does compensation work if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

If your flight has been delayed, the compensation you are entitled to depends on how long the delay was and what distance you are flying

  • The flight must be delayed by more than three hours and the delay is counted from the time the flight is meant to arrive – not when it takes off. ‘Arrival’ counts as the point at which the cabin crew open the doors… not when the plane touches down).
  • The flight must take off from the UK or European Union or be from an airline based in these areas. Connected flights count if you booked them as one trip, even if you switch to a non-EU airline half way through your journey.
  • The issue must be ‘within the control of the airline’. So as I mentioned, weather or air-traffic control disputes are out, aeroplane problems and flight staffing issues are in.

Airlines tend to make you go through an unnecessarily complex procedure to claim compensation. Though they have all of your booking information, don’t be surprised if you have to provide it all over again.

Go back through your emails and dig out all of your flight details, including your booking reference and flight number, along with the information you used to book the flights, like your email. This shouldn’t all be necessary, but realistically, it will save time in the short term. 

Compensation for delayed flights

If your flight is delayed, then here’s how the compensation payments work.

  • If the flight is up to 1,500 km and is more than three hours late, then you can claim £220.
  • If the flight is between 1,500 and 3,500 km and is more than three hours late, then you can claim £350.
  • If the flight is more than 3,500 km and leaving the EU, or is an EU airline flying into the UK and is between three and four hours late, then you could get back £260.
  • If the flight is more than 3,500 km and is more than four hours late, then you could expect up to £520.

Compensation for cancelled flights

Compensation for cancellation follows similar timescales but also depends on when the flight was cancelled. Rates range from £110 to £520 depending on the delays and distance you are due to travel.

Firstly, to qualify the airline must have cancelled the flight within the last 14 days. There are different levels of compensation depending on whether the cancellation was between 7 and 14 days before the flight and 7 days to on the day cancellations.

The compensation then kicks in from the point the rescheduled flight lands and the doors open. So if your flight was due to take off at 6am in the morning and the rescheduled flight takes lands at 9am the next day, your flight is 27 hours delayed in total. There’s also compensation if your rescheduled flight takes off earlier too, but that doesn’t happen that often so let’s not overly complicate things!

MoneySavingExpert has a great guide to the compensation you get for cancellations under these circumstances here.

Of course, while compensation is nice most people simply want to get on the next available flight to their destination. Your airline should get you on their next flight out, but failing that, you can also insist on a replacement flight through a rival airline. The rules don’t set out a definitive timescale for when this must happen, but once you’re heading over 24 to 48 hours, I’d push the airline for this option.

Don’t just book the flight though. See if you can find an alternative airline and check with your original airline first to see if they will refund you the costs.

What if I’m stuck waiting for a delayed or cancelled plane?

You are entitled to compensation and assistance while your wait for a delayed or cancelled flight… if you can find a member of airline staff at the airport.

Food and drink vouchers should be offered, after a certain amount of time has elapsed – two hours for short hall, three for medium hall and four hours for long hall. Even if the airline isn’t at fault, these should be offered. Don’t get too excited though, you’ll be looking at a basic sandwich and drink, so don’t go mad at Yo Sushi! airside.

You are entitled to the cost of making calls that are related to the delay. If your phone is dead then you can ask the airline to help you out.

The big compensatory gesture is accommodation. If you’re delayed overnight the airline should cover the cost of your hotel and getting there. They usually chose the accommodation so abandon dreams of that five-star airport hotel. The airline should also arrange for you to get to the hotel or cover ‘reasonable’ costs for doing so.

If you can’t get hold of anyone at the airline then keep all bills and receipts for the things you are forced to pay for while dealing with the situation. Why not photo them too, just to be sure?

What about compensation for other costs?

The rules around compensation for costs you incur as a result of flight cancelations and delays are less clear, but there are a few legal principles that might apply if you are seeking compensation for your losses.

A direct loss is money that you’ve lost as a direct result of the situation. For example, having to book another plane ticket if the airline can’t find you an alternative. These losses are by no means guaranteed to be paid. If the airline feels you’ve booked an excessively expensive flight for example, then it may pro-rata a refund depending on the prices at the time. This doesn’t mean that decision is fair though – so complain if you are unhappy.

I’ve heard lots of reports of people forced to take expensive cabs as a result of their flights being cancelled. Though this is a ‘direct’ loss in the sense that you’ve had to fork out the cash to get home, the airline is likely to argue that you could have got a train/bus/ferry or other method that was less expensive. Don’t pay out the big bucks without checking with the airline first.

You might also lose money as a consequence of the situation. For example, you might have lost a day of paid work. These loses are much harder to quantify but it doesn’t mean you can’t claim for them. You should make it very, very clear though that the loss is as directly connected to the situation as possible – and prove it.

Taking things further

Airlines must sign up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme (ADR). There are quite a few of these and outrageously, the airline can pick which one to go with. However, you can take your complaint to the ADR scheme, which is cheaper than going to court, if you are unhappy with a decision made about compensation.

Find out which ADR scheme to go to here.

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