Last year was something of a disaster for the holiday industry. After scraping through the pandemic, the airlines seemed to have been caught unawares by our desire to jump on a plane and get away.

On top of that, millions of us attempted to cash in our vouchers for cancelled trips too. By the way, cash yours in now – millions more are still outstanding!

All of this led to a nightmare summer as flights were cancelled en masse, airports heaved and strike action shook the land.

This year, things are looking much better. However, strike action is still taking place both home and away, so it’s important to know about your rights if things go wrong.

What happens if my flight is late or cancelled?

The good news is if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, you are entitled to compensation from the airline, though the amount you receive varies, depending on how long the delay was and the distance you are travelling.

To qualify for compensation, your 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. Keep an eye on those watches as the arrival begins when the cabin crew open the door, 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 when bought as one trip, even if you switch to a non-EU airline on the second half. But anything outside of those areas and you are at the mercy of the compensation rules of the home country of the airline.

Is it the airline’s fault?

The reason for the delay or cancelation must be ‘within the control of the airline’. So storms and bad weather or airport and air-traffic control strikes don’t usually count. However, airline strikes are considered to be ‘foreseeable’ as are the recent staffing issues and cancellations. However, if your plane is cancelled, then the airline will still try to get you on the next one – either their own or a competitors.

How much can you claim for?

Compensation for delayed flights starts at around £210 for flights delayed for three hours or more traveling over 1,500km and goes up to £520 for flights delayed over four hours going long distance (over 3,500km).

If the flight is cancelled, you have a few options. You can either ask for a refund of the ticket or ask to be rebooked on a replacement flight, either through your airline or a different one if no flights are available.

Then things get a little complicated. You are entitled to compensation if your flight was cancelled up to 14 days before departure and your replacement flight lands from two to four or more hours later that the original flight was scheduled – with compensation ranging from between £110 and £520 in total.

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

Finding a member of airline staff is the challenge here, but here’s what you can ask for:

Food and drink vouchers are most commonly given – but only after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Even if the airline isn’t at fault, they should give you vouchers. Food vouchers tend to be rather stingy though, so don’t get too excited. You should get the cost of making calls directly related to the situation too.

If you’re delayed overnight the airline should cover the cost of your hotel and getting there. They usually chose the hotel for you. If you are forced to book your own don’t go five star – think reasonably priced and ask the airline if unsure.

Expect the unexpected

There’s always a new twist with travel. This year, French air traffic control strikes mean many non-domestic flights will not be able to travel over French airspace – so check your airline apps as your journey might have got longer!

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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