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Advice Column: Compensation for flight delays


My recent flight was delayed.  Can I claim compensation?

This advice applies to England only.

If you booked a flight that departed from Europe or was with a European airline, you might have rights under EU law if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

Contact the airline if these don’t apply to you – for example, because you flew from New York to Los Angeles, or to Europe on a Qantas plane. What you’ll be entitled to will depend on the airline.

If your flight’s delayed for 2 or more hours

Your airline have to give you:

  • food and drink
  • access to phone calls and emails
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight – and journeys between the airport and the hotel

The airline should give you vouchers to get these things at the airport. Ask someone who works for the airline if you’re not offered any help.

If they don’t give you help at the airport, keep receipts for expenses and try to claim from the airline later. Airlines only pay for ‘reasonable’ expenses – you won’t get money back for alcohol, expensive meals or luxury hotels.

If your flight’s delayed for 3 or more hours

You already have a legal right to food and drink, phone calls and accommodation – you get this when the flight is delayed for 2 hours or more.

You’re also entitled to get compensation if the delay is the airline’s responsibility – for example, if they didn’t get enough bookings or there was a technical fault.

You won’t get compensation if it was delayed because of something like bad weather or a strike.

You’re entitled to a set amount of compensation depending on:

  • the distance of the flight – check the flight distance on the WebFlyer website
  • the length of the delay – how late you are getting to your destination
  • whether you’re flying to an EU or non-EU destination

You have to claim from the airline to get compensation. Search their website or call their customer services department.

If your flight’s delayed for 5 hours or more

You don’t have to take the flight if it’s delayed for 5 hours or more. It doesn’t matter whose responsibility the delay is.

If you don’t take the flight

The airline legally has to give you all of the following:

  • a full refund for the flight
  • a full refund for other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, eg an onward or return flight
  • if you’re part-way through a journey, a flight back to the airport you originally departed from
  • food and drink
  • access to phone calls and emails
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight, as well as journeys between the airport and the hotel

Talk to someone from the airline as soon as you decide you don’t want to take the flight.

If you do take the flight

You can claim up to €600 in compensation if the delay is the airline’s responsibility – depending on the distance and destination of your flight. It might have been your airline’s fault if there was a technical flight, or they overbooked.

You won’t get compensation if it was delayed because of something like bad weather or a strike.

If your flight is cancelled

You have the legal right to either:

  • a full refund – including other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking such as onward or return flights
  • a replacement flight to get you to your destination

Ask for a refund or replacement at the airport if you can. If not, you can claim from the airline later.

You also have a legal right to:

  • help with costs – if the cancellation delays you 2 or more hours
  • compensation – if you’d be delayed 2 or more hours by the replacement flight offered

If you get a replacement flight

The airline legally has to help you with things you need while you’re waiting at the airport for your replacement flight. This includes:

  • food and drink
  • access to phone calls and emails
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight, as well as journeys between the airport and the hotel

The airline should give you vouchers to get these things at the airport. Ask someone who works for the airline if you’re not offered anything.

If they don’t give you help at the airport, keep receipts for your expenses and try to claim from the airline later. Airlines only pay for ‘reasonable’ expenses – you won’t get money back for alcohol, expensive meals or luxury hotels.

Claim compensation

You’re legally entitled to get compensation if the delay is the airline’s responsibility and either:

  • the replacement flight delays your arrival by 2 or more hours
  • your flight was cancelled at least 7 days before departure

The amount of compensation you’re entitled to depends on:

  • when the flight was cancelled
  • the distance of the flight – check the flight distance on the Web Flyer website
  • the departure and arrival times of the rescheduled flight

Claim from the airline to get compensation or use your own travel insurance if it covers cancellations.

Claim from the airline

Contact the airline – this needs to be the airline operating the flight, even if you booked it through another airline. The airline’s customer services department will usually help. Be ready to give all your flight details and booking reference numbers.

Write your claim – say what went wrong and what you want the airline to give you. The Civil Aviation Authority has information about how to write a good claim and you can download a template letter from the Which? website. Include copies (not originals) of your tickets and any receipts.

Keep records – keep copies of your claim and any response from the airline. Take notes if you speak to anyone from the airline – this could be useful if you decide to take your claim further.

If you’re not getting anywhere

You can report your issue to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) if the airline doesn’t give you what you’re entitled to.

PACT (the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints Team) will only consider your complaint if the airline or airport involved is not a member of an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body.

Where you’re flying fromWhere you’re flying toAirlineWho to contact
UKAnywhereAny airlineUse the form on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website
Somewhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland (not the UK)AnywhereAny airlineEmail your complaint to passengercomplaints@caa.co.uk
Outside the EUUKAirline must be based in the EUUse the form on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website
Outside the EUSomewhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland (not the UK)Airline must be based in the EUEmail your complaint to passengercomplaints@caa.co.uk

Further help

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 if you need more help – a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone. You can also use an online form or write to them.

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