How to claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights

There are several circumstances in which passengers are entitled to compensation if their flight is cancelled or delayed.

According to European law – EU regulation 261/2004 to be precise – if your flight is delayed by at least three hours, you should get some money. How much is dependent on the length of the delay, the distance you’re travelling and whether or not the final destination is in the EU.

However there are some stipulations, and some airlines make it harder than others to claim your dues.

Here’s everything you need to know about claiming flight compensation.

Under what circumstances am I owed compensation?

If you’re claiming under EU law, your flight either needs to have left from an airport in EU countries, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland or your carrier needs to have been a European airline with the final destination in those countries.

If none of the above applies, you might still be entitled under other countries’ aviation regulations – check with your individual airline.

Compensation can be claimed if your flight was delayed by three or more hours and it was the airline’s fault. If your flight is cancelled, the airline has to offer an alternative flight or a full refund. If you accept an alternative flight that delays your arrival by two or more hours and your original flight was cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice, you’re also entitled to compensation.

How much compensation am I due for a delayed flight?

It depends on several factors: flight distance, the destinations involved and the length of delay.

If your arrival is delayed by three hours or more for a flight distance of less than 1,500km, you’re entitled to €250.

If your arrival is delayed by three hours or more for a flight that’s more than 1,500km and within the EU, you’re entitled to €400.

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If your arrival is delayed by three to four hours for a flight that’s more than 3,500km between an EU and non-EU airport, you’re entitled to €300.

If your arrival is delayed by four hours or more for a flight that’s more than 3,500km between an EU and non-EU airport, you’re entitled to €600.

If the flight is delayed by five hours or more, you can legally refuse to take it and get a full refund. If you do take it, you’re entitled to up to €600 depending on the distance, destination and length of delay.

How much compensation am I due for a cancelled flight?

If you opt to take an alternative flight when your original one is cancelled with less than two weeks’ notice, you could be entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation you’re entitled to depends on when the flight was cancelled, the distance of the flight and the departure and arrival times of the rescheduled flight. This only applies to cancellations that are deemed the airline’s fault rather than due to “extraordinary circumstances”.

Flights cancelled less than seven days before departure

Short haul (under 1,500km)

If your replacement flight departs at least one hour earlier and arrives up to two hours later than the original flight booking, you’re entitled to €125.

If your replacement flight arrives at least two hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €250.

Medium haul (1,500km-3,500km)

If your replacement flight departs more than one hour earlier and arrives up to three hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €200.

If your replacement flight arrives at least three hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €400.

Long haul (over 3,500km)

If your replacement flight departs at least one hour earlier and arrives up to four hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €300.

If your replacement flight arrives at least four hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €600.

Flights cancelled seven to 14 days before departure

Short haul (under 1,500km)

If your replacement flight departs at least two hours earlier and arrives up to two hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €125.

If your replacement flight departs at least two hours earlier and arrives at least two hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €250.

If your replacement flight arrives at least four hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €250.

Medium haul (1,500km-3,500km)

If your replacement flight departs at least two hours earlier and arrives up to three hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €200.

If your replacement flight departs at least two hours earlier and arrives three to four hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €400.

If your replacement flight arrives at least four hours later than the original flight, you’re entitled to €400.

Long haul (over 3,500km)

If your replacement flight departs at least two hours earlier and arrives up to four hours later than the original flight booking, you’re entitled to €300.

If your replacement flight arrives at least four hours later than the original flight booking, you’re entitled to €600.

Are there any compensation loopholes?

Unfortunately, yes. Passengers can only claim for delays if they are the airline’s fault – for example, a technical problem with the aircraft or if the airline overbooked the flight. Delays or cancellations that occur as a result of “exceptional circumstances”, such as extreme weather and air traffic control strikes, are exempt from the compensation rules.

Last year, Ryanair refused to compensate those who were delayed due to multiple cabin crew and pilot strikes, citing “exceptional circumstances”. Aviation watchdog the CAA has disputed this, saying the airline owes passengers compensation.

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How can I claim?

The CAA recommends keeping as much evidence as possible, such as boarding passes, whether you’re claiming expenses racked up during a delay or actual compensation. 

If you think you’ll need to claim expenses from the airline, get full receipts (not just a credit card slip) for everything. If a member of airline staff told you to make your own arrangements, note who said this, when and where. Also ask them to put a note on your booking to this effect.

If you believe you have a case, contact your airline directly – this should be the airline which operated the flight, regardless of who you booked through.  

Many airlines have a claims procedure to follow with a standard claim form available. If so, using it will ensure you provide all the information the airline needs to process a claim.

You can usually find the best way to put in a claim by calling the airline or checking its website.

If no standard procedure is available, it may be best to make initial contact by email, so you have a record of the communication.

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

Your airline will usually ask for detailed information to process a claim. Although it may take time to hear back, in time you should receive a response. If the airline believes your claim is valid they will likely include a cheque. If they decline your claim then they should explain why. 

If you are unhappy with the decision, you can contact the CAA, using an online form to raise a complaint. It will investigate further and, where appropriate, contact the airline directly to resolve a claim.

If the CAA is unable to help, you could take your airline to court as a last resort.

There are companies that specialise in claiming airline compensation on behalf of passengers – however, they usually want a hefty cut, sometimes more than half the payout, for doing something you can essentially do for free.

What if my flight is cancelled due to “exceptional circumstances”?

Even if you’re not entitled to compensation, you are entitled to a duty of care from the airline if your flight is cancelled or delayed, whatever the reason.

Depending on how long you’re delayed, it should provide food and drink, access to phone calls and emails and accommodation if you’re delayed overnight. 

For flights under 1,500km, the minimum delay before you’re entitled to this help is two hours.

For flights over 1,500km within the EU, the minimum delay before you’re entitled to this help is three hours.

For flights from 1,500km to 3,500km between EU and non-EU countries, the minimum delay before you’re entitled to this help is three hours.

For flights over 3,500km between EU and non-EU countries, the minimum delay before you’re entitled to this help is four hours.

Ask the airline at the airport – it might offer vouchers for refreshments and arrange a hotel for you.

If you’re struggling to get the required help from your airline, purchase what you need and keep receipts to claim back from the airline later. Avoid extravagance – airlines only have to cover “reasonable” expenses and are unlikely to finance an all-expenses paid stay at the Four Seasons.

Will I still get compensation after Brexit?

The government has said it has no intention to change compensation rules on delayed flights after Brexit.

In a 2018 document called Beyond the Horizon: The Future of UK Aviation, the government says “the UK will not fall below current standards of protection when we leave the EU”.

Even in the event of no deal, passengers should have the same rights, retained in domestic law by the Withdrawal Act, according to UK government contingency plans. These include: passengers subject to denied boarding, delay or cancellation would be entitled to assistance and compensation on the same basis as today; passengers with reduced mobility would still be entitled to the same assistance from airports and airlines; and UK consumer protection in the event of insolvency of a travel provider would continue to apply.

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