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What to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled

The current outbreak of COVID-19 has led to airport lockdowns that have left many would-be travellers with cancelled and delayed flights. Find out what your rights are if your flight has been affected. Plus we'll let you know the major airlines' current cancellation policies and give advice on how to get home quickly and safely.

When am I entitled to compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

Under normal circumstances, if your flight to or from an EU airport is delayed for three hours or more, you are legally entitled to receive the same compensation as those people whose flights have been cancelled. If you have been informed that your flight has been cancelled at very short notice, airlines will normally compensate passengers for the inconvenience.

However, the airline is not legally obliged to provide compensation is if the flight was cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’, or reasons beyond the airline’s control, such as extreme weather, a strike or flights grounded due to government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on what airline you are flying with, you should expect a full refund or an offer of alternative travel arrangements, such as a seat on an alternative route or a different airline’s flight to your destination.

How do I claim compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

If you are struggling to file a claim by yourself, you can get help from startups like Get Airhelp which can make claims with airlines on your behalf. Alternatively, you can find a template letter here to help with filing out a flight delay or cancellation claim. 

Will I get any compensation if I’m waiting at the airport for a new flight?

If you have been issued with a new flight ticket and have to wait in the airport for over two hours for a short-haul flight or over four hours for a long flight, you should be provided with food and drink vouchers at the airport. If the delay is outside the airline’s control, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance. Many policies include payouts for missed, delayed or cancelled flights, depending on what company you have purchased your policy with.

Who pays for my food and accommodation if I have to stay extra days?

Food and accommodation is only paid for by the airline if you are flying with an EU-based airline or are departing from an EU airport. While non-EU airlines should also refund you or try to accommodate you on an alternative flight, they may not provide you with food and drink. You can, however, try to claim these expenses on your travel insurance. Accommodation is provided on a case by case basis, depending on where you are from, where you are stuck, for how long and if you have any friends or relatives near by that can take care of you.

What if my airline goes bankrupt?

First of all, take a look at the travel advice on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and then the flight-specific Civil Aviation Authority website. You can also check their Twitter feed for the latest information.

Bear in mind that the legal protections to passengers offered by the EU for cancelled flights don’t necessarily apply if the airline goes bust – but should still apply if the airline is financially struggling. 

If your airline goes into administration (like Flybe earlier this year) after you’ve bought a ticket, you will not receive refunds from the airline itself. If you paid with a credit card, contact the card provider to see if a charge-back is possible.

If you have travel insurance, check if your policy includes cover for scheduled airline failure (SAFI). Allianz Travel Insurance offers many policies that cover the lost funds of an airline trip disrupted by bankruptcy. 

In the case of airline bankruptcy, competing airlines often step in to offer repatriation flights. While you’ll have to pay for these, the most important thing is to get home from your destination, and make your claim later.

Finally, if you booked your trip via a travel firm that has an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL), contact them. If you are ATOL protected, the travel firm is responsible for your flight arrangements, meaning they will find you alternative flights or provide a full refund.

What can I expect from my airline if my flight is cancelled due to a strike?

If you have a flight delay because of a strike, your airline has an obligation to offer you assistance if the delay is expected to go beyond a certain point. This may include refreshments and accommodation. However, they are not obliged to offer compensation following a strike because strikes are usually considered to be ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

How do I get a refund for a cancelled flight?

To find out about airlines’ current cancellation, rebooking or refund policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can find all the latest news and travel updates on airline websites or via the International Air Travel Association.

Here are some major airlines’ cancellation and refund policies:

  • Ryanair: If your flight gets cancelled you will be given the option to request a refund, rebook or re-route your journey.
  • easyJet: Where flights have been cancelled, customers will be able to transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a refund.
  • Jet2: If your flight is cancelled, you can amend the booking or receive a refund.
  • Wizz Air: If your flight is affected by government restrictions you can rebook a comparable route, receive a refund in flight credit plus 20% of the original fare paid, or opt for a full cash refund.
  • Emirates: All flights are suspended from 25 March 2020 as per the UAE government’s travel ban. If you have a ticket issued on or before 31 March 2020 you can complete a Travel Voucher request form to re-book your flight later.
  • Norwegian: Norwegian Airlines is operating a limited flight schedule until further notice. If your flight is cancelled you can request a refund or opt for flight credit and get an extra 20% towards a future trip.
  • TUI: TUI won’t be offering holidays departing before 16 April 2020. If your booking is affected, the company will contact you to give you the option of a cash refund or the choice of an alternative holiday of the same cash value.
  • KLM: The airline is only offering refunds in the form of travel vouchers for flights affected by COVID-19 restrictions. 
  • Virgin Atlantic: If your flight is cancelled you can rebook, reroute or opt for an open ticket for future travel.
  • Vueling Airlines: You’ll receive an email from the airline if your flight is cancelled, as well as a URL to a form where you’ll be able to reschedule your flight or request a refund.
  • British Airways: If your flight is cancelled you will be able to rebook or request a refund.
  • Finnair: If your flight is cancelled you can postpone it or request a refund (refunds take around a month to process).

Please check official airline websites for further details.

Will I get a refund if I miss a connection?

Unfortunately, if you book two flights on separate airlines and miss the second flight due to the first one being delayed or cancelled, you will not be able to get a refund for the second flight. This is why booking flights with the same airline can prove beneficial in the long run, even if it is a little more expensive.

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