Delayed and cancelled flights are the stuff of travel nightmares. Read our top tips to make sure you know your rights.
Can I get a refund or compensation?
Was your flight to or from an EU airport? If so, and your flight was cancelled or delayed by three hours or more, then legally, the airline must pay you compensation. Phew! EU law stipulates set amounts, which depend on how long your delay is/how far in advance they cancelled, and the length of your flight.
Plus, if the flight was cancelled at very short notice, or your flight was delayed by two hours or more, the airline has to give you vouchers for food and drink (Burger King, anyone?), provide access to phone calls and emails, and, if you’re delayed overnight, pay for a hotel. They’ll have to pay for your transport between the hotel and the airport, too.
In most cases, you can also expect a full refund, or for the airline to organise another flight for you.
Even if you’re not flying to or from the EU, but you’re flying with an EU-based airline, like Ryanair or British Airways, your rights remain the same. Win!
Be aware: there’s also a loophole when it comes to EU flights. If the flight was cancelled because of something out of their control — like a volcanic eruption — the airlines don’t have to pay. Sob!
The news isn’t so good if you’re flying within the US, OR if you take off from the US with a non-EU airline. The US Department of Transportation does not require airlines to compensate passengers. The only exception is if you have a ticket and are ‘bumped’ from a flight because the airline overbooked it.
Other non-EU destinations and airlines have their own rules about compensation, so make sure you check them out.
How do I get my money back?
Entitled to compensation? Great! The next thing to do is contact the airline and make a claim. Make sure you include all the details of your case, like the flight number and your booking confirmation. Their customer service department will usually help.
Top tip: Keep a record of all the contact you have with the airline about your claim. And if you’ve already made a written complaint to an airline or airport and you aren’t satisfied with the outcome, or haven’t received a reply within 8 weeks, the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints Team (PACT) may be able to help. Definitely worth a shot!
Can I get compensation if I have to wait at the airport for a new flight?
OK, so let’s say the airline gives you a new ticket to replace the delayed or cancelled flight; your compensation rights don’t necessarily stop there. If you have to wait more than two hours for this new flight, you should be given vouchers to spend on food and drink at the airport (you’re not going to be fine dining or anything, but hey!).
If the delay is for reasons beyond the airline’s control, keep your receipts anyway — you might be able to claim on your travel insurance. But that’ll depend on the insurance company, and the specific policy you bought. We’ve put together these handy tips on travel insurance to figure out if you’re covered.
Who pays for my food and hotel if I have to stay extra days?
Bad news: sometimes, the next available flight won’t be until the next day — or later.
Good news: if you’re flying with an EU-based airline, or taking off from an EU airport, the airline has to pay your food and hotel costs while you wait.
Non-EU airlines often do the same. But some don’t. If the airline doesn’t cover your food and hotel costs, keep the receipts and try claiming these expenses on your travel insurance.
Getting your hotel refunded is the trickiest bit, but not impossible. It’ll depend on where you’re stuck and for how long. It might also help your chances if you stay at the closest airport hotel, instead of the Ritz. (Good try, though).
Strike compensation: Can I claim if a strike delays or cancels my flight?
If your flight gets cancelled because of strike action, the airline may either give you a full refund, or book you on an alternative flight. If the alternative flight means you waiting at the airport for two hours or more (sigh) they should cover food and hotel costs, too.
However, airlines DON’T have to pay compensation for strikes, as the law considers them ‘extraordinary circumstances’ (just like those volcanoes). Although, the EU just made that one more complicated, by ruling that “wildcat strikes” — a sudden strike that hasn’t been planned and announced by a union — don’t count, and mean the airline DOES have to pay compensation. So find out what sort of strike delayed or cancelled your flight.
What if I miss a connecting flight because of a delay or cancellation?
We know that sinking feeling a missed connection can bring on and it ain’t nice.
First of all, find out if you booked your flights separately, with different airlines. If so, unfortunately you might be out of luck. Neither airline has to refund or pay you compensation for the missed connection — although, you might be able to get help from your travel agent or travel insurance.
If you booked the flights with the same airline, or on the same ticket (which means both flights will have the same booking confirmation number), the airline is legally bound to help you out. We’ve put together a good guide to that here.
In case we’ve put you off flying, there’s always the train!