Air traffic chaos! What are your rights and how do you claim compensation? 

5 min read
August 30, 2023

This week may well go down in history as the worst travel chaos ever seen in UK flying. It’s been estimated that over 2,000 flights have been cancelled since Monday – and up to a quarter of all planned flights have been disrupted.

And the end is not in sight yet. 

Today National Air Traffic Services (Nats) suggested that this chaos was caused by a single piece of glitchy flight data. They also said that the disruption could go on till next Tuesday or even Thursday. 

The data processing glitch took out UK air traffic control on one of the busiest days of the year – when many people were returning from their summer holidays before the start of the new school term. 

So as well as hopeful holidaymakers having to indefinitely suspend their holiday plans, thousands of UK residents have been stranded at airports around the world and remain unable to return home.

Coverage of the chaos has shown children sleeping on airport floors and heard from passengers who may miss the first day of a new job or even their own wedding. 

A full investigation into the cause will come later. For now, the Department of Transport has put special measures in place to try and ease the backlog. 

Even while it remains unclear who will take responsibility for this huge failure, passengers still have some protections. Here we give a brief run-down of your rights and what you can claim back from the airline. 

What are my rights…

…if my flight is cancelled?

If the airline you’re travelling with is UK or EU-based under EU law you are entitled to another flight or refund in the case of a cancellation – even in the case of “extraordinary circumstances.” 

If your flight is cancelled and you’re stranded at a foreign airport, you’ll want to seek the first option – contact the airline and get them to arrange a flight out of there as quickly as possible. 

If you haven’t travelled yet, you should request a refund for the cost of your unused ticket. You can raise a claim using our free tool. 

The amount you’re entitled to depends on how much notice you received from the airline, the timings of whatever alternative flight was offered, and how far you were travelling – for flights under 1,500km you can claim up to £220 per person, and more than 3,500km you can claim up to £520 per person. 

And even if the airline is not UK or EU-based, if you are flying from a UK airport you are also entitled to compensation should your flight be cancelled. 

It’s likely to be difficult to communicate with airlines at this time. You may feel impatient and unwilling to wait for your airline to organise a new flight for you. However, in the case that you do end up making your own travel arrangements and buying a new ticket, be aware that the flight operator may refuse to refund these costs later.

Our advice would be to hold off until you’ve heard from the airline about the assistance they’ll offer – so you can be sure that you don’t end up out of pocket.

For more extensive guidance check out our guide to flight delays, cancellations and compensation.  And if you want to raise a claim you can use our free tool to do so.

… if I’m stranded at the airport?

If you are stranded at an airport because of these mass cancellations, and your airline was UK or EU- based, then you are also entitled to food and drink while you wait. 

Even if you can’t get through to the airline or speak to staff, you can go ahead and buy reasonably priced food and drink and feel confident that this will be covered later. Just make sure you keep all your receipts. And remember, alcohol is not included. 

You’re also entitled to a way to communicate – so will be refunded for the cost of your calls – and accommodation if you have to stay overnight and catch a flight the following day. 

The airline should be the one to arrange this assistance for you. However, given the current chaos, it may be particularly hard to get through to them. Thankfully, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) advise that you do have a right to organise this yourself and claim back the costs later on. 

As with food and drink, keep all your receipts for accommodation and do not spend more money than is reasonable or necessary. 

… if my flight is delayed?

If your flight is delayed by more than two hours you’re entitled to the same assistance with food and drink at the airport.  

You can also claim compensation if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late. The amount you’re entitled to will be calculated based on how far you’re flying. 

If you’re delayed by more than five hours and decide you no longer wish to travel, you’ll also be able to claim a full refund. 

You can raise a flight delay claim with our free tool. 

… if I’d booked a package holiday?

All package holiday providers should be members of ABTA, so you’ll be protected in the case of travel description. 

If your flight has been cancelled and you’re unable to travel to your holiday or return home, you are entitled to an alternative flight or a full refund for the price of the flight. 

Check out our guide on making a holiday complaint or claim

… if I incur other losses? 

Unfortunately, because this incident is likely to be classed as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, passengers won’t be eligible for extra compensation.

As in the case of air strikes, airlines are only responsible for covering direct costs – things like accommodation, meals and alternative flights. So even if you miss one or several days of work, you won’t be able to make a claim for lost earnings.  

For further advice on your rights check out our travel guide on what to do when everything goes wrong. And if you do want to raise a flight delay or cancellation claim our tool is completely free. 


If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at




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