Flight delays and knowing your rights

3 min read
May 26, 2017

26/05/17 James Walker, founder of Resolver, says:

With the holiday season about to take off, millions of us are heading to the shops to find some beachwear that isn’t too tight and the right factor sunscreen. For most of us, the trip to the airport will be full of the usual annoyances and stresses but should be uneventful. But a few unlucky travellers will be hit by flight delays.

As I write this, we should be receiving our 200,000th complaint about flight delays. In fact, it’s our second highest area of complaint after PPI problems.

None of us wants to be in the situation where we’re stuck in an airport staring out of a window looking for a flight that isn’t coming. But you have rights to compensation – even if they are quite complicated on first glance. What’s really surprising is most people don’t realise they can seek compensation for flight delays up to 6 years after the delay. But sooner is better, of course.

Here’s how it works.

If your flight has been delayed, what you’re entitled to on how long the delay was and what distance you are flying. Don’t worry about figuring out what rules apply to you. Check out the Flight Delays & Cancellations page to find out how it works and use our free complaint tool.

When can you claim?

It’s not always straightforward to understand if the various laws, regulations and other agreements apply to you. That’s why I suggest speaking to the airline staff if your flight is delayed for a long period and getting confirmation from them in writing about how to claim. Here’s a short version of the rules. 

  1. The flight must be delayed by more than three hours, and the delay has to be compared to the time the flight is meant to arrive and not the time that it takes off – and ‘arrival’ counts as the point at which the cabin crew open the doors… not when the plane touches down).
  2. The flight must take off from the UK or the European Union. If it’s a long-haul flight into the UK/EU, it must be via a UK or European airline and the flight must be longer than 3,500km
  3. The issue must be ‘within the control of the airline’ (so bad weather or air-traffic control disputes are going to leave you without any compensation)

How much can you claim for?

  1. If the flight is less than 1,500km and the flight is more than three hours late, then you can claim €250
  2. If the flight is between 1,500 and 3,000Km and the flight is more than three hours late, then you can claim €400
  3. If the flight is more than 3,000km and leaving the EU, or is an EU airline flying into the UK and is between three and four hours late, then you could get back €300. (If it is more than four hours late, then you could expect up to €600.

Here’s some tips to help you if you need to make a claim.

Make sure you know precisely how long your delay is – you could keep a record to send with your claim by taking pictures on your smartphone
Don’t take no for an answer – if you believe the airline is obliged to pay out you can take it to the regulator – we’ll tell you how on the website.
You might be offered compensation as miles or vouchers – you don’t have to accept these as you are entitled to any compensation in cash

And finally, a few quick tips if you do find yourself stuck in a terminal from hell.

  1. Be realistic. Most flight delays aren’t the fault of the airline. So you won’t be covered for things the airline can’t control. But find out from staff about what your entitled to – like food, refreshments, phone calls and in the case of overnight delays, accommodation. 
  2. Keeping the kids calm. Keeping the kids occupied if you’re delayed can be stressful. Take some disposable items like colouring books to keep them occupied so you’re not weighed down before you board. 
  3. Planning ahead: Make sure you’ve got some flexibility built in with your booking with your hotel too. Call ahead and confirm your booking and write down their contact details, just in case. If you’re not booking a hotel as part of a package, then make sure you’ve checked out the cancellation policy before you book – and book directly from the hotel if you can. 

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