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Flight delays and compensation

Most of the time, getting a flight is a hassle-free event. If you only take hand luggage, have your boarding pass saved to your phone and everything’s running to plan then you can breeze through security and hop on your flight with little fuss.

It’s the times when things don’t go as they should that can cause stress and anxiety. But they needn’t. If you know what your rights are and what steps to take, you can be ahead of the game when it comes to flight delay and cancellation.

Posted: 22/8/2022 | By Amanda Duffy

Woman wearing hat and backpack at airport looking a departure board at the airport

We’ll look at what compensation you might be entitled to, whom to approach and when, the legal protections you have, and how to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible in the airport.

Remember: being friendly and remaining calm can help others relax in a stressful situation and give airline staff an easier job in a high-pressure environment. Always bring a pen and paper with you.

Getting flight delay compensation

There are some situations where you are automatically entitled to various forms of compensation if your flight is delayed. 

The rules on getting compensation for flights to or from EU countries or operated by an EU-based airline haven’t changed since the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period. 

These rules have now been written into UK law and apply if you are: 

  • Departing from the UK
  • Arriving in the UK with either a UK or EU airline
  • Arriving in an EU country with a UK airline

The only difference is that if you claim for delay under UK law any payment you receive will now be in pounds rather than euros.

If you fly between EU countries or on an EU-regulated flight that’s not linked to the UK, you can still claim flight delay compensation under regulation EU261. You don’t have to be an EU citizen.

When can’t you claim for compensation?

There are some caveats that come with these rules. To be entitled to compensation, the delay has to be the fault of your airline rather than due to events beyond the airline’s control.

There’s no compensation available in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as bad weather, political unrest, security or safety issues, technical problems caused by ‘out of the ordinary’ events (such as a manufacturing defect), or air traffic management decisions (such as grounding flights due to volcanic ash clouds).

There’s also no compensation for industrial action by air traffic controllers, airport staff or ground handlers, as they’re beyond the airline’s control. However, you may be able to claim for strikes by the airline’s own crew and staff, as their action may be deemed within the carrier’s control.

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How much compensation can you claim?

Here’s how much compensation you could be owed for different lengths of flight and delay under UK law:

Length of flight If your arrival is delayed by Compensation due
Up to 1,500km 3 hours or more £220 (previously €250) 
1,500km – 3,500km 3 hours or more £350 (previously €400)
Over 3,500km 3-4 hours £260 (previously €300)
Over 4 hours £520 (previously €600)


If your flight is cancelled:

Should your flight be cancelled then you may be entitled to either a full refund of the price of the flight (as well as any other flights as part of the same booking, such as onward and return flights) or a replacement flight.

If delay or cancellation forces you to stay at the airport overnight, then the airline should book and cover the cost of your accommodation and any transport to and from it. If you have to book this yourself, make sure it’s reasonably priced.

Compensation for knock-on effects

A delayed or cancelled flight doesn’t just mean you’re later getting in the air. It can also mean that you miss appointments or things like transfers at the other end.

If this is the case, you may be entitled to compensation. Keep all of your receipts from expenses that you have to make out of your own pocket as well as booking confirmations from anything you may want to claim for later.

Woman wearing backpack walking at the airport pulling wheeled luggage behind her

How to make a claim

So you’ve been delayed for long enough to be entitled to compensation. What do you do next?

Your first port of call should be your airline. Within the UK and EU, they have a legal obligation to provide compensation if the delay or cancellation was their fault. Their customer services details should be easy to find, but if you’re in the airport then perhaps the fastest way to find the right number or email address to contact is via a representative you can talk to in person. 

If your airline is uncooperative or dispute your right to compensation then you can contact the (known as Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They are only able to help your dispute if the airline you’re complaining about doesn’t have an existing alternative method of resolution (known as ‘ADR’).

In the event that you booked using a credit card and other methods of dispute resolution have failed, you can ask your credit card provider to provide a refund. This is known as a dispute under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and your purchase needs to be worth more than £100 (but less than £30,000) to qualify. 

If all else fails, you may be able to make a claim on your travel insurance. They may expect you to have exhausted all other options before they will consider a claim, so be sure to gather evidence of the efforts you have made.

Flight strike delay

Strikes at airports can cause severe delays and cancellations. They may not only affect your airport, but those sending and receiving flights to and from it.

If this happens, you may be wondering what you can do to claim compensation. We’ll explain what to do if a strike affects your flight.

By preparing for delays you can make the best of a bad situation. It won’t remove all of the frustration, but at least you’ll be able to start your trip on a more positive note.

  • Follow your airline on Twitter

    Twitter is often the first place airlines and airports will post news about strike delays.

  • Speak to your airline

    As your flight is with your airline rather than the airport more generally, they should be your first port of call to discover how a strike might affect you personally.

    They might be able to give you more detailed information on the re-allocation of flights, and if you have any extenuating circumstances for needing to be near the front of the queue then it’s important to make these known.

    For instance, if you are travelling for an important personal, family or business reason rather than your holiday, or if you have children, then you should inform your airline post-haste.

    If possible, take a name of the person you’ve spoken to and a reference number so that you have information that can help track your conversations further down the line.

  • Don't leave it late to get to the aiport

    If strike action risks affecting your flight, it might be tempting to "wait it out" at home before travelling to the airport so you aren't waiting around longer than you need to. Situations can change quickly though so, regardless of strikes, you should still aim to arrive at the airport based on your original planned check-in and departure times.

    If you buy travel insurance before any announcement about strikes is made publicly, the policy may provide cover against any delays the action causes or even abandonment of your trip. If you buy cover after strikes are announced, though, you won't be able to claim.

  • Prepare for delays

    How a strike affects flights can be unpredictable, so it doesn’t hurt to plan for a long delay. Think about things you might need to help pass the time:

    If you’re travelling with children, then the list of necessities may be much longer. Ensure that they have everything they need, from their favourite snacks to their books and TV shows. Bring the necessary bits and pieces to allow them to have a nap in comfort. We’ve put together a guide to flying with children to help you plan.

    • Data bundle to help download plenty of music and viewing material
    • Portable battery pack to charge devices
    • Charging cables in case you can find a spare socket
    • Warm clothes in layers to help cool down if it becomes too hot
    • Lots of drinking water to stay hydrated
    • Food to save money
    • Basic medical kit in case of minor ailments like headaches
    • Pen and paper to take notes of things in case your devices die
    • Pillow and something that can be used as a cover
    • Ear plugs and an eye mask
    • Portable wash bag – toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, deodorant (in sizes you can take through security)
  • Think about getting lounge access

    No matter how long you’re stuck in an airport for, the stay could be far more comfortable if you’re able to pass it in an airport lounge. Not only can this mitigate the cost of food and drink, provide more power outlets, offer free WiFi, give more comfortable chairs and increase your chances of getting a nap in, but if you fly often enough or have the right insurance in place, it needn’t cost you the earth either.

    Some travel insurance policies include flight delay assistance, which gives you complimentary lounge access during delays of two or more hours. You might be able to get lounge access via your credit card provider as well, or if you’ve spent enough money with a particular airline. Ask before you arrive at the airport to make sure.

  • Stay calm and reasonable

    With so many people all in the same, normally stressful situation, it is to everybody’s benefit if you can keep upbeat. Not only will airline staff be grateful for this but it could improve your mood too.

  • Make yourself comfortable

    Airports have thermal laws unto themselves, so dress in a way that allows you to both warm up and cool down. Do this by wearing a few thin layers. Loose-fitting clothes are more comfortable and can help you feel relaxed. Bring an extra top layer that can double up as a pillow.

    Take eye masks and ear plugs. If you know that you’ve got a couple of hours to wait and can catch forty winks safely, you’ll feel more refreshed later.

  • Stay hydrated and keep active

    Being sedentary for too long and not taking enough fluid can lead to headaches and other aches and pains, not to mention make you much sleepier. To keep the blood flowing, move around and stretch. And drink plenty of water.

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