Nearly one in three (27%) flights departing and arriving from 24 major UK airports were delayed last summer, according to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
London airports were the worst offenders, with 31% of flights delayed between July and September 2015.
But if you’re more than three hours late arriving, or your flight is cancelled, you could be due compensation of up to €600 per person (about £513 based on the exchange rate at the time of writing).
It’s also pertinent to claim now as it's unclear if we’ll keep the EU regulation (EU 261/2004) entitling passengers to compensation when we Brexit.
To claim, you must be on an EU flight
To claim you must be on an EU flight. This is defined as:
- A flight that departed from an EU airport, which was operated by any airline, or
- A flight that arrived at an EU airport and was operated by an EU airline.
Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
If your flight isn’t an ‘EU flight’, ask the airline or the country you flew to and from if there are any similar schemes or rules you can claim under. The CAA says that, at the very least, most airlines will offer a choice between a later flight, alternative transport, or a refund when there is disruption.
It must be the airline’s fault for compensation
It’s important to understand the difference between a refund and compensation.
If your flight is delayed by more than five hours and you no longer want to travel, you’re entitled to a refund of the ticket. The same is true if your flight is cancelled and you no longer want to fly.
Compensation, however, is a goodwill payment that may be due on top of any refund.
Crucially, to claim compensation for delays and cancellations, the cause must be the airline’s fault. This could include a staff shortage, a mess up with the aircraft’s paperwork, or poor aircraft maintenance.
You cannot claim for problems caused by so-called “extraordinary circumstances”, such as bad weather, airport or air traffic control employee strikes, or situations where the entire airport was closed.
What factors affect your payout
- If your flight is delayed by under two hours, you’re not entitled to anything.
- If your flight is delayed by between two and four hours, depending on how far you’re flying, you’re entitled to at least food and drink, phone calls, accommodation if you’re delayed over night, and transport to and from the accommodation.
- If you’re delayed by at least three hours, you’re also entitled to between €250 (£214) and €600 (£513) in compensation per passenger, depending on the length of the delay and the distance flown.
- If your flight is cancelled with at least 14 days until you fly, you’re not entitled to compensation.
- If your flight is cancelled within 14 days of flying, you can claim between €125 (£107) and €600 (£513) depending on the distance you would have flown, the delay in getting to the destination based on the alternative flight offered, and when you were told of the cancellation.
Visit Caa.co.uk for the full details of what you could be able to claim.
Complain to the airline first
To make a compensation claim, you first need to take your gripe to the airline. Resolver.co.uk is a good place to start. It’s a free online complaints tool that escalates your complaint within the company meaning you don’t need to find all the contact details yourself. This is handy given some airlines make this information extremely hard to find.
There are also free template letters available to use on the CAA’s website – just ensure you include copies of any evidence you’ve accumulated, such as receipts and boarding passes.
If you don’t get a response within eight weeks, or you’re unhappy with the response you get – be warned that some airlines won’t play ball – you need to take your complaint to the relevant alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme. British Airways, easyJet, Thomas Cook and Thomson, for example, are represented by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, and you will be charged £25 if the claim is unsuccessful. Ryanair and Wizz Air are covered by the Retail Ombudsman.
If your airline isn’t part of an ADR scheme, you can take it to the CAA, although it can’t issue legally binding decisions as these schemes can. Visit Caa.co.uk for a full list of which airlines are members of which schemes. The last resort for complaints is to take the case to court.
“I claimed £214 after ruined city break”
Despite some airlines' games, don't be put off claiming what's rightfully yours. Marina Gerner (pictured below on a more successful holiday), a writer on our sister publication, Money Observer, successfully claimed compensation of €250 (£214) in August 2016, after her British Airways (BA) flight from London Heathrow to Prague was cancelled 12 hours before it was due to take off.
She also received a refund of her ticket as the only alternative flight available was the day after she had planned to travel – effectively wiping out her three-day city break.
Marina claimed using an online template letter, which she emailed to BA. It responded agreeing to pay compensation nine days later, with the cheque arriving a week after that.
But Marina says the airline didn’t make it easy. “Not only did BA ruin my trip. It made it really hard for me to get back what it owed. I spent ages looking on its website for a claims form or contact details and I waited on the phone for over an hour to find out what was going on after it cancelled the flight by text.”
The airline also never explained the reason behind the cancellation, despite initially saying it was due to bad weather – which isn’t claimable for.
A BA spokesperson says: “We work hard to ensure our flights run to schedule, but with such a large and complex operation, a number of factors will affect how we manage these schedules, including weather conditions and aircraft maintenance.
“If we do have to cancel flights in advance, we make sure that we offer customers the chance to rebook on to the next available service, or receive a refund and the relevant compensation.”
Marina adds: “It’s lucky I wasn’t travelling for something important, such as a wedding, as I would have missed the whole thing.”