Your rights over flight cancellations or delays explained by expert

Holidaymakers are advised to know their rights regarding flight cancellations
Holidaymakers are advised to know their rights regarding flight cancellations -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

After months, maybe even longer, planning a holiday abroad, it can be heart-breaking to have it all ruined by flight cancellations or delays.

The cost of flying is already increased; cabin bags need careful measuring to ensure they don't incur carry-on charges and passports need double-checking to make certain they aren't due to expire soon. So any flight hiccups are the last thing holidaymakers then need and, if the worst happens, airlines can have a knack for trying to get around the law that governs compensation for flight delays and cancellations, reports The Mirror.

The good news is that if your flight is delayed or cancelled then you are entitled to compensation, depending upon how long the delay has been. Knowing how the rules work can prove vital.

Consumer rights campaigner and Mirror columnist Martyn James has come up with the following guide to help out. Here is his advice in The Mirror.

When do I get compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

Even though we have left the European Union, we have retained laws that give us rights that have now been incorporated into UK law, says James. The law governing compensation for delayed and cancelled flights is here: The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

The law requires airlines to pay out compensation if the delay or cancellation is as a result of something that they could have foreseen or anticipated. So a delay arising from a technical problem with the aeroplane would result in compensation if it lasted longer than three hours. The same goes for strike action by pilots or cabin crew.

However, other things that could have an impact upon a flight fall outside of the airline’s powers. For example, strike action by air traffic controllers or airport staff is not the fault of the airline.

Nor are weather-related delays or unexpected events like an Icelandic volcano eruption grounding flights. That’s where your travel insurance should kick in instead, he adds.

Some things are subjective. An airline might cancel flights in advance citing an upcoming air traffic controller strike in France, even though the actual flights are still going ahead over different airspace. You could complain about this, although you’d need to do your research to be successful, he says.

How does compensation work?

If your flight has been delayed, the compensation you are entitled to depends upon how long the delay was and what distance you were flying.

  • The flight must be delayed by more than three hours and the delay is counted from the time the flight is meant to arrive - not when it takes off. ‘Arrival’ counts as the point at which the cabin crew open the doors not when the plane touches down.

  • The flight must take off from the UK or European Union or be from an airline based in these areas. Connected flights count if you booked them as one trip, even if you switch to a non-EU airline half way through your journey.

  • The issue must be ‘within the control of the airline’. So, again, weather or air-traffic control disputes are out; aeroplane problems and flight staffing issues are in.

Procedures to claim compensation can be made unnecessarily complicated. Although airlines have all of your booking information, don’t be surprised if you have to provide it all over again, says Martyn.

Dig out all of your flight details from emails, including booking reference and flight number, plus information you used to book the flights. This could save time in the short term.

Compensation for delayed flights

If your flight is delayed, here’s how the compensation payments work:

  • If the flight is up to 1,500 km and is more than three hours late, then you can claim £220.

  • If the flight is between 1,500 and 3,500 km and is more than three hours late, then you can claim £350.

  • If the flight is more than 3,500 km 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 £260.

  • If the flight is more than 3,500 km and is more than four hours late, then you could expect up to £520.

Compensation for cancelled flights

Compensation for cancellation follows similar timescales but also depends upon when the flight was cancelled. Rates range from £110 to £520 depending upon the delays and distance due to travel.

To qualify, the airline must have cancelled the flight within the last 14 days. There are different levels of compensation depending upon how long before the flight the cancellation was made.

The compensation kicks in from the point the rescheduled flight lands and the doors open. So if your flight was due to take off at 6am in the morning and the rescheduled flight lands at 9am the next day, your flight is 27 hours delayed in total.

There’s also compensation if your rescheduled flight takes off earlier too but that doesn’t happen often. has a good guide to the compensation for cancellations under these circumstances.

Most people facing problems will want to take the next available flight to their destination. Your airline should get you on their next flight out but, failing that, you can also insist upon a replacement flight through a rival airline.

The rules don’t set out a definitive timescale for when this must happen but, once you’re heading over 24 to 48 hours, push the airline for this option. Don’t just book the flight: see if you can find an alternative airline and check with your original airline first to see if they will refund you the costs.

What if I'm stuck waiting for a delayed or cancelled plane?

You are entitled to compensation and assistance while your wait for a delayed or cancelled flight. Food and drink vouchers should be offered, after a certain amount of time has elapsed - two hours for short haul, three for medium haul and four hours for long haul. Even if the airline isn’t at fault, these should be offered.

You are entitled to the cost of making calls related to the delay. If your phone is dead then you can ask the airline to help you out.

The big compensatory gesture is accommodation. If you’re delayed overnight the airline should cover the cost of your hotel and getting there.

They usually choose the accommodation. The airline should also arrange for you to get to the hotel or cover ‘reasonable’ costs for doing so.

If you can’t get hold of anyone at the airline then keep all bills and receipts for what you are forced to pay for while dealing with the situation. You could photograph them too.

What about compensation for other costs?

Rules around compensation for costs you incur as a result of flight cancelations and delays are less clear but a few legal principles might apply if you are seeking compensation for your losses. A direct loss is money that you’ve lost as a direct result of the situation: for example, having to book another plane ticket if the airline can’t find you an alternative.

These losses are not guaranteed to be paid. If the airline feels you’ve booked an excessively expensive flight, for example, then it may pro-rata a refund depending upon the prices at the time. But this doesn’t mean that decision is fair so complain if you are unhappy.

There are reports of people forced to take expensive cabs as a result of flights being cancelled. The airline is likely to argue that you could have caught a train/bus/ferry or other method that was less expensive. So check with the airline first.

You might also lose money if, for example, you have lost a day of paid work. These losses are much harder to quantify but it doesn’t mean you can’t claim for them. You should make it very clear the loss is as directly connected to the - and prove it.

Taking things further

Airlines must sign up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme (ADR). There are quite a few of these and the airline can pick which one to go with.

However, you can take your complaint to the ADR scheme, which is cheaper than going to court, if you are unhappy with a decision made about compensation. Find out about ADR schemes here.