Am I entitled to compensation for a delayed flight?

November 9, 2018

By Cathy Toogood

Nobody wants their flight to be delayed and we receive regular questions from readers about how to tackle the claims process following travel disruption.

So, to help you if your flight is delayed, our handy guide simplifies your legal rights and explains what compensation you might be entitled to, as well as how you would go about claiming it.

My flight is delayed – does my airline have to look after me?

If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight is delayed by more than two hours, your airline may have to offer you a “welfare package” including food, drinks, two phone calls and, if you are delayed overnight, accommodation plus transport to and from where you are staying.

When your airline is obliged to offer you this welfare package depends on the distance you are travelling in kilometres. The table below outlines your rights:

Length of delay before you are entitled to assistance

Flight length Delay
0 – 1,500km (eg Manchester to Frankfurt) More than two hours
1,500 – 3,500km (eg Newcastle to Majorca) More than three hours
3,500km + (eg London to Delhi) More than four hours

Source: CAA

If your airline does not offer to provide the welfare package itself – for example, in the form of meal vouchers or by booking accommodation for you – talk to a representative at the airport to find out what it considers “reasonable costs” to be and get an agreement that you can sort out your own welfare.

If you do arrange your own accommodation or buy meals, keep all of your receipts to make claiming back any costs you have incurred as easy as possible.

What about compensation – a cash payout – for a delayed flight?

If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late, you may be entitled to financial compensation of up to €600 under the EU261 rules.

You won’t be entitled to compensation if your flight is delayed as a result of “extraordinary circumstances”.

But what are “extraordinary circumstances”?

“Extraordinary circumstances”, according to EU261, are those deemed to be outside the airline’s control and which, even if the airline had taken reasonable measures, would have delayed the flight.

They include extreme weather such as snow, acts of nature such as the volcanic ash cloud in 2010 and industrial strikes. However, this is subject to change: a European Court of Justice ruling in September 2015 (Van der Lans v KLM) confirmed that technical faults with an aircraft don’t count as extraordinary circumstances (with the exception of out-of-the-ordinary events such as a manufacturer revealing a defect). Meanwhile, a court case in January 2016 ruled that lightning strikes do not count as extraordinary circumstances.

On April 18, 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that spontaneous 'wildcat' strikes should not be deemed as "extraordinary circumstances". As a result, passengers delayed by such strikes will now be able to claim compensation under EU261.

It's unclear whether IT glitches come under the umbrella of 'extraordinary circumstances' but you can still try your luck with a compensation claim. If you don't ask, you don't get, after all!

However, it is important to remember that even if a long delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances and you are not therefore entitled to compensation, your airline must look after you and offer a welfare package.

How much compensation can I claim?

As with welfare packages, the compensation you’re entitled to is determined by the length of your flight and how long the delay is. The table below outlines the different levels of compensation you can claim following a flight delay.

The delay is calculated by the time your flight arrives at your destination, not your departure time.

Length of flight Delay to destination Compensation due
Up to 1,500km More than 3 hours €250
1,500km to 3500km More than 3 hours €400
More than 3,500km More than 3 hours but less than 4 hours €300
More than 3,500km More than 4 hours €600

Source: CAA

How do I claim compensation?

You should first talk to your airline and find out what caused the delay. Make a note of all of the details so you can be clear on the facts at a later date, and keep your tickets as well as any relevant receipts.

You should then follow the procedure as advised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). When you are ready to claim, go to the airline’s website to find out how best to contact it. British Airways, for example, has an online form for customers to fill in but also provides a postal address for letters.

The CAA also has advice on what information to include when communicating with an airline. If you are communicating by post, use our template letter to make the process as easy as possible.

You can use our flight compensation claim template.

Should I use a claims company?

You might be tempted to use a claims company, but these firms charge a fee for their services and are entirely unnecessary for most passengers in claiming compensation.

The claims process is straightforward, so why part with any of the sum you are due? The CAA’s passenger portal should help to resolve any problems.

I’ve previously made a claim for compensation/welfare but haven’t received anything – what should I do?

An October 2014 court ruling, and the cases leading up to it, helped to clarify your rights to compensation. So, if your airline has refused to pay out, citing causes you suspect do not fall within the category of extraordinary circumstances (for example, technical faults), you could contact it stating that you would like to pursue your claim, as in the case of Jet2 vs Huzar.

You have six years to claim compensation in England and Wales, and five in Scotland.

If you’d like to pursue an old claim for the reimbursement of welfare costs – for example, when flights were grounded across Europe as a consequence of the Icelandic ash cloud – again you could contact your airline stating that, in light of the McDonagh vs Ryanair case, you would like to claim your expenses back. (Please note that the ash cloud was now almost eight years ago so this is used as an example, only.)

It is important to be aware, however, that to pursue your claim you will need copies of your original letters and/or receipts.

A number of CAA-approved complaint bodies have also been set up in a bid to help passengers with their airline disputes. More than 30 airlines have now signed up to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) bodies which deal with EU261 matters (flight delays, cancellations and denied boarding issues), EC1107 matters (issues relating to passengers with reduced mobility) and lost, delayed and damaged baggage issues.

What are my rights if my delayed flight is with a non-EU airline?

As the EU261 rules only protect passengers travelling with an EU airline or out of an EU airport, you won’t have exactly the same rights.

Instead, check the policy of the airline you are travelling with.

TravelSupermarket’s top tips

  • In the event of any delay or cancellation, talk to your airline for guidance on why you have been delayed and how to claim your welfare package – don’t spend anything yourself that you expect to get back without clarifying it with your airline.
  • To make a successful claim, keep all relevant receipts as well as your tickets, and write down as many details as possible at the time of your delay so you don’t forget any key facts.
  • Always take out a travel insurance policy that includes protection for travel delays to cover you for any extra costs you may incur – such as not being able to turn up to your booked accommodation.

*All information was accurate at the time of writing. This article is an updated version of an earlier piece. 

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