How to claim compensation for travel delays. What are your rights?

Airlines have paid out millions to customers for travel delays. What are your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

Wizz Air Airbus A321 Departing From Eindhoven
(Image credit: NurPhoto / Contributor)

Let’s face it, the glamour days of air travel seem to be consigned to history.

Approximately 32% of flights departing from airports in the UK were delayed or cancelled in the first five months of 2023, data from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shows. 

With the cost of living squeezing pockets, budget airlines including Ryanair and Hungarian operator Wizz Air have become popular among holidaymakers since the pandemic- especially for European travel. But they are not great when it comes to delays and disruptions. 

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The CAA revealed in January 2024 that Wizz Air has paid out around £1.2million in compensation to 6,000 customers, due to wrongly rejected refund claims over cancellations. 

As part of the action taken by the regulator, Wizz Air was required to look back at 25,000 claims made by customers for flights taken from 18 March 2022 to and from UK airports. The payout equates to more than £200 each per customer.

The CAA investigation has been ongoing since July last year, as it received a high number of complaints regarding customers' refunds being rejected. 

We outline your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled, and how to claim compensation and/or other benefits.

When and how to claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations

Airlines don’t have to fork out monetary compensation when it is a situation beyond their control such as extreme weather or air traffic control issues – but they do if they are to blame in the case of, for example, operational or staff issues.

Let’s start with delays. If your flight is put back while you’re in the airport, your airline may have to provide you with the cash to cover food and drink, calls to loved ones to inform them of your journey changes, and even accommodation if you need to stay somewhere overnight ahead of your rearranged flight.

Qualifying for this sort of compensation depends on the length of your flight, and the length of the delay:

  • For flights of less than 1,500km, the delay needs to be a minimum of two hours
  • For flights of between 1,500km and 3,500km, the delay must be a minimum of three hours
  • For flights of longer than 3,500km the delay must be at least four hours

The airline should provide you with vouchers for this directly, though you can also keep receipts for the money spent and claim it back from the airline later on. 

Be aware that the airline will only pay up for reasonable expenses, so you won’t get the money back if you opt for luxury options.

If the flight is more than three hours late, and it’s the airline’s fault, then you should be entitled to compensation. Again the level of compensation will vary based on the length of the delay and the distance of your flight:

  • For flights of less than 1,500km, and a delay of at least three hours, you can claim £220 compensation
  • For flights of between 1,500km and 3,500km, and a delay of at least three hours, you can claim £350 compensation
  • For flights of more than 3,500km, and delays of under four hours, you can claim £260. This jumps to £520 for delays over the four hour mark.

If the flight is delayed by more than five hours, you do not have to take it and can instead claim a full refund. 

Should the flight be cancelled, the airline is required to provide either a full refund or cover the cost of a replacement flight. If the replacement flight delays you by more than two hours, and you receive less than two weeks’ notice, then you are entitled to compensation, though the sums can vary significantly.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Flight lengthNoticeLength of disruptionCompensation
Under 1,500km7-14 days’ noticeArrive under two hours late at destination£110
Under 1,500km7-14 days’ noticeArrive more than two hours late at destination£220
Under 1,500kmUnder seven days’ noticeArrive more than two hours late at destination£220
Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km7-14 days’ noticeDeparts at least an hour earlier than booked flight£175
Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km7-14 days’ noticeArrive up to three hours late at destination£175
Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km7-14 days’ noticeArrive more than three hours late at destination£350
Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500kmUnder seven days’ noticeArrive more than three hours late at destination£350
Flight of 3,500km+7-14 days’ noticeDeparts at least an hour earlier than booked flight£260
Flight of 3,500km+7-14 days’ noticeArrive up to four hours late at destination£260
Flight of 3,500km+7-14 days’ noticeArrive more than four hours late at destination£520
Flight of 3,500km+Under seven days’ noticeArrive up to four hours late at destination£260
Flight of 3,500km+Under seven days’ noticeArrive more than four hours late at destination£520

In each case, the compensation figure is per person.

If the airline is not helpful with your claim, or you feel you have not been treated fairly, then you may be able to take your complaint to an alternative dispute resolution scheme if the airline is a member of one, or else to the Civil Aviation Authority.

WHAT COMPENSATION CAN YOU GET FOR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL ERRORS OR ISSUES BEYOND THE AIRLINE’S CONTROL?

While airlines don’t have to pay out financial compensation for the air traffic control errors because it is not deemed as their fault – they do have to do other things, says consumer rights expert Martyn James. 

“Even though you don’t get monetary compensation for delays or cancellation like you would do if the airline was at fault, they must still try to get you to your destination,” says James. “This can involve putting you on one of their own flights or failing that, on that of a competitor.”

Think carefully about requesting a full refund if you still want to go away. “Flights are more expensive if you buy on the day or within 48 hours, so you may find your refund doesn’t come through immediately or the cash doesn’t go very far.” It may make more sense to request that the airline gets you on the next available plane. 

The Civil Aviation Authority said that if flights are available on the day of travel passengers must be booked on them, even if this is on a rival airline. 

“If you can’t get hold of the airline (and most people are reporting this), then check the options online, take screenshots and if you can’t contact the airline, make notes of what you did to try, then buy direct,” says James. “If you use a credit card you may also have other protections further down the line with your card provider if the airline refuses to pay out.”

You might also be entitled to food and drink vouchers, the cost of calls to communicate with others about the situation, accommodation and transport to and from the airport. 

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.