Let’s face it, the glamour days of air travel seem to be consigned to history. The summer saw hundreds of flights - and at some stages a quarter of all UK flights - delayed or cancelled affecting 650,000 people thanks to thunderstorms, strikes, sickness, air traffic control technical issues and wildfires.
Although not facing the havoc of the summer, Brits taking to the air during the October half-term will not escape unscathed. Unfortunately, delays – and cancellations – are now part and parcel of taking that trip.
While October baggage staff stakes have been averted at Heathrow after Unite members secured an increased pay offer, strikes have been scheduled in Spain, causing Jet2 to issue a warning to people hoping to visit the country over the school break. Strike action looks set to continue into November, over Christmas and into the New Year.
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However, it is not just holidaymakers to Spain feeling the pain, with industrial action in recent months seeing flights delayed across Europe including in Italy, Belgium, Greece and France.
A plethora of EasyJet flights were cancelled at Gatwick to Milan, Dubrovnik. Murcia, Nice, Preveza and Rhodes on 22 October at the start of the half-term holidays. There were also delays from EasyJet to Inverness, Sharm El-Sheikh, Porto, Valencia and Athens.
The airline has cancelled 1,700 future flights impacting some 180,000 passengers.
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.
|Flight length||Notice||Length of disruption||Compensation|
|Under 1,500km||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive under two hours late at destination||£110|
|Under 1,500km||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive more than two hours late at destination||£220|
|Under 1,500km||Under seven days’ notice||Arrive more than two hours late at destination||£220|
|Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km||7-14 days’ notice||Departs at least an hour earlier than booked flight||£175|
|Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive up to three hours late at destination||£175|
|Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive more than three hours late at destination||£350|
|Flight of between 1,500km and 3,500km||Under seven days’ notice||Arrive more than three hours late at destination||£350|
|Flight of 3,500km+||7-14 days’ notice||Departs at least an hour earlier than booked flight||£260|
|Flight of 3,500km+||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive up to four hours late at destination||£260|
|Flight of 3,500km+||7-14 days’ notice||Arrive more than four hours late at destination||£520|
|Flight of 3,500km+||Under seven days’ notice||Arrive up to four hours late at destination||£260|
|Flight of 3,500km+||Under seven days’ notice||Arrive 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.
John Fitzsimons has been writing about finance since 2007, and is a former editor of Mortgage Solutions and loveMONEY. Since going freelance in 2016 he has written for publications including The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Forbes, and is committed to helping readers make more informed decisions about their money.
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