What happens if my flight gets cancelled or delayed?

You have rights if your flight is cancelled or delayed. Find out what you can do to get it sorted.

A guide to cancelled and delayed flights

What can I do if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

It can be stressful if your flight is delayed or, worse, cancelled, but you have rights. Knowing how to manage the situation can get your holiday back on track — or at least some compensation.

What happens if my flight is cancelled?

You may have seen reports that airlines have cancelled large numbers of flights, or even experienced it yourself. Whether your flight is cancelled before you’ve left home or when you’re at the airport, the situation can be frustrating and disorientating to say the least. With large numbers of passengers in the same situation as you, seeking help might seem like a challenge.

That’s why it’s a good idea to be equipped with knowledge of your rights up front. In every situation, your first port of call is your airline, but before you get in touch, it can help to know some basic information.

Is your airline based in the UK or EU or departing from a UK or EU airport?

If it is, then your flight is covered by laws that protect your rights. In this situation, you’re entitled to either a refund or another flight. You may be offered an alternative flight, a refund or a voucher for a future flight.

Try to speak to an airline representative. If you’re at the airport and you find that personnel are overwhelmed, it may be quicker to call a helpline or use a web chat if it’s available. It’s important to decide at this point whether you wish to secure another flight as soon as possible or to return home and get a refund. In the latter case, you may find it less stressful to return home and allow the situation to calm down before making contact.

If your airline is not UK or EU-based, or you are not departing from a UK or EU airport, the rights you have may be different. These will be identified in the terms and conditions of your flight so it’s crucial to read and understand these before making your booking.

In either case, if you have booked with a travel agent then you may wish to speak to them first of all as they will be able to talk to airlines on your behalf, which can save you stress.

Can I get compensation as well as a refund?

There are some situations where you can get added compensation as well as a refund. This applies if your flight is cancelled with less than two weeks’ notice and the reason for the cancellation is something within the airline’s control. For instance, you wouldn’t be entitled to compensation if your flight was cancelled due to bad weather or Covid-19.

If the cancellation causes you to miss important events such as transfers, connections or appointments at the other end, this may be taken into account when you apply for compensation. It’s important to have evidence of these misses.

Keep your receipts for everything in case you need to demonstrate your spend. Your airline will have parameters around what they consider to be necessary purchases. And if the cancellation causes you to need to stay overnight, your airline should book you accommodation and arrange transport to and from it. If you choose to book this yourself, your airline may not provide compensation if they believe you have spent too much money on accommodation.

If you choose to wait for the next available flight, then you may be entitled to compensation for things like food, drink and phone calls if necessary. The ‘if necessary’ part of that sentence is important — you can’t choose to stay in a hotel and claim that back if an earlier flight is available.

Everything you need to know about flight problems

What happens if my flight is delayed?

Like with cancellation, you have certain entitlements if your flight is delayed. The length of the delay plays an important part in what you’re entitled to.

The minimum threshold for delay compensation is 3 hours. If your flight is delayed by less than this, no compensation needs to be given.

But if it’s longer than 3 hours, compensation depends on two factors: the distance of the flight and the length of the delay.

  • Flights of under 1,500 km can give £220 per person for delays of 3 hours or more.
  • Flights of between 1,500 km and 3,500 km can give £350 per person for delays of 3 hours or more.
  • Flights of over 3,500 km can give £260 for delays of between 3 and 4 hours. If the delay is more than 4 hours, this goes up to £520 per person.

Some travel insurers will offer the option to gain access to airport lounges if your flight is delayed for an added fee. If you worry about the discomfort of airports during lengthy delays, this may be an option to consider.

How do I get compensation?

As outlined, the first place to try is your airline. Whether that’s on the ground in the airport, by phone or online, they will be the people who can help the most and resolve the situation most expediently.

If you are unable to reach your airline or you disagree with what they have offered you, they should have an arbitration process known as ADR. You will need to exhaust all channels before you can escalate your claim further.

But if you need to, then you are able to present evidence to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They may be able to intervene on your behalf if they believe you are in the right and have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the situation unsuccessfully.

Remember that any purchase made on a credit card is subject to section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and allows you to request a refund if the original purchase is more than £100.

Can travel insurance help?

Flight cancellations and delays are less commonly a matter for your travel insurance simply because there are so many avenues to follow in order to get your refund, alternative flight or compensation.

But if, in the unlikely event that you have tried everything and nothing’s worked, then it’s always worth contacting your travel insurer. You may be able to make a claim in this circumstance, or they may simply be able to offer you advice.

What if I bought a package holiday?

When you book a package holiday, your travel agent or the company you booked the trip through can manage the flights as well. In the case that a flight booked on your behalf is delayed or cancelled, contact the agent you booked with and they’ll be able to help — whether that’s get you on another flight or organise a refund on your behalf.

Further reading

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