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How to claim compensation for delayed and cancelled flights

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Last updated on

19 June 2014

The outcome of a recent court case means it could now be possible to claim for flight delays dating back years.

Compensation for delays

A European Commission regulation created back in 2004 – (EC) 261/2004 – means that airlines flying out of the EU and EU airlines flying into the EU have to pay compensation for delays of more than three hours. This was clarified again by the European Court of Justice in October 2012.

The compensation levels are set as:

  • €250 for inter-EU flights of 930 miles or less (eg London-Paris);
  • €400 for flights between 930 and 1,860 miles (eg London-Istanbul);
  • €600 for longer flights (eg London-New York).

This applies to all delays except for those caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as the Icelandic ash clouds of 2010 and 2011 or industrial action. A ruling in another Court of Appeal case in June 2014 said that mechnical failure was within airlines' control and was not an extraordinary circumstance.

Compensation for cancellations

If your flight has been cancelled, your airline must get you to your destination or offer you a full refund. If your flight is delayed by more than five hours and you no longer want to travel you are entitled to a full refund.

Your airline may have recommended you make your own travel arrangements. If that's the case, you need to have kept the relevant receipts to claim your money back.

Duty of care

However, if you are delayed for a long time then you have rights to ‘a duty of care’ from the airline while you can’t travel.

You should be offered:

  • meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time;
  • hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, or where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary;
  • transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).

Plus two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or emails.

There are qualifying times for this ‘duty of care’ to kick in, which are:

  • two hours for flights of 930 miles or less;
  • three hours for all flights of between 930 and 1,860 miles;
  • four hours for longer flights than the above.

Ryanair lost a test case where it had refused to pay the expenses incurred by a passenger who had to stay on in Portugal for a week after the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud.

She claimed expenses of €1,130 for a hotel, meals and drinks, which the airline had refused to reimburse. It was ordered to pay them in full, as there is no cap on expenses.

However, the court ruled that the airline industry could pass on the potential cost of such claims in the form of higher air fares.

If you were stuck and the airline refused to help you with accommodation and/or food, you should be able to claim the costs, providing they were reasonable (ie you didn't stay in a five-star hotel) and you have receipts for all your expenses.

How to claim

If you believe you have a legitimate claim for reimbursement and/or compensation, you should contact the airline concerned first. Do it as soon as possible so you give yourself the best possible chance of winning.

Regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a letter template you can use for your claim (opens as a Word document).

You should provide as much information and evidence as you can, including flight numbers, booking/reservation references and copies of receipts if relevant.

If the airline refuses your claim, you can raise it with the CAA. Keep copies of all correspondence you send. There's more advice on referring a complaint to the CAA on its website.

If the airline still refuses to pay, then you can pursue legal action through the County Court.

However, with both recent cases potentially heading to the Supreme Court airlines may delay dealing with claims until there is a final ruling.

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