Delays and missed connections
A European Commission regulation created back in 2004 – (EC) 261/2004 – means that all airlines flying out of the EU and EU airlines flying into the EU have to pay compensation for delays for flights arriving more than three hours late.
The compensation levels are set according to distance and the length of the delay.
Compensation for delay
3 hours +
Less than 1,500km (e.g. London-Paris);
3 hours +
Between 1,500km and 3,500km (e.g. London-Istanbul);
3 hours +
More than 1,500km and within the EU
3,500km (e.g. London-New York)
4 hours +
3,500km (e.g. London-New York)
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 rights if you missed a connection because of a delay largely depend on whether you booked a 'through ticket'.
A through ticket is where an airline booking covers the full journey: i.e. London to Sydney, via Dubai.
This can involve two different airlines: the key is that you have one reservation reference for the entire journey. In this case, you're entitled to the delay compensation and duty of care described in this article.
If you're travelling on two different reservations, you're not entitled to compensation. Budget airlines rarely provide through tickets and so booking combinations of these flights should be avoided.
If your flight has been cancelled, your airline must get you to your destination or offer you a full refund.
If the cancellation is the airline’s fault you can claim additional compensation of between €125 and €600 depending on the length of flight and the arrival time of the rescheduled flight.
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: the airline has a duty of care if you choose an alternative flight (see below).
Keep records of any calls you're advised to make to premium rate numbers as you may be able to claim for these as well.
Being 'bumped' or downgraded
Being 'bumped' is when an airline books more people onto a flight then there are seats. It can also occur when the airline switches planes at the last minute to one with fewer seats.
Volunteering to be bumped can really pay off: airlines have offered considerable compensation or upgrades.
Officially, however, you are only entitled to an alternative flight or a refund - you choose - and this applies whether you volunteered or not. You are entitled to compensation for all delays caused by being bumped:
|Duration of delay
|Short-haul (under 1,5000km)
|Under 2 hours
|More than 2 hours
|Medium-haul (1,500 - 3,500km)
|Under 3 hours
|More than 2 hours
|Under 4 hours
|More than 4 hours
Airlines have a 'duty of care' to you (see below) whilst you are waiting for your alternative flight.
If you don't want to fly you can get a refund for all parts of the ticket you haven't used. Just keep in mind that buying other tickets at the last minute could prove far more expensive than your gains from the refund.
Being downgraded, for instance from business class to economy, should also result in you receiving compensation. That ranges from 30% of the price for short-haul flights, to 50% for medium-haul and 75% for long haul.
Having a seat that doesn't recline, or a screen that didn't work, can be almost as irritating as getting downgraded, but unfortunately, airlines are not required to compensate you.
The best tactic is to politely complain during the flight, then contact the airline as soon as possible afterwards. You may be able to get compensation, money off another flight, or airmiles.
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:
- A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers)
- A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)
- Accommodation, if you’re delayed overnight (usually in a nearby hotel)
- Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there)
There are qualifying times for this ‘duty of care’ to kick in, which are:
- two hours for flights of 1,500km or less;
- three hours for all flights of between 1,500km and 3,500km;
- four hours for longer flights than the above.
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 (i.e. you didn't stay in a five-star hotel or buy alcohol) and you have receipts for all your expenses.
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 airfares.
Lost or delayed luggage
Agonising waiting times aren't the only problem that can come out of flight delays and cancellations – your luggage may get lost too.
But if you make it to your destination and your bag doesn’t, it’s the airline that’s liable to cover you for losses.
Most airlines will have a baggage desk within the baggage claim area. Make sure that you report that your luggage is lost, delayed or damaged at the airport and keep a hold of the Property Irregularity Report (PIR) which staff of the airline to complete.
Tell the airline the best place to deliver your luggage to.
In the meantime, your airline may cover you for essentials to keep you going: think essential toiletries, underwear and laundry costs.
Some carriers have a daily rate which will be paid for each day the baggage is delayed. Of course, you’ll need to keep the receipt for any purchases and put in a written claim within 21 days of getting your delayed baggage back.
If you travelled with two or more airlines, you’ll only need to contact one of them about your luggage. It’s best to contact the carrier of the last leg of your journey.
At this point, it’s worth checking your travel insurance policy too, as you might just have baggage delay cover.
How to claim
If you are entitled to compensation, it's important you get 100% of it.
In recent years a bunch of companies have been targeting unhappy airline passengers with promises of compensation. The problem is they take a hefty cut in exchange for their often meagre services (similar to PPI claim firms).
Ensure you get all the compensation you're owed by contacting the airline directly. Ask at the airline desk, look at the website or contact the airline for the form to begin this process. You shouldn't need to use a premium rate phone line
The Civil Aviation Authority also provides a template letter and advice on what details to include when contacting an airline.
If the airline still refuses to pay, then you can pursue legal action through the County Court.