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How to claim compensation for your EU flight delay or cancellation

Eleanor Newis
Nov 8, 2018

Here’s how to get the compensation you’re entitled to under European law.

If you’ve had your flight cancelled or delayed, you have a right to claim compensation under European law.

An EU regulation means that passengers are entitled to as much as €600 (£536) in compensation if their flight lands at their destination over three hours later than the timetabled arrival time.

It’s also worth knowing that for cancelled flights, you can take an alternative flight with the same airline, and get to your destination that way. You can also cancel your flights and then demand a full refund.

However, the airlines themselves don’t always have to pay up, and they can get out of paying you if they can argue that the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances. This can include bad weather or crew strikes.

Airlines used to routinely refuse to pay up for delays caused by technical faults, as they could argue that they were extraordinary circumstances. Then, in 2014, there were two landmark Supreme Court rulings that declared carriers should pay when the delay was caused by technical failure.

Here’s how to get the money you’re entitled to.

What if your flight is delayed?

EU law means airlines must pay compensation for cancelled flights or those delayed by a long time. The amount you’re able to claim depends on which flight you were taking and also the amount of time it was delayed by.

Your flight must have departed from an EU airport, but it doesn’t matter what airline it was operated by. An EU airport also include Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The flight must also have been three or more hours late to your destination.

You can usually claim from around £223 (€250) for flights less than 1,500km and up to £536 (€600) for flights of more than 3,500km delayed by at least four hours.

How to claim compensation for a delay

You can make your claim by informing the airline of their flight number, names of passengers and the reason (as you understand it) for the delay.

If your claim is rejected, you can escalate it to the ombudsman or the relevant regulator, but this depends on the airline you were flying with. You’re also allowed to then take the airline to the small claims court if you still don’t get the verdict you think is correct.

What if your flight is cancelled?

In place of a cancelled flight, you should be offered an alternative flight with the same airline that you were supposed to be travelling with. This flight should be to your destination and either be the same day or the day after.

If this isn’t possible, you should be given a full refund for the flight you booked. 

Then, if for any reason none of these options are possible, you should be offered a flight with a different airline if there is space. In the event that this means you have to pay for the new flight separately, you can claim for the extra money to be refunded. You do have to prove that there was no other option provided by the original airline.

When the airline gives you more than 14 days notice of their cancellation, you’ll only be able to get a new flight or refund for the flight you planned to catch. However, if the cancellation comes with less than 14 days notice, you could be entitled to compensation as well as the refund or alternative flight.

The total of your compensation will change dependent on the length of your flight, how long you had to wait for a new flight, and if you were informed of the cancellation.

Your claim also needs to state that the delay or cancellation was caused by something that the airline could have avoided. You can’t claim for extreme weather, for instance.

What about travel insurance?

Usually, travel insurance policies cover you for any extra expense you incur whilst stuck because of a delayed or cancelled flight.

You might be able to claim for cancelled hotel trips and other expenses that you’ve already paid for.

However, it’s important to check your policy carefully and make sure you know what will be covered. Keep any extra spending to a reasonable level, and keep any receipts for hotel rooms and other plans. 

If you’re in doubt, give your insurer a call to check what they cover. Shopping around for the best deal can help to. If you find the right travel insurance and make sure you know your rights in the case of a delay or cancellation, you won’t lose out if something goes wrong on your holiday.


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