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Q&A: My flight was cancelled. Can I get a refund for my flight and claim for compensation?

When a flight is delayed or cancelled it causes untold chaos for travellers. So it's important to know what your rights are.

by Sharron Livingston

Q&A: My flight was cancelled. Can I get a refund for my flight and claim for compensation?

When a flight is delayed or cancelled it causes untold chaos for travellers. It eases the pain when there is some compensation to be had. What you will receive, if anything, depends on the circumstances. Is the airline responsible for the delay, or was it to do with reasons beyond their control, for instance, a strike.  

Regardless of the cause of the disruption, if your flight to or from the UK has been delayed for three hours or more, the airline has a duty of care, and must provide a free meal and drink. 

It is important to know what your rights are. The following guide applies to UK or EU-regulated flights departing or arriving in the UK or EU country. This also includes Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Flight delay compensation law – the low down.

Under EU 261/2004 if your flight is delayed by more than three hours or your flight was cancelled you are often entitled to up to €600/£520 in compensation.

However savvy airlines were quick to find loopholes to avoid payouts. In October 2012 a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice clarified that passengers were entitled to compensation for long delays if they met the set criteria.

Even so, airlines were still able to dodge claims that were more than two years old or blaming unforeseeable technical faults. The courts came to the rescue again and ruled in favour of flyers in rulings made in 2014 and 2015.

My flight was cancelled outright.

If you can answer yes to these stipulations you may be eligible for compensation.

  • you were notified of it less than 14 days before the flight.
  • You have a confirmed flight reservation.
  • The disruption occurred in the last 3 years.
  • The reason for the flight disruption was within the airline’s control.
  • If you took a replacement flight, your new arrival time was significantly different to your original flight.

In any case, if your flight was cancelled to or from a UK or EU airport (or with a UK/EU airline), whatever the reason, your airline must offer you either a full refund or a seat on the soonest available alternative flight, even if it is with a rival carrier. You can only choose one option. If you choose another flight, you can fly at a later date.

How much can I expect to receive in compensation?

There is a fixed level of compensation which is based on the distance of the travel.

  • €250/£220 If the distance is less than 1,500km/932 miles
  • €400/£350 if the distance is between 1,500km – 3,500km/2174 miles
  • €600/£520 if the distance is more than 3,500km

My flight was delayed. Can I get compensation?

You can if:

    • You arrived at your destination more than three hours later than planned.
    • The flight took off in the EU (from any airline) or landed in the EU (provided that the airline is headquartered in the EU).
    • You have checked in for your flight on time (generally no less than 45 minutes before departure).
    • You encountered these problems on a flight operated no more than three years ago.
    • The airline is responsible for the delay (e.g. operational circumstances and technical difficulties).

Stuck at the airport.

The least you can expect is to be kept up-to-date. Check their airline’s website, app or twitter. They may have sent you an email too.

If you are delayed by two hours on a short-haul flight or three hours on a medium flight such as London to Spain for four hours on a long haul flight you can expect to be given vouchers for food and drink – alcohol not included. This is regardless of the reason for the delay or waiting for an alternative flight which would be the case if your flight was cancelled.  

If for some reason the airline cannot supply this, you can still buy your own and claim the money back. In this case, be sure to keep your receipts.

If you are delayed overnight the airline must pay for accommodation and transport to and from it. If they can’t, keep receipts and claim the money back.

Check if your airline’s website has any guidance on what it’ll cover.

The delay was too long and you no longer wish to travel.

If you are delayed more than five hours you can ask for a refund for the outward bound and return ticket if you don’t wish to travel. If you choose to go down this route, the airline will no longer have to care and assist you as compensation is applied depending on the arrival time of your destination.

Which flights qualify for compensation?

Current EU and British law, states that you must be departing from, or arriving at, a British or EU airport (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) on any airline to qualify for compensation.

Thanks to Brexit, a recent EU court ruling means that some long-haul flights to Britain via EU airports are now excluded. The court ruling means that if the final destination is the UK entitlements are not available. This is because of our “third-country” status which comes about as a result of Brexit. Note: It is only the return flight into the EU which is affected, outbound flights are still covered because UK legislation continues to apply to the airline since the initial flight is operating out of a British airport.  

I am worried about getting it wrong. Should I get an expert to do it?

It can be daunting, but you could start by writing to the airline and then to the relevant regulator or ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution – scheme yourself.  Also check the airline’s website as often they will have a website dedicated to claims. This includes British Airways, and Easyjet who have a Disruption Help Hub.

Alternatively, you can ask Air Help to do this for you, and they will take part of your compensation as a fee.

Final tip – Travel insurance is essential.

Make sure you have robust travel insurance. It just makes life easier when airlines are not responsive or if you find yourself travelling on an airline not covered by EU rules. Also if your travel insurance was supplied by your bank as a freebie, check it is still valid. Many have been caught out by the expiry of the service.


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