What should you do if your flight is delayed or cancelled?


This blog is general information only. It isn’t advice, and isn’t an insight into the views of TSB or any of our Partners.

Many of us choose to head overseas: to relax, visit friends and family, or simply get a dose of some much-needed sunshine. However, if things don’t go to plan and your flight ends up delayed or cancelled, what should you do?

Flight cancellation

We love to travel: nearly 230 million people per year fly out of Britain's ten busiest airports and close to half a million flights depart from Heathrow alone. Unfortunately, we also have to deal with delays and cancellations: thousands of us are affected each year. Here’s what to do if it happens to you.

Discovering your flight is cancelled or delayed

If your flight’s cancelled, phone the airline immediately. Ideally, get yourself on another flight as quickly as possible: the sooner you speak to someone, the sooner you can make plans. If you’re already in the airport, make your way to the airline’s desk – but as the queues can be lengthy, why not try calling them as well?

If you’re travelling from an airport in the European Union (including UK, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), or on an EU airline that’s landing at an EU airport, you have additional rights and might even be eligible for compensation. To see if your flight’s eligible, take a look at the Civil Aviation Authority's website.

Cancellations: your rights under EU law

When a flight’s cancelled, the airline must reroute you on the next available date, date of your choosing, or refund the cost of your ticket. You’re also entitled to free phone calls or emails, refreshments while you wait, and hotel accommodation and transfers if you need to stay overnight.

If your flight is cancelled less than 14 days before departure, you may also be entitled to compensation. The amount you can claim depends on when the flight was cancelled, how far you’re travelling and the delay to your arrival – and doesn’t apply if it’s due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ (see below).

Delays: your rights under EU law

If you’re delayed for more than two hours, airlines must provide you with a reasonable amount of refreshments, access to phone calls or email, and overnight accommodation if necessary.

If your scheduled arrival time is delayed by over three hours and it’s not due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’, you can also claim additional compensation: the amount depends on the distance you’re travelling and the length of your delay, ranging from €250-€600 per person.

Irrespective of the reason, if you’re delayed more than five hours, you’re also entitled to a full refund on this flight plus any other flights in the same booking (with the same airline) or travel back to your departure airport if you’re mid-way through your trip.

What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?

‘Extraordinary circumstances’ are classed as situations outside the airline’s control: this means you can’t make a compensation claim under EU law. Such events include natural disasters like Iceland's volcanic ash cloud in 2010, extreme weather, strikes, political instability, security risks, terrorism and hidden manufacturing defects.

Circumstances when you can claim include technical issues, understaffing, staff arriving late, technical problems, overbooking, and the late arrival of previous flights due to bad weather.

Making a compensation claim

To submit a claim, either contact the airline directly or go through a reputable third party such as Resolver. You have six years from the departure date to do this. Keep a note of all correspondence and remember you’re entitled to cash compensation – if you’re offered vouchers don’t feel obliged to accept them.

Flights outside the EU or on non-EU airlines

If you’re flying outside the EU (e.g. Sydney to Dubai) or on a non-EU airline (e.g. Dubai to London on Emirates or Qantas) you won’t be covered under EU law. Instead, you should contact your airline directly to enquire about your rights and any compensation entitlements: this will vary depending on the carrier.

Package holidays

If your flight is part of a package holiday it should be ATOL protected. This means, if your holiday is cancelled, you’ll be entitled to a full refund, the opportunity to book the same holiday for the same price when it’s next available. Or, if you’re already there, your tour operator will organise alternative flights and sort out additional accommodation if necessary.

Multi-airline flights

Sometimes it can be cheaper to arrange connecting flights on different airlines. However, if your first flight is delayed or cancelled and you miss your connection, the airline isn’t obliged to get you to your final destination – only as far as they are taking you. Using a single carrier for the full journey could provide greater peace of mind and save money in the long run.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is vital for any trip, and invaluable when dealing with the knock-on effects of flight delays and cancellations. Before you depart, make sure you read your policy: what does it cover? Are there any exclusions? Although airlines will be responsible for covering delayed or cancelled flights, you may need your travel insurance for any subsequent losses – such as hotels, hire cars, and onward or connecting flights.

Flight delays and cancellations are an unfortunate part of international travel. They can be incredibly frustrating – leading to missed connections, lost days and lengthy travel times – but knowing your rights can make the process more bearable. Try to stay positive, and hopefully you’ll be enjoying yourself in the sun, or the snow, very soon.

Everything we publish on Straightforward Money is provided as general information only. It isn’t advice, and isn’t an insight into the views of TSB or any of our Partners.

Please think about getting independent financial advice if you want help with your personal situation.

We try really hard to make sure everything’s accurate when we publish it. But the information can sometimes become out of date. For example we might link out to sites that we like or think might be helpful, but that link may have been replaced by the other site.

Links to external content are provided for information purposes only; they’re not a TSB recommendation of any brand or service.

  • anthony-hua-updated

    Anthony Hua, Editor

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