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Flight delay compensation

If your flight is delayed you may be entitled to compensation under EU rules. Find out more, and whether you may qualify for back-dated compensation...

Delayed flights aren't just an inconvenience or annoyance - they can scupper holidays plans or spoil a whole weekend away.Aeroplane

Many flight delays are short, but if you find yourself stranded for an extended period you could be eligible to claim compensation.

The European Union's (EU) Denied Boarding Regulation provides protection if you're flying with an EU-based airline, or a non-EU based airline flying from an EU airport.

The regulation states that the airline has an obligation to offer you assistance if your flight delay is expected to go on beyond a certain point.

If you're travelling with a non-EU based airline from a non-EU destination, the airline doesn't have the same duty to look after you.

In such a case, check the airline's condition of carriage to see what compensation you're entitled to.

Did you know...?

  • Under the EU rules, you can choose not to travel and get a refund of your ticket cost if the delay lasts for five hours or more

The Denied Boarding Regulation applies if:

  • You have a confirmed booking
  • You checked in on time or, if no check-in time was given, at least 45 minutes before your flight was scheduled to depart
  • You're departing from an EU airport, or from a non-EU airport and flying into an EU airport on a 'community carrier' (an airline with its headquarters and main place of business within the EU. That includes all European discount and no-frills airlines)

Under the Denied Booking Regulation, what you're entitled to depends on the length of the flight delay and the length of your flight.

Flight and delay length requirements:

  • If a flight under 932 miles (for example, London to Venice) is delayed for at least two hours
  • If a flight within the EU that's more than 932 miles (for example, London to Athens) is delayed for at least three hours
  • If a flight that isn't within the EU but is between 932 and 2,174 miles is delayed for at least three hours
  • If any other flight is delayed for at least four hours

Providing you qualify in one of the above categories you're entitled to:Suitcases

  • Two free phone calls, faxes or emails
  • Free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay
  • Free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required

You can also choose not to travel and get a refund of your ticket cost if the delay lasts for five hours or more (but the flight is not cancelled).

Court ruling on compensation

This right to compensation was upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 23 October, 2012, following a challenge to an earlier ruling.

The decision stated that the Denied Booking Regulation must be interpreted as giving passengers the right to compensation for delays of three hours or more.

In the first test case since the 2012 ECJ decision, Stoke-on-Trent county court ruled that Thomas Cook had to pay compensation to passengers who, in 2009, had experienced a 22-hour delay caused by a mechanical fault.

Did you know...?

  • Under the EU rules, you're only entitled to compensation if the delay was something within the airline's control

But there are a few important qualifiers to this ruling:

It's only for EU flights

The rules of the Denied Boarding Regulation apply - compensation is only available for a flight leaving an EU airport, or an EU airline arriving at an EU airport. These can be scheduled, chartered or part of a package holiday.

The cut-off is 2005

You can claim for compensation on any flights dating back to February 2005. However, in the UK, if you have to take an airline to court to get the cash, you can only go back six years.

Delays must be more than three hours

Compensation for delays is only due on flights arriving three hours or more late. Note that if the delay is due to flight cancellation, compensation should be available.

It has to be the airline's fault

You're only entitled to compensation if the delay was something within the airline's control. Under-booking and not having the aircraft in place should fall into this category.Package holiday gear

Extraordinary circumstances are situations beyond the control of the airline, for example, security risk, political instability or severe weather that makes flying dangerous. Strikes are also usually included in this category.

Technical problems can be 'extraordinary circumstances', but where the problem should have been picked up by routine maintenance you should expect compensation.

It's worth challenging your airline if you don't agree that there were extraordinary circumstances, for example if you're told that you can't fly due to severe weather, but other flights are departing.

Connecting flights

For flights with connections, the time that counts is the one you arrived at your final destination.

So, for example, if your first flight arrives two hours late and you miss your connection meaning that you arrive four hours late at your final destination, the four hours is the crucial figure.

Gather any evidence you have, including proof you were on the flight, such as receipts, email confirmation or boarding pass

Note that if you book your connecting flight separately from your original flight then you can only claim based on the delay to each individual flight.

Compensation is fixed

This is not a refund on a ticket price - the amount you are due is fixed in euros and dependent on the length of flight and length of delay.

Some airlines will offer compensation in vouchers, but you don't have to accept this; EU laws state that you have a right to cash. The compensation is per person, so if you were travelling as a family of four, quadruple the amount.

Flight length[1]Arrival delay[1]Compensation[1]
Up to 1,500km (932 miles)Three hours plus€250
Any flight within the EU over 1,500km (932 miles) or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500km (2,175 miles)Three hours plus€400
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)From three-to-four hours€300
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)Four hours plus€600

How to reclaim

Gather any evidence you have, including proof you were on the flight, such as receipts, email confirmation or boarding pass. So long as you know the flight number and length of the delay, the airline should have passenger logs.Credit cards

Write to the airline quoting 'EC Regulation 261/2004', listing your delay and request for compensation for each person in your party.

If the airline has gone under you'll need to contact the administrators and claim as a creditor, which may prove difficult. However, if you paid using a credit card and the flight cost over £100, then the card company is also liable.

If your claim is rejected for reasons you disagree with, then you can contact the Civil Aviation Authority and ask whether it believes you are entitled to compensation.

By Emily Bater