Flight delay compensation

If your flight’s delayed or cancelled you might be entitled to compensation under EU rules. But only if it was due to something within the airline’s control.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 3 April 2023  | 4 min read
Reviewed by Jasmine Hembury

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Flight delays are not only inconvenient; they can leave you out of pocket, too. Read our guide to find out what sort of help and compensation you might be entitled to if your flight’s delayed.

We all hope our travel plans go smoothly, but flight delays happen for all sorts of reasons. At best, a delayed flight can be a nuisance. At worst, it could ruin, cut short, or even put a stop to your holiday.

Here’s where it helps to know your legal rights when it comes to your plane being delayed.

Are you entitled to assistance, compensation or a full refund?

Read on to find out.

Key points

  • Under certain circumstances, your airline is obligated to help you if your flight is delayed or cancelled
  • You’re only entitled to compensation if the delay or cancellation was caused by something within the airline’s control
  • The compensation you’ll receive depends on how long the flight was delayed for and your journey

What are the regulations for flight delays and compensation?

UK and European Union (EU) flights

You have legal rights covered by UK law if your flight is:

  • On any airline departing from a UK airport
  • On an EU or UK airline arriving at any UK airport
  • On a UK airline arriving at an EU airport

The airline must help if your flight is cancelled or delayed beyond a certain number of hours and you may be entitled to compensation. This means you won’t have to claim on your travel insurance.

Non-EU flights

If you’re travelling with a non-EU based airline from a non-EU destination, the airline may not have the same obligation to look after you.

If that’s the case, check the airline’s conditions of carriage instead to see what compensation you’re entitled to. Or research whether there’s legislation that protects consumer rights in the country you departed from or arrived in .

What are your rights if your flight is delayed?

Under UK law, if your flight’s delayed by more than a certain amount of time, the airline should look after you until it’s able to book you onto a replacement flight to your destination.

Generally, for short-haul flights this assistance should be available if your flight’s delayed by more than two hours. For medium haul flights, it’s more than three hours. And for long-haul flights, more than four hours.

You should be offered care and assistance, including:

  • Food and drink (usually given in the form of vouchers to spend at airport food outlets)
  • Access to phone calls and emails
  • Accommodation and transport to and from the airport and hotel if you’re delayed overnight - or to your home if it’s easier for you to return there

Carriers must pay special attention to the needs of disabled passengers and unaccompanied children.

If you’re not offered help from the airline, ask a member of airport staff. If you’re still not given help, you should keep receipts for any reasonable expenses and claim them back from the airline later.

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

Compensation for a delayed flight

You might be able to claim compensation as well as getting assistance at the airport.

How much compensation you can get depends on how late the flight arrives at your destination and the distance you’re travelling.

Your flight must be more than three hours late for UK law to apply.

Flight length Arrival delay Compensation[1]
Short haul - a flight under 932 miles (for example, London to Venice) Three hours or more £220
Medium haul - a flight that's between 932 and 2,174 miles (for example, London to Athens) Three hours or more £350
Long haul - a flight that is over 2,174 miles (for example, London to New York) Three to four hours £260
Long haul Four hours or more £520

[1]Civil Aviation Authority figures April 2022.

Compensation for a cancelled flight

If your flight’s cancelled, you’ll be given the choice to either get a refund for the parts of the flight you haven’t used or choose an alternative flight (which includes care and assistance while you wait).

You might be able to claim compensation for the cancellation too. It depends on how much notice you had and the distance of your flight. Compensation ranges from £220 to £520, depending on whether it’s a short, medium or long-haul flight.

Flight compensation exclusions

In instances where the delay or cancellation happened because of something outside of the airline’s control, you would not be entitled to claim monetary compensation.

These are termed as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ by the airline and include things like:

  • Bad weather (thunderstorms, heavy rain, thick fog, snow, high gusts of wind)
  • Air sector strikes (air traffic control personnel striking)
  • Political circumstances (terror attacks, political unrest, security risks)
  • Natural disasters (volcanic eruption, hurricane)
  • Bird strike (collision between the plane and a bird or other foreign object)
  • An unruly or ill passenger
  • Delays caused by airport staff (long queues for security checks)
  • Air traffic management decisions

If your plane was delayed due to any of these circumstances and you try to make a claim for compensation, the airline will reject it.

What isn’t classed as an extraordinary circumstance?

Only situations outside of the airline’s control will prevent you from being able to claim compensation for flight delays.

So, that would include instances like those mentioned above - natural disasters, bad weather and political unrest.

The airline would need to prove that the extraordinary circumstance was the cause of the delay or cancellation of the flight.

Examples of events that aren’t considered extraordinary circumstances might include:

  • Technical faults that grounded the plane
  • Internal strike action by airline staff
  • Flight crew sickness
  • If you’re denied boarding because of overbooking by the airline

How can you claim for compensation?

If there’s been a delay or problem with your flight, you’ve checked your rights and believe you’re owed compensation, you should contact your airline to make a claim.

Most airlines have their own standard claims procedure that you can usually find on their website.

Otherwise, send an email, letter or call them to find out how to make a claim and keep records of all correspondence.

You’ll need to give as much detail as you can on the claim, including:

  • Details of all passengers
  • Travel dates
  • Booking information and references
  • Flight details
  • Length of delays

If the airline refuses to pay you compensation, you can take your complaint to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body, if the airline is a member of one. Check whether your airline is a member of an ADR body.

If the airline isn’t a member of one, you can raise a complaint on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.

Travel insurance for delays

Travel insurance can provide valuable cover if your flight’s delayed.

For example, it could cover the cost of your holiday if it’s delayed by more than a certain number of hours.

It can also cover additional transport and accommodation costs, plus any reasonable expenses like food and refreshments, if your flight’s delayed and you can’t claim from your airline.