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Compensation Rules for Delayed Flights

If you’ve had your holiday tainted by a delayed flight, there is legislation which entitles you to reimbursement.

Under the EU Denied Boarding Regulations, you are entitled to free food and phone calls at the airport as well as compensation in certain circumstances (see below), if:

  • You were travelling with an airline based in the EU or flying with a non-EU airline from an airport in the EU.
  • You had a confirmed booking and checked in on time (or 45 minutes before departure if no check-in time was specified).

If you qualify for flight delay compensation, then all you need to do is write a letter to the airline – this means that the process is not too time-consuming, as long as the airline agrees that you are entitled to the money.

Free food and phone calls

You are entitled to free food and phone calls, as well as overnight accommodation, if appropriate, on the conditions these expenses are reasonable and that the flight is delayed for sufficient time to qualify, as shown in the table below:

Type of flight Minimum delay
Under 932 miles Two hours
Flight within the EU, more than 932 miles Three hours
Flight not within the EU, between 932 and 2,174 miles Three hours
Any other flight Four hours

If you had to pay for food, phone calls or accommodation yourself, you are entitled to a reimbursement from the airline. In this case, it is wise to keep all your receipts as proof of the expenses you incurred.

Opting for a refund

If your flight is delayed for five hours or more, but is not cancelled, you can also elect not to fly and receive a refund for your ticket instead.

Compensation and extraordinary circumstances

When it comes to compensation, airlines have one get-out – extraordinary circumstances. That is, if the delay was caused by something beyond their control, the airline is not obliged to pay out compensation.

Situations which are likely to be deemed out of the airline’s control are:

  • Weather problems, e.g. the volcanic ash cloud emanating from Iceland in 2010
  • Security risks in the destination country
  • Political unrest
  • Industrial action, e.g. strikes by airline staff
  • Technical problems caused by the plane manufacturer

Situations which would be the airline’s responsibility include:

  • Pilot or cabin crew not arriving on time
  • Cancellation due to under-booking
  • Technical problems caused by the airline

The table below shows what amount of compensation you would be entitled to if there were no extraordinary circumstances, depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight.

Distance of flight Length of delay in arriving Compensation entitlement
Under 932 miles More than 3 hours €250
Over 932 miles (within EU) or between 932 and 2,174 miles (between EU and non-EU airport) More than 3 hours €400
Over 2,174 miles (between an EU and non-EU airport) Between 3 & 4 hours €300
More than 4 hours €600

If you are making a multi-stop journey on a single ticket, and you miss a connecting flight due to a delay to the preceding flight, you should be able to claim compensation if you arrive at your final destination three or more hours later than scheduled.

Contacting the airline

To claim compensation if your flight meets the eligibility criteria, you should complain to the flight operator (not the company you booked the flight through, if this is different). Write a letter referencing the EU Denied Boarding Regulation 261/2004, stating that you believe you are entitled to compensation. Include personal details of all the passengers you are claiming for, including name, address, and phone number.

You should also give full details of your flight, including the date, airport of departure and destination, flight number, booking reference as well as the eventual time of departure. Attach a copy of your ticket, boarding pass and any other relevant documents you can find.

Taking your claim further

The Civil Aviation Authority is quoted as saying that claims should be forwarded to them if the airline fails to respond within 28 days, but warns that these claims can take a long time to resolve. You can also take your claim to the CAA if the airline refuses to pay compensation. It should also be understood, however, that the CAA does not represent an ombudsman scheme and are therefore not able to impose their findings on airlines.

In order to take your claim to the CAA, you can fill out their online form. However, do note that the CAA will only deal with flights departing from or arriving in the UK. Otherwise you will have to make contact with the regulator in the country of departure (if this is in the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland) or the arrival country, if the flight arrived in any of these countries. The European Consumer Centre will also look into complaints relating to flights from EU countries with EU-based airlines.

Using the small claims court

If your claim still isn’t resolved after taking it to the CAA or other regulator, you have the option of taking it to the small claims court. However this is only possible if the delayed flight was less than six years ago.

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