Claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights

flight delayed©iStock.com/pcruciatti

In this guide we look at the compensation available under European Union (EU) regulations for flight delays and cancellations.

As well as outlining when a passenger can claim and how much they're entitled to we'll explain how to make a claim.

We'll also examine what to do if a claim is rejected and look at other methods of claiming compensation.

Read on for the full details or click to skip to:

How EU compensation works

Thanks to a recent European directive more airline passengers than ever before are protected by Denied Boarding Regulations (DBR).

The regulations came into force in February 2005 but following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in October 2012 they were extended to include EU flight delays and cancellations.
The ruling confirms an airline must pay compensation if passengers are delayed unless it can prove the delay was due to 'extraordinary circumstances'.

To qualify for protection under DBR passengers must have:

For example, an American Airlines flight from Manchester to New York qualifies. An Air France flight arriving in London Heathrow from Hong Kong also qualifies.

The ruling also includes European low-cost airlines so a Monarch flight arriving in London Gatwick from Florence, Italy qualifies in the same was as an Easyjet flight from Glasgow to Palma de Mallorca.

On the other hand, a Singapore Airlines flight into London Heathrow from Hong Kong would not qualify for compensation and neither would an Ethiad flight from Dubai to Cardiff.

The EU ruling confirms a passenger may qualify for compensation if a flight is:

DBR protect passengers travelling independently or as part of a package.

How much compensation are passengers entitled to?

If a flight is delayed for more than 3 hours, if the flight is cancelled or if a passenger is denied boarding due to overbooking they may be entitled to financial compensation of between £200 and £500.

The actual amount a passenger is entitled to depends on the distance of the journey and where the flight was travelling to or from.

Within the EU
Distance Compensation
1,500km or less €250
over 1,500km €400
Between EU and non-EU airport
Distance Compensation
1,500km or less €250
1,500km - 3,500km €400
over 3,500km €600

Furthermore, a passenger who is delayed for more than 5 hours, has their flight cancelled or is denied boarding may also be entitled to:

Passengers may also be entitled to assistance in the form of refreshments, a phone call, overnight accommodation and transport to overnight accommodation.

Worth bearing in mind

The level of compensation is calculated from the airport a passenger is detained at - not the originating airport. This is an important consideration for passengers with connecting flights.

Total compensation can vary depending on the duration of the flight. If the ultimate arrival time is within 2 hours for a short-haul flight, within 3 hours for a medium-haul flight or within 4 hours for a long-haul flight compensation can be reduced by 50%.

If a passenger accepts financial compensation the airline is under no obligation to offer assistance with their onward journey - this becomes the passenger's responsibility.

If an airline is able to offer an alternative flight with a similar schedule compensation can also be reduced by up to 50%.

What's not covered?

Not every cancelled flight qualifies. Passengers will not be covered if:

An airline that cancels a flight due to 'extraordinary circumstances' still has an obligation to its passengers and must offer either a refund, alternative transport or an opportunity to rebook the flight at a later date.

Overbooked flights

If a flight is overbooked the airline must ask for volunteers to give up seats in exchange for certain benefits, including meal vouchers and sometimes even cash.

Passengers who surrender their seats should also be offered a full refund on their ticket, provided with assistance (such as refreshments and overnight accommodation) and should be rebooked onto the next earliest available flight.

However, if there are not enough volunteers an airline can make seats available by denying passengers the right to board the plane.

If a passenger is denied boarding due to an overbooked flight they may be able to claim under DBR.

Strike

Strikes and industrial action fall under 'extraordinary circumstances' and airlines are not obliged to offer compensation to passengers whose flights are cancelled or delayed as the result of one. Airlines may still provide assistance to passengers if they wish.

However, if a strike has caused passengers to be denied boarding as a knock-on effect the day after a strike they may be able to claim compensation under DBR.

Missed flights

If a passenger misses a flight, for example if they are stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport, they are considered to be at fault and have no entitlement to compensation or assistance from the airline.

If an airline changes any details of a flight, including the time or date, they have a responsibility to inform passengers of these changes in good time. If flights were purchased through a third party, such as a travel agent, it becomes the agent's responsibility to inform passengers of any changes.

If it can be proved the airline or agent of the airline failed to inform passengers of a change which resulted in a missed flight compensation could be claimed under DBR.

How to make a claim

To make a claim for compensation under Denied Boarding Regulations follow these steps:

  1. The claimant should first double check the circumstances of their delay/cancellation to confirm their eligibility to claim;
  2. They should gather together any supporting evidence to submit with the claim. Useful documents include:
    • the booking confirmation;
    • passenger details;
    • receipts;
    • tickets;
    • boarding passes;
    • details of the length of delay/reason for cancellation or denied boarding;
  3. The claimant should then contact the airline to inform it they will be making a claim;
  4. It may be useful to use the following letter template from Which to submit a claim: here

Backdating claims

Whilst passengers can make a claim for any delay/cancellation they face from now onwards under DBR they can also make a backdated claim.

Many airlines will discourage claims over 2 years old but they have no right to do this. Claims can be dated as far back as February 2005 when DBR originally came into force.

If the airline refuses to pay up and the case goes to court, under UK law, a claimant is only allowed to make a claim up to 6 years old. This makes it very tricky to win compensation for cases over 6 years old and some airlines have actually declared that they will only consider claims up to 6 years old.

In the first instance the claimant should gather supporting evidence. Any old documents, such as the booking confirmation, tickets and boarding passes, will strengthen a claim. If the claimant no longer has these documents knowing the length of the delay and the flight number will help the airline confirm check-in details.

The claimant should contact the airline and inform it of their intention to make a backdated claim.

Can't get a refund? What to do

60% of the claims we get compensation for have first been rejected by the airline, who are clearly speculating that the air passengers will give up if they send them a long standardised rejection letter. Unfortunately that is also the case in most situations, and why we started AirHelp.
Henrik Zillmer, Director of AirHelp

Guidelines issued by the European Commission in July 2013 make claiming against airlines quicker and easier for passengers. The guidelines are also aimed at stopping airlines from refusing claims by using the 'extraordinary circumstances' clause.

If a passenger previously made a claim but had it rejected they can appeal to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA will order the case reopened if it thinks there is a case.

Using a claims company

If the thought of making an appeal is just too much a passenger can engage a dedicated claims company.

A claims company will undertake the whole process on a claimant's behalf; from the initial eligibility assessment to representation in court - should it come to that.

When we spoke to Henrik Zillmer, Director of AirHelp, he told us that "60% of the claims we get compensation for have first been rejected by the airline, who are clearly speculating that the air passengers will give up if they send them a long standardised rejection letter. Unfortunately that is also the case in most situations, and why we started AirHelp."

While most airline compensation claims firms do operate on a 'no win, no fee' basis, expect to pay out around 25% if a claim is successful.

Other types of airline compensation

When it's not possible to make a claim under DBR, even if a hold-up or cancellation has been experienced, it's worth pausing to examine other avenues of making a claim.

If a passenger is not eligible to make a claim under DBR they may consider making a claim with one of these options instead:

Section 75

If the flights were paid for with a credit card a passenger could consider claiming under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act (CCA). Section 75 holds the credit card provider equally to blame with the airline for any breach of contract, making it equally liable to provide a refund.

A claim could be made if a flight was fully or partially purchased on a credit card; cost more than £100 but less than £30,000; and was purchased in the last 6 years.

However, if flights were purchased either as part of a package or as a standalone product through a travel agent (considered a 'third party' under Section 75 rules) passengers would not be eligible to claim.

Passengers wishing to make a claim under Section 75 may find the following template letter useful: here

For more information on Section 75 see our guide: here.

Chargeback

For flights costing less than £100 a passenger may request a refund on their credit or debit card under chargeback rules.

If the bank or building society agrees a breach of contract has occurred, for example as a result of denied boarding, they will reverse the card transaction and reimburse the money to the cardholder and pursue the airline for the money itself.

Chargeback has a '120 day rule' so claims that occurred outside this timeframe are not eligible.

Passengers wishing to make a claim under Chargeback rules may find the following template letter useful: here

For more information on chargeback see our guide: here.

Worth bearing in mind

In contrast to Section 75 and chargeback rules the passenger does not have to be the purchaser of the flight to make a claim under DBR.

Unlike Section 75 compensation under DBR is awarded to the passenger not the purchaser of the flights.

Travel insurance

Sadly, it does happen from time to time. However, if a passenger needs to cancel their flight they may be able to claim on their travel insurance policy. It varies from policy to policy and depends on the level of cover purchased but valid reasons for cancelling a flight include:

Many travel insurance policies offer flight cancellation or missed departure cover as an optional extra.

The insured should always check the terms of their travel insurance policy carefully before travelling.

ATOL

Under the Air Travel Organiser's Licensing scheme (ATOL) UK travellers who book travel through ATOL registered agents are protected if the company or airline goes bust.

Most high street and online travel operators are ATOL registered but airlines are not members because they are not classed as 'agents'.

While a flight purchased as part of a package with an ATOL agent will be covered a flight purchased with an airline will not.

For more information on what to do if your airline goes bust see our guide: here.

Claiming costs

There are well placed fears the clamour to make compensation claims against airlines will inevitably push up fares - Ryanair, unsurprisingly, has already implemented a €2 surcharge specifically to cover the cost of EU compensation claims.

But for those who have paid thousands of hard-earned pounds for flights the prospect of making a justified claim is very real.

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