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Flight cancelled or delayed? Your rights explained

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20/07/2022
With no sign of the problems in UK aviation easing over the peak summer period, many will worry whether holidays will still go ahead. Here are the common questions I receive about flight rights.

What are the regulations covering me if I have a flight problem?

The Denied Boarding Regulation (261/2004 EC) applies to passengers departing from an airport within the EU, whatever the airline is. It also applies to passengers departing from an airport outside the EU bound for an airport within the EU, if the operating air carrier is a ‘community carrier’, i.e it has a valid operating licence granted by an EU state.The EC Regulations have been written into UK law as The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

This law gives you the legal right to compensation if things go wrong. However, recent research by campaign group Which? found that only 38% of people claimed what was due to them.

What are my rights if I have to wait at the airport for a delayed or later cancelled flight?

The airline must look after you. This means providing you with food, drinks and access to communications, in the unlikely event you don’t have a mobile phone or it’s not charged.

You are entitled to this if you are delayed more than two hours on short haul, three hours on medium and four hours on long haul. The delay is always based on the arrival time, not the departure time.

If you are delayed overnight, the airline must provide you with a hotel and travel to and from it.

And all of these must still be provided even if the delay was out of the airline’s control (more on this below).

My flight was cancelled, will I receive compensation?

If the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before the flight, you will be due compensation. This can be anything from £110 to £520, depending on how long the flight is and how long the delay is if you take a replacement flight. You can check your flight details using this Webflyer calculator.

Can I get a flight with another airline?

If the airline cannot offer you a suitable flight, then you can book with another airline. You should keep these costs as low as possible and keep evidence that it was the cheapest flight available. The airline might try and encourage you to wait until the next day, but if that isn’t suitable for you then you can insist on a replacement flight.

The airline’s offered vouchers instead of a cash refund. Can it do this?

The rules state that if you want a refund it must be given to you. An airline may offer you a voucher with a further discount which you may want to consider, but you are under no obligation to take this.

The airline’s overbooked. What are my rights?

The airline must ask for volunteers to not take the flight. If it’s not an essential flight for you for that day and time, you could consider accepting this, particularly as the airline should keep raising the offer until it has enough people to take this compensation. You should get cash or vouchers but also a seat on a later flight, with food and accommodation if it’s a long or overnight wait.

If you are forced off due to overbooking, your rights are the same as above.

How long do I have to wait before I decide not to travel?

Once your flight is delayed by more than five hours and you no longer want to travel, you are entitled to a refund.

The airline quoted ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and said it won’t pay compensation. Is this right?

Pilots turning up late, cancelled bookings due to under booking, over booking, technical difficulties etc. are examples of the airline at fault and so passengers can complain and get compensation.

However, something that is out of the airline’s control, such as air traffic controllers striking and severe weather events would be considered as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

The aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a list of the delayed and cancelled flight situations which it considers to be ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

My flight was delayed/cancelled due to the hot weather. What are my rights?

This would be deemed as ‘exceptional circumstances’ so you are not entitled to compensation but you will be entitled to everything else as above.

I missed a connecting flight. What happens here?

If, due to a delay of less than three hours, you miss your connecting flight and so arrived at the final destination more than three hours late, you are entitled to compensation. However, this is only the case if you book both flights together.

Airlines may try and argue this. But in March 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that airlines must pay compensation when passengers miss a connecting flight and arrive more than three hours late at a destination outside of the EU.

I have lost the cost of my accommodation. Am I entitled to redress?

This is a slightly grey area. The EU laws don’t cover ‘consequential losses’. However domestic law may. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) came into force to cover airlines from 1 October 2016 but it is such a new law that it’s largely untested. We would need a definitive ruling from a judge to make this clearer.

The CAA has been looking at how the CRA will work with the Montreal Convention (MC), as it is very complicated regarding what and when you are covered as the MC applies once in the sky and over rules anything else. However, it is far from clear cut.

Unfortunately, you also can’t get consequential losses on anything using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 is for refunds only.

The queue at security was so long I missed my flight. Am I due anything?

The CAA, says: “If you miss a flight due to a long queue at security, even though you arrived at the airport on time, it is unlikely that an airline would pay compensation or consider itself obliged to offer you a free alternative flight.”

However, it added: “We are pleased to see that some airlines are helping their passengers find alternative flights voluntarily.”

Help…The airline says I have to phone to claim compensation but I can’t get through.

There are no rules on how you must claim but you must claim within six years. Put your claim in writing. State when and where you bought the flight, the booking reference, the flight number, the date and time of the flights and the time of arrival/length of delay. If the airline does not provide an email address, use website ceoemail.com to get the email address for the CEO. The boss may not respond personally, but it will get your claim into the system, at executive level.

The airline refuses to pay out. What can I do?

If the airline is a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider, such as The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), you can submit your case there. It will make a decision which is binding on the airline. If the airline is not a member of an ADR scheme, you can take the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

You can complain to an airline in the EU but if you have difficulty or need further help, contact the UK European Consumer Centre which helps with cross-border disputes.

I booked my flight as part of package holiday and my flight was affected. What do I do?

You will need to contact the travel company and discuss your options regarding new flights, refunds etc. However, you are also still entitled to any of the compensation due under The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

What does the ATOL scheme do?

ATOL stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence and is a UK financial protection scheme run by the CAA which protects air package holidays and linked travel arrangements sold by travel businesses.

The scheme protects holidaymakers if they’re stranded abroad and it provides financial reimbursement for the costs of replacing part of an ATOL protected package.

If the company goes into administration the scheme is used to refund, repatriate or reimburse travellers for the cost of repaying the affected parts of the trip. If you buy two or more types of travel service together, packaged up by the travel organiser and you purchase both within a 24 hour period, this is a linked travel arrangement.

It is responsible for providing financial protection for the refund when a travel service is not carried out due to insolvency. If it is responsible for the carriage of passengers – e.g. airline flights – then it is also responsible for their repatriation. But the cover is not as high as if you buy a package as it not financially responsible for both flight and accommodation.

Helen Dewdney – The Complaining Cow –  is a consumer champion and consumer rights expert who has written two best-selling books on How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer. YourMoney.com readers can get 15% off these publications with the discount code YMCow.

She has joined forces with YourMoney.com to provide our readers with tips, information and action points when it comes to your consumer rights. If you’ve a burning question or a problem and would like Helen’s help on a consumer issue, email us on hello@yourmoney.com where we’ll aim to right those wrongs.

As part of our consumer rights series, see Rail Strikes: Your travel and refund rights and Never pay full price again: The best money saving apps and sites for more information.

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