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Flight delayed or cancelled? How to claim compensation

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Were you affected by the Ryanair strike action last week or have you suffered long delays or cancellations while flying this summer? You may be entitled to claim compensation.

Here’s what you need to know, courtesy of Bott & Co solicitors.

Flight delay and cancellation rights

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to compensation for the loss of time and inconvenience suffered due to a delay or cancellation, whether you paid £50 or £500 for a ticket.

You can claim up to €600 per passenger – around £520 depending on the exchange rate – if you arrive more than three hours late to your destination (rather than three hours late from departure) because you were denied boarding, the flight was delayed or it was cancelled less than 14 days before you’re due to travel.

The compensation amount is fixed, depending on whether your flight was delayed three or 24 hours.

The journey must depart from a European Union country on any airline or it must be arriving in the EU on an airline which is based in the EU:


To be eligible for compensation for cancelled flights, the flight must be either leaving the EU or arriving in the EU on an EU carrier. But there are some important details to this.

If the flight was cancelled more than 14 days before it was due to depart, you’d be eligible for a refund of the cost of the ticket, or a replacement flight but not compensation.

If the flight was cancelled between seven and 14 days before it was due to depart, you could be eligible for flight cancellation compensation, depending on the circumstances.

For flights cancelled less than seven days before departure, you can claim flight cancellation compensation with the amounts depending on how much inconvenience you suffer.

With all flight cancellations, you’re entitled to either a full refund or re-routing to your intended destination on any airline at the earliest available opportunity. If the airline can’t get you to your original destination within a certain time based on your original arrival time, then you could claim compensation under the EU regulation.


Not the airline’s fault or extraordinary circumstances

Many mistakenly believe that it must be the airlines fault in order for you to claim. But the regulation states that it must be ‘inherent’ in the normal activity of an airline for a claim to be valid.

While a delay may not be an airline’s fault, it still has the responsibility to do something about it.

As an example, the driver of motorised steps hit the side of the plane causing sufficient damage which delayed the flight by more than three hours.

But some circumstances are so unusual they’re classed as ‘extraordinary’, the only valid defence used by airlines to halt compensation claims. But what’s classed as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ is often a grey area and many courts are testing the definition.

Some examples include airlines telling passengers delays were due to hidden manufacturing defects when in fact it was an ordinary technical problem which meant flyers were eligible for compensation.

But generally, extraordinary circumstances applies to acts of terrorism or sabotage, security risks, extreme weather such as volcanic ash cloud, political or civil unrest, and industrial action, so strikes which are unrelated to the airline.

These cases are not extraordinary so you may be entitled to compensation: issues with airline staff eg crew turning up late or understaffing issues, denied boarding due to flight being overbooked and ‘wildcat strikes’ (sudden strikes by flight staff).

Recovering expenses

If you’ve had to pay for food, drinks, accommodation or taxis from your own pocket as a result of the delays, you should be able to recover the expenses as part of your claim. This is down to the ‘care and assistance’ obligations on airlines which they should cover at the time of the delay, but costs can be incurred later.

Care and assistance starts after delays of 2 hours (for flights under 1,500km) or 3 hours (for flights between 1,500km and 3,500km) or 4 hours for flights over 3,500km, and regardless of the delay reason, the airline must provide you with:

  • Food and drink in reasonable relation to waiting time
  • Free hotel accommodation when a stay of one night or more is necessary
  • Free transport between the airport and the hotel
  • Two free telephone calls, emails, telex or fax messages.

Further questions and answers

Is a flight from London to Dubai covered?

A flight from London to Dubai on any airline is covered by the rules (because it departs from the EU), but a flight from Dubai to London would only be covered if it was on an EU airline such as British Airways or Air France and not on a non-EU airline such as Etihad or Emirates.

Flight delayed on ‘arrival’ – when is arrival?

The arrival time in terms of flight delay compensation under Regulation 261 is the time the aircraft doors are opened, not the touchdown time or the time the plane reaches the terminal.

How far back can I claim?

EU Regulation 261/2004 came into effect on 17 February 2005 which means technically you can claim as far back as this. But Bott & CO says the reality is that you’re unlikely to gain compensation for delays over six years old.

What about connecting flights?

In the European Court of Justice case of Claudia Wegener v Royal Air Maroc SA, the ECJ ruled in favour of passengers for non-EU connecting flights that have been delayed, cancelled or flights in which boarding is denied are now claimable.

This means passengers who are denied boarding, delayed more than three hours or have a cancelled flight on non-EU connecting flights are now eligible for compensation if the cause is not extraordinary circumstances. The judgment noted that a change of aircraft has no impact whatsoever on passengers’ right to claim.

Should I use a claims company?

With most claims, you should be able to do this by yourself and for free, rather than paying c. 30% to a claims management company. See the Civil Aviation Authority’s guide to claim. But if your claim is particularly complex or it may be heading to court level, you can use a reputable firm, such as Bott & Co.

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