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Jetting off this Christmas? Flight delay & cancellation rights

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Thinking of escaping the Christmas chaos? If your flight is delayed or cancelled, it’s important to know your rights.

Heathrow and Gatwick airport are already reporting record passenger numbers, and the festive season has barely started yet. But the recent snow has prompted flight delays and should remind travellers to be prepared.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures show around 60,000 flights annually are delayed by 15 minutes or more. The failure of Monarch airlines this year also demonstrates why it’s important to understand your rights .

Your flight delay and cancellation rights explained

You are covered under the Denied Boarding Regulation if you travel from an EU airport (including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) on any airline, or if you arrive at an EU airport and the flight is operated by an EU airline.

Under this regulation, if your flight is delayed, you may be entitled to meals, refreshment, phone calls and email, plus overnight accommodation, depending on the circumstances.

You may also be able to claim for compensation, depending on how long the delay is and how far you’re flying. However, if the airline can prove the delay or cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, such as a strike (unrelated to an airline), acts of terrorism or weather, you won’t get compensation except – potentially – through your travel insurance policy.

Long haul travellers (over 3,500km) could be entitled to €300 if their plane lands between three or four hours late, and €600 if their flight is more than four hours behind schedule.

Passengers flying short haul (under 1,500km) are also potentially eligible to claim up to €250 if they are delayed by more than three hours.

Anyone travelling on a medium haul flight (1,500km – 3,500m) can claim €400 for delays of more than three hours.

If your flight is cancelled, your airline must get you to your destination via an alternative flight or it must offer you a full refund.

If you received less than 14 days’ notice of the cancellation, you may be able to claim compensation, but again, if it wasn’t the airline’s fault, such as bad weather, don’t expect any compensation.

How to claim compensation

Once you’ve checked you’re entitled to compensation, you should contact your airline directly as it should have a claims process, often issuing a standard claim form. The CAA says you need to aim to set out your case clearly and concisely, explaining what happened and when, being clear about what you want to achieve, such as compensation and expenses.

It says you should give the airline details such as your full contact details, booking reference, travel dates, flight number, departure and destination airports, details of the disruption, the length of the delay and any names of staff you spoke to. It’s also important to include any receipts and emails. You can download the CAA’s standard claim template letter to make the process easier.

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