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Flight chaos: Your rights if your flight is affected

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Hundreds of flights to and from the UK have been cancelled after technical issues sent UK air traffic control into meltdown over the bank holiday weekend.

All airlines operating in the UK have been affected, with more than 500 flights cancelled yesterday and today.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which runs air traffic control, issued a series of statements yesterday (Monday), explaining that technical issues meant it had to apply air traffic flow restrictions and input flight plans manually to ensure safety. The issue was fixed at 15.15 yesterday but, by then, a huge number of flights had been delayed or cancelled with the knock-on effect of disruption expected to last several days.

Airlines including British Airways, Jet2.com, Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air, Loganair and Aer Lingus have all issued statements apologising for the inconvenience but pointing out that the disruption was out of their control.

Your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled

If you’re expecting to fly to or from a UK airport over the coming days, you should contact your airline to check the status of your flight.

Unfortunately, you are unlikely to receive compensation as the technical issues are outside of the airlines’ control. But airlines still have to fulfil certain legal obligations such as offering timely rerouting or providing overnight accommodation or food and drink.

Ceri McMillan, Go.Compare’s travel expert, said: “If your flight has been delayed or cancelled due to this weekend’s technical fault and you are travelling with a UK or EU-based airline, you will need to call the airline first as they have a duty to look after you. This includes finding you an alternative flight and refunding you under the rules set by the Civil Aviation Authority.

“If you are due to fly to the UK, but you are stuck abroad, you may be offered an alternative flight, other travel dates or even a refund, so make sure you contact them as soon as possible.

“The airlines also have to provide you with assistance until you can fly back to the UK, which includes refunding you for the cost of food and drink, any phone calls that need to be made and accommodation if you can’t get a flight that day. If you are struggling to get hold of your travel provider, then keep hold of any receipts for food or drink and you should be able to claim these back at a later date.”

If you bought a package holiday with a travel agent or tour operator, then you should also be covered under ATOL or ABTA protection, and again, your holiday provider should be your first port of call.

Under ATOL or ABTA protection, you should be able to claim if things don’t go to plan on your trip and they may rearrange accommodation and travel for you or refund the total cost of your holiday. However, if you book your flights and accommodation separately, then you may not have this type of protection.

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel said: “Passengers understand that this is not an issue caused by airlines, but are frustrated by the poor communication and lack of care they receive from carriers. During travel crises we see repeat offending from airlines looking to wriggle out of their legal responsibilities knowing that they’re unlikely to face any real consequences for leaving passengers high and dry during periods of disruption.

“The Civil Aviation Authority should be monitoring the situation closely, and stand ready to take enforcement action against any airline found to be failing in its responsibilities to passengers. The Prime Minister must play his part and prioritise legislation to deliver the Government’s commitment for stronger enforcement powers in the King’s Speech later this year, so that this ongoing cycle of poor behaviour from airlines can finally be broken.”

Are you covered by travel insurance?

Some travel insurance policies may cover delays, but that cover might depend on what your airline does, the length of time of the delays and the policy that you have taken out. For instance, some policies may cover delays of up to 12 hours while others would only cover you if you have been delayed for 24 hours or more.

McMillan said: “You might also be able to make a claim from your travel insurance policy for costs associated with missed connections, but again that will depend on the compensation from your airline as they should refund the flight costs.

“Whilst many people will be facing long delays as a result of this technical fault, you shouldn’t have to lose out financially as there are rules and regulations in place to protect those who have been affected. It’s not how anyone wants to end their holiday, but travel companies should be able to provide some assistance so that the delay is as comfortable as possible.”