I had a flight delay, can I get compensation?

If your flight is delayed you could be entitled to compensation or a refund, so make sure you know your rights and are not left out of pocket.

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The rules on flight delays

If you're travelling with an airline based in the EU or with a non-EU based airline flying from an EU airport, you're protected by the Denied Boarding Regulation.

The regulation states that the airline has an obligation to offer you assistance if your flight delay is expected to go beyond a certain point.

Depending on the distance of your flight and the length, and reason for, your delay you could also be entitled to claim compensation.

The Denied Boarding Regulation applies if:

  • you have a confirmed booking
  • you checked in on time, or if no check-in time was given, then at least 45 minutes before your flight was scheduled to depart
  • you're departing from an EU airport, or from a non-EU airport and flying into an EU airport on a 'community carrier' (an airline with its headquarters and main place of business within the EU. This includes all European discount and no-frills airlines).

If you're travelling with a non-EU based airline flying from a non-EU destination, the airline doesn't have the same duty to look after you. But you can check the airline's Condition of Carriage to see what compensation you are entitled to.

Your entitlement for flight delays

Under the Denied Boarding Regulation, what you're entitled to depends on the length of your delay and the length of your flight.

You're entitled to meals, refreshments, phone calls and emails if one of the following occurs: 

  • a flight under 932 miles (for example, London to Venice) is delayed for at least two hours
  • a flight within the EU that is more than 932 miles (for example, London to Athens) is delayed by at least three hours
  • a flight that isn't within the EU but is between 932 and 2,174 miles is delayed for at least three hours
  • any other flight delayed for at least three hours.

Providing you qualify in one of the above categories you are entitled to:

  • two free phone calls, faxes or emails
  • free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay
  • free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required
  • if your delay is more than five hours, then you are entitled to choose between being rerouted or reimbursed in the same manner as if your flight had been cancelled.

You can use the flight distance mileage calculator to help you figure out what you can claim.

Flight delay compensation explained

Depending on the distance of your flight and the length, and reason for, your delay you could also be entitled to claim compensation.

Compensation for delay
Flight distanceHow late arrivingEntitlement
Up to 1,500km (932 miles)More than 3 hours€250
Any flight within the EU over 1,500km (932 miles) or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500 km (2,175 miles)More than 3 hours€400
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)Between 3-4 hours€300
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)More than 4 hours€600

Flight delay compensation tool

Claim flight delay compensation - use our free tool

If there are no extraordinary circumstances, you can claim delayed flight compensation using our free tool in accordance with the Denied Boarding Regulation as detailed in the table above. 

This tool will create a compensation claim letter that you will need to send to the airline. 

Before using this tool you will need to know:

  • the distance of your flight
  • the length of your delay
  • your flight number.

What is an extraordinary circumstance?

Compensation for delayed flights is dependant on the reason for the delay. 

If the airline can prove the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, no compensation is payable.

Extraordinary circumstances are situations beyond the control of the airline, for example, security risk, political instability or severe weather that makes flying dangerous. Strikes are also usually included in this category.

Although you are not entitled to financial compensation for flight delays in these circumstances, you are entitled to the meals, refreshments, accommodation and hotel transfers depending on the length of your flight and delay (as explained above).

It’s worth challenging your airline if you don't agree that there were extraordinary circumstances - for example, if you're told you can't fly due to weather conditions, but other flights are departing. Airlines may stretch the definition of extraordinary circumstances further than they should.

If you still feel aggrieved by the airline, contact the Civil Aviation Authority and seek its assistance. It may be able to intervene on your behalf.

Please note the Civil Aviation Authority can only help you if the flight was cancelled or delayed within the UK. 

If your flight was cancelled or delayed outside the UK, you will need to complain to the airline regulator in the country the delay occurred in.

If your flight has been delayed because of a strike, see our guide on what to expect from your airline in the event of a strike.

Court ruling on compensation

This right to compensation is not set out specifically by the Denied Boarding Regulation, but was upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 23 October 2012.

The 2012 ruling upheld an earlier ECJ decision of 19 November 2009 and stated that the Denied Boarding Regulation must be interpreted as giving passengers the right to compensation for delays of three or more hours.

However, the airlines can still argue that they do not have to pay compensation as a result of extraordinary circumstances in the same way they can with cancelled flights.

A 'technical problem' is not an extraordinary circumstance

Van der Lans v KLM

The European Court of Justice ruled that ‘a technical problem’ is not one of the extraordinary circumstances that airlines can use as a valid defence against paying flight delay compensation.

This is now one of the highest rulings on the issue of technical problems and is binding on all European courts.

Dispute resolution

If you have an unresolved complaint about an airline, it is required to inform you about an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme that you can use.  

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) holds a list of approved providers of ADR and the airlines they cover.

Regardless of whether you choose to use the CAA, you still have the right to take an airline to the small claims court if you feel it is unfairly refusing your compensation. But you may wish to seek legal advice before taking this step.

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Smartphone app for passenger rights

The European Commission has launched an app for passengers travelling in the EU. 

The application covers your rights for all modes of transport, and is available on the following platforms: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android, RIM Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7. 

Download the app here

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