In our July 2014 survey of 2079 UK adults, problems with delays and cancellations came out as top in a list of people's holiday gripes. 

If you have had problems with flight delays, read on for our advice.

If you're travelling with an airline based in the EU or with a non-EU based airline flying from an EU airport, then 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.

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. Check the airline's Condition of Carriage to see what compensation you are entitled to.

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. That includes all European discount and no-frills airlines)

In summary

  • You're not entitled to compensation if the delay was due to 'extraordinary circumstances' such as severe weather
  • You may be entitled to compensation if your delay was more than two hours and you were travelling more than 932 miles

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

Flight and delay length requirements:

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

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

  • Two free phone calls, faxes or e-mails
  • Free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay
  • Free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required
  • You can also choose not to travel, and get a refund of your ticket cost if the delay lasts for five hours or more (but the flight is not cancelled).

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

If the airline can prove the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, then 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.

Technical problems can be 'extraordinary circumstances' but not where the problem should have been picked up by routine maintenance.

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 are 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, then contact the Civil Aviation Authority and seek their assistance. They 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.

If there are no extraordinary circumstances, you can use our letter template to request financial compensation under the Denied Boarding Regulation as detailed in the table below. If you paid for a cancelled flight that cost less than £100 on a credit or debit card, you  can also use our template letter to make a chargeback claim

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

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.

Three British companies - British Airways, EasyJet and Tui Travel - had disputed the 2009 decision and claims from UK customers were put on hold, meaning airlines could not be compelled to pay compensation for delays.

Cases that were on hold should now be dealt with, and airlines should no longer argue they do not have to pay out if you claim for compensation after a flight delay of three or more hours.

However, they 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.

In the first test case since the 2012 ECJ decision, in January 2013, Stoke-on-Trent county court ruled that Thomas Cook must pay compensation to passengers who, in 2009, had experienced a 22-hour delay caused by a mechanical fault.

Which? has launched a campaign to help you tackle your holiday problems when things go wrong. 

Our research reveals that six million of you experienced an issue with your holiday over the last two years. We want holiday makers to be able to quickly resolve any problems that may arise by providing you with the means to take action. 

We need support to help us achieve our aim. Join our campaign today.

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