The rules on flight delays
If you booked a flight that either departed from Europe or was with a European airline, you're protected by the Denied Boarding Regulation - or EU Regulation 261/2004 - if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
If you're more than three hours late arriving at your destination you could also be entitled to claim flight delay compensation. You can use our free flight delay compensation tool to make a claim.
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.
Delayed due to long security queues?
If you miss a flight due to security queues you are unlikely to qualify for compensation from your airline, as the time it takes to get through security is out of the airline's control.
However, there may be some circumstances in which you can claim - for example, if your flight is delayed due to knock-on effects of security delays. If you are unsure whether you're entitled to compensation, use our free flight delay claim tool below.
Your entitlement for flight delays
Under EU Regulation 261/2004 - or the Denied Boarding Regulation - what you're entitled to depends on the length of your delay and the length of your flight.
If your flight’s delayed for more than two hours your airline have to give you:
- 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.
The airline should give you vouchers to get these things at the airport. Ask someone who works for the airline if you’re not offered any help.
If they don’t give you help at the airport, keep receipts for expenses and try to claim from the airline later. Airlines only pay for ‘reasonable’ expenses - you won’t get money back for alcohol, expensive meals or luxury hotels.
If your flight’s delayed for more than three hours you're still entitled to food, drink, phone calls and accommodation. Each affected passenger can also claim flight delay compensation if the delay is not due to ‘extraordinary circumstances'.
If your flight’s delayed for more than five hours you're entitled to choose between being rerouted on a different flight or get a refund, just as if your flight had been cancelled. And each affected passenger is still entitled to claim flight delay compensation if the delay is not due to ‘extraordinary circumstances'.
Claim flight delay compensation
Flight delay & cancellation compensation calculator
If you travelled to or from a UK airport and your flight was delayed or cancelled, we can help you calculate what compensation you can claim for free.Start your claim
If your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late each affected passenger is entitled to claim compensation.
The distance of your flight, length, and the reason for the delay will affect how much compensation you can claim.
You can claim flight delay compensation claim in accordance with the Denied Boarding Regulation as detailed in the table below.
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 distance||How late arriving||Entitlement|
|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|
The Court of Appeal decision in the joint cases of Gahan v Emirates and Buckley v Emirates means passengers flying with a non-EU airline are entitled to compensation if a flight departing from the UK is delayed by at least three hours at the final destination, as a result of a missed connection outside Europe.
This means that European guidelines on passenger rights during disruption are now clear, the final destination of a connecting flight is the last airport listed on the passenger's ticket.
For example, if you are flying from London to Sydney with a stopover in Singapore and the Singapore to Sydney portion of your journey is delayed by more than 3 hours - or cancelled - you are entitled to claim EU flight delay compensation.
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).
Challenge extraordinary circumstances
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.
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.
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.
How to appeal a decision
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) hold a list of approved providers of ADR schemes and the airlines they cover.
Please note the Civil Aviation Authority can only help you if the flight was cancelled or delayed within the UK, or was on a UK based airline. 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.
Regardless of whether you choose to use a CAA approved ADR scheme, you still have the right to take an airline to the small claims court if you feel it is unfairly refusing your compensation. But it's a good idea to seek legal advice before taking this step.
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