Advice on flight delays
Speak to Which? Legal for affordable advice on dealing with a flight delay, and get help with making a claim.
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 four hours late arriving at your destination, you could also be entitled to claim EU flight delay compensation of up to €600 per person.
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
What assistance you're entitled to depends on the length of your delay and the length of your flight.
Flight delay of more than two hours
If your flight’s delayed for at least two hours and depending on how far you're flying, your airline has 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.
|When you're entitled to assistance|
|Type of flight||Distance||How long you have to wait|
Up to 1,500km (932 miles)
Flight time is usually about 2 hours or less
|2 hours or more|
Between 1,500km - 3,500km (932-2,175 miles)
Flight time is usually between 2 about 4 hours
|3 hours or more|
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)
Flight time is usually more than 4 hours
|4 hours or more|
Each affected passenger can also claim flight delay compensation if the delay is not due to ‘extraordinary circumstances'.
Flight delay of more than five hours
If your flight’s delayed for more than five hours you're entitled to choose between being rerouted on a different flight or getting 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'.
Timeline for claims
You can make a claim up to six years after the delayed or cancelled flight if your flight flew in or out of a UK airport.
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 flight delay 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 EU 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|
Compensation for connecting flights
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 are extraordinary circumstances?
If the airline can prove the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, it won't have to pay you compensation.
Extraordinary circumstances are situations beyond the control of the airline.
List of extraordinary circumstances for flight delays
- a security risk
- unlawful acts
- political instability
- drone disruption
- long security queues
- severe weather that makes flying dangerous
- restricted Air Traffic Control operations
- strikes by non-airline staff (eg baggage handlers employed by the airport)
Strikes by airline staff are not considered an extraordinary circumstance, so you should receive compensation. See our guide on what to expect from your airline in the event of a strike.
Although you are not entitled to financial compensation when there's an extraordinary circumstance, you are entitled to assistance when your flight is delayed.
Assistance includes meals, refreshments, accommodation and hotel transfers, depending on the length of your flight and delay.
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.
Challenge extraordinary circumstances
It’s worth challenging your airline if you don't agree that there were extraordinary circumstances because airlines may stretch the definition of extraordinary circumstances further than they should.
For example, if you're told you can't fly due to weather conditions, but other flights are departing you could challenge whether the adverse weather really was the genuine cause of the delay.
There may be some circumstances in which you can claim - for example, if your flight is delayed due to knock-on effects resulting from an extraordinary circumstance.
For example, if on Wednesday morning there was drone disruption at the airport, delays that day would be classed as an extraordinary circumstance.
But if you travelled on Thursday after the drone disruption took place, and your flight was delayed as a result of it, this would be seen as a knock-on effect and you could be entitled to a make claim.
Will my flight delay rights be affected by Brexit?
If the withdrawal agreement is approved by the EU and UK, it's been agreed that consumer rights will remain unchanged until the terms of the future relationship between the UK and the EU are decided.
In a no-deal Brexit scenario there could be potential disruption to flights, but the government announced in September 2019 flights will continue to run smoothly after the UK leaves the EU, whatever the circumstances.
The Department for Transport has said it will extend the UK's air traffic rights for EU airlines until October 2020, so air services between the UK and the EU can continue to operate as usual, regardless of whether a new Brexit deal is agreed.
If flight disruption resulting from Brexit is regarded as an extraordinary circumstance, you won't be entitled to compensation or a refund on admin fees or accommodation losses, but you should try to get a refund on your ticket.
The government has advised you check with your travel insurer whether you would be covered for flight delays as a result of Brexit disruption.
Read our guide on how Brexit could impact consumer rights for more information.
You can also sign up for Brexit advice updates - Which? cuts through the noise to find the facts. Our practical and impartial consumer advice, rigorously researched and regularly delivered by email, can help you prepare for the UK leaving the EU.
Can I claim for extra out-of-pocket expenses for a delayed flight?
As well as the compensation you could be owed under EU Regulation 261/2004, you might also be entitled to claim for any extra out-of-pocket expenses under the Montreal Convention.
For example, these could include if the flight delay or cancellation caused you to:
- miss a night of pre-booked accommodation
- miss a concert or event you’d bought tickets to
- miss a day of car rental which you’d already paid for
However, this can be quite a tricky legal argument. If you’d like to know if you may be entitled to additional compensation contact Which? Legal for one-to-one advice.
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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