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Snowstorms wreck travel plans – but what are your rights?

Chaos at Heathrow, with thousands of British Airways passengers left stranded

Passengers face a second day of travel disruption as wintry weather leaves flights cancelled and delayed.

Queues and cancellations occurred at airports across the country, with those travelling in or out of Heathrow with British Airways thought to be worst affected.

While most rival airlines managed to operate out of Heathrow on Monday, British Airways was still cancelling flights. Stranded passengers complained that there was a lack of information about how to rebook, and that there were too few customer service agents.

A spokesperson for British Airways told Which?: ‘Time spent on de-icing aircraft to ensure safe operation, plus air traffic control restrictions and the re-positioning of aircraft and crews from yesterday have led to further cancellations and delays today.

‘Customers who have had their flight cancelled can rebook to travel up to 14 days after the date of their original booking, subject to availability. We will also rebook customers with other carriers and to alternative destinations so that they can travel as soon as possible.’

All passengers should check their flights before travelling to the airport.

Passengers must be informed of their rights

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: ‘Passengers who have had their British Airways flights cancelled at short notice will question why they have been left stranded when many other carriers continue to run a relatively on-time schedule of flights from Heathrow.

‘We welcome BA confirming to us that it will rebook passengers on alternative flights and, importantly, that this will include booking seats with other airlines so that passengers can travel as soon as possible. Where legally obliged, it must also inform passengers of their rights and proactively pay compensation and reimburse reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.’

Can I claim flight delay or cancellation compensation?

You could be entitled to claim as much as €600 in compensation, per person, if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

But airlines can refuse to pay compensation if the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances, such as severe weather.

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 carriers continue to run a relatively on-time schedule.

Ask your airline what the specific reason was for the delay or cancellation of your flight. Passengers should not be fobbed off with a generic ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

If the reason for the delay or cancellation is something within the airline’s control, such as a lack of de-icing agents or planes out of position, you’re likely to be due compensation.

If your airline can’t provide an answer, you should submit a claim. Airlines may stretch the definition of extraordinary circumstances further than they should.

Which? can help you start your claim for flight delay or cancellation compensation.

My flight has been cancelled – what should I do?

If your flight is cancelled your airline has a duty of care towards you, and it’s legally required 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 Denied Boarding Regulation (EU261) – the EU law that governs air passenger’s rights – also requires that your airline lets you choose either to rebook on a different flight to your destination at no further cost to you, or cancel your booking a claim a full refund.

Article 8 of the Denied Boarding Regulation means your airline is legally required to book you on a comparable flight either with them or an alternative airline.

If other airlines are operating flights to the same destination as your cancelled flight, you should be rebooked on the next available flight to your destination – regardless of whether you booked with that airline or not.

Alternatively, you can cancel your booking and claim a refund – but your airline’s duty of care towards you will end at that point.

For more information see our guide to your rights if your flight is cancelled.

My flight has been delayed – what should I do?

If your flight’s delayed for more than two hours, 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

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.

For more information see our guide to your rights if your flight is delayed.

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