Passengers travelling from the UK have certain rights in the event their flight is cancelled or delayed.
In this guide, we outline your entitlements and what airlines are legally obliged to offer you if your flight has been cancelled or delayed.
What are you entitled to if your flight has been cancelled?
If your flight is cancelled, the airline must offer you the option of being reimbursed or rerouted (either on the next available flight or on an agreed date), and must also provide you with meals and telephone calls.
If rerouting involves departing the following day or later, you are entitled to hotel accommodation if necessary.
In addition, you are entitled to compensation, unless:
- you are told of the cancellation at least two weeks before departure, or
- you are told of the cancellation between one and two weeks before departure, and rerouting your flight will get you to your final destination no more than four hours late,
- rerouting will get you to your destination no more than two hours late.
There is an exception to the right to compensation if the airline can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken by the airline.
If you had booked a return flight, the airline must refund you for both legs of your journey if you opt for the refund on both flights. You should get back the full cost of the tickets.
Technical faults do not count as examples of extraordinary circumstances.
Compensation for cancelled flights
You can claim for compensation for your cancelled flight if the cancellation is the airline’s responsibility, and either your flight was cancelled fewer than 14 days before departure or the replacement flight will cause a 2-hour delay in your arrival.
The amount you are entitled to will depend on both the distance of your flight and the length of the delay (ie how late you are getting to your destination).
|Delay to your arrival||Flight distance||Compensation|
|3 hours or more||Less than 1,500km||£220|
|Between 1,500km and 3,500km||£350|
|4 hours or more||More than 3,500km||£520|
You have to claim from the airline to get compensation.
Is a technical issue an ‘exceptional circumstance’?
No, technical issues do not count as exceptional circumstances in relation to cancelled and delayed flights.
This is vital to remember because if an airline can show that your delay was caused by a rare occurrence, it is no longer required to compensate you. Security risks, extreme weather, and drone disruption are examples of extraordinary conditions outside the airline’s control.
Do airlines have to rebook for me if my flight is cancelled?
Yes. If your flight is cancelled, the airline must give you a rebooking on any feasible route that gets you to your destination as close to your arrival time as practicable, even if that means flying with a different airline. Depending on the extent of inconvenience you’ve experienced, the airline must also keep you informed of your rights and entitlements. compensation.
If the airline refuses to rebook you, you may be able to do so yourself. However, your carrier is likely to contest your claim, and you may have to go through alternative dispute resolution or small claims court to recover your funds.
Customers should not be limited to rebooking onto the airline’s own flights or those of its ‘partner airlines.’ You should be permitted to rebook on any airline where a comparable class of travel to booking is available, such as if an earlier flight on a different carrier is available.
Do you have to accept a refund for a cancelled flight?
Choose the option that best fits your circumstances; if you do need or want to travel, you may opt to rebook, but you may decide you don’t want the hassle and opt not to travel and to take the refund. You cannot, however, request both a refund and a rebooking.
Remember also that if the delay is not due to exceptional circumstances, you could be eligible to claim flight delay compensation, regardless of whether you choose a rebooking or a refund.
Am I entitled to food and accommodation if my flight is delayed?
In general, if your flight is delayed for more than two hours and depending on how far you’re going, your airline must also provide you with the following:
- Two free phone calls, faxes, or emails
- Free lunches and snacks in accordance with the length of the delay
- If an overnight stay is required, free hotel accommodations and hotel transportation should be provided.
- The airline might give you vouchers to get these things at the airport.
What happens if I am delayed overnight?
If you’re stranded overnight due to a flight cancellation or delay, the airline is responsible for paying for your hotel room.
Passengers should note it can take some time to be reimbursed by the airline for these expenses, and the airline may also impose a limit on the amount that can be claimed for accommodation. As such, it is advisable in the first instance to attempt to book a hotel through the airline. If you can’t contact them, book a hotel room and keep proof of payment for your hotel reservation, as well as all other legitimate out-of-pocket expenses, such as late-night cabs. You can then file a refund claim with the airline.
What if my flight was delayed, can I get a refund?
If your flight was delayed by more than 5 hours and you decide you do not want to travel, you are entitled to the following from the airline:
- a full refund for the flight
- a full refund for other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, eg an onward or return flight
- if you’re part-way through a journey, a flight back to the airport you originally departed from
If you choose to travel, you will not be entitled to a refund but you may be entitled to compensation if the delay in your arrival is 3 hours or more and is the airline’s fault. Airlines will not be considered responsible for delays due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the airline’s control, such as bad weather or security risks.
How long do you have to claim flight refund and compensation?
Passengers travelling from the UK have up to six years to claim a flight refund and compensation. Local rules apply for travellers not travelling through the UK.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.