A Guide to Your Airline Compensation Rights
What You Need to Know
- If your flight is cancelled or delayed you are only eligible for compensation if your case meets certain criteria. This includes a range of factors, from how long you are delayed, to the destinations you’re flying to and from. See the ‘Criteria for Claiming Your Rights’ section for more details.
- If your flight is cancelled or you are prevented from boarding the plane due to overbooking, the airline is legally obliged to provide you with a leaflet outlining your rights to compensation. However, some airlines my try and avoid doing this. Be sure to demand it.
- If your flight is cancelled the airline is obliged to provide you with certain amenities during the delay, such as phone calls, meals and sometimes even hotel rooms. See the ‘Assistance at the Airport’ section for details.
- If you are entitled to a refund, the airline has to provide it within seven days of your claim being made.
- The amount of compensation you’re entitled to depends on the length of your flight. See the ‘Refunds and Compensation’ section for details.
- Even if your flight goes as planned you may still be entitled to compensation. See the ‘Downgrades and Baggage Issues’ section for details.
- Airlines often escape having to pay compensation by using a clause in EU regulations which lets airlines off in 'exceptional circumstances'. Read the ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ section to see if this applies to your case.
Criteria for Claiming Your Rights
Before you can go about claiming your legal rights to compensation or assistance in the event of a flight being cancelled, you need to make sure you are eligible to do so. Under the European Union's Denied Boarding Regulations, passengers have a legal right to protection should they have a confirmed booking, have checked-in on time and if they are flying either to or from an EU airport.
It is also vital that you have not been denied boarding due to failing to comply with baggage regulations or similar criteria. In all cases the rules for compensation only apply where boarding was involuntarily denied due to cancellation or a delay of at least two hours.
If the airline knows in advance it will have to cancel the flight it can avoid refunding you. For example, if you are told in advanced and offered re-routing options you may not be able to get compensation. The full details of the different scenarios in which this might apply are listed in this leaflet which gives a full outline of your rights.
Assistance at the Airport
Once it has been confirmed that a flight has been cancelled, the airline in question is legally obliged to provide passengers with written details of their rights under the Denied Boarding Regulation. Also at the airport, all passengers are entitled to claim two free phone calls or emails from their airline, as well as free meals and refreshments appropriate to the length of any delay, and, if appropriate, free hotel accommodation and transfers.
Passengers booked onto a delayed flight will be given the choice of re-routing to their planned destination at the earliest-possible opportunity, or else at a later time that is convenient to them, with most airports offering the facilities to compare flights online before making a decision. In the case of connecting net flights being cancelled, then passengers will be offered the chance to fly back to their point of departure as soon as possible and to receive a full refund on their ticket.
Refunds and compensation
Alternatively, passengers may also claim a full refund on a flight that is cancelled, with airlines duty-bound to provide this within seven days of a claim being made.
On top of the choice between a new flight or a refund, passengers may also be entitled to compensation from the airline. This is largely dependant on the length of any delay and how far an individual passenger is travelling. Should a carrier offer a replacement flight that will incur a delayed arrival time of less than two hours, then no compensation will be paid.
However, the Denied Boarding Regulation does set out minimum compensation amounts for passengers hit by delays of more than two hours, with these levels rising according to length of total delay and distance due to be travelled. The rates of compensation are as follows;
- Flights of 1,500km or less: €250 (about £220)
- Flights between 1,500km and 3,500km: €400 (about £350)
- Flights of more than 3,500km: €600 (about £530)
Airlines do not, however, have to offer compensation of any sort for 'exceptional circumstances', or things that are outside of their control. For example, should a flight be cancelled due to severe weather or a workers' strike, then the above regulations do not apply. Furthermore, even when a delay is their fault, airlines do not have an obligation to refund related losses, such as missed connections, hotel costs or stress and emotional distress.
Downgrades and Baggage Issues
Even if you do get on your scheduled flight and take off on time, there are still occasions on which you might be owed compensation due to the negligence of an airline. For example, should your luggage be lost, damaged or get delayed, you can claim up to around €1,200 (£850) in compensation.
Furthermore, if you’re ticket is downgraded to a lower class of seating you can also claim compensation (although this is not printed on the EU’s factsheet.) As with cancellations the amount you’re entitled to depends on the length of you flight. You are entitled to a 30% rebate on the price of a short-haul ticket, and a 75% rebate on a long-haul ticket.
- Further information on airline passenger rights can be found on the website of the Civil Aviation Authority, which is the UK's specialist aviation regulator.
- details of the Denied Boarding Regulation can be found on the European Union's website.
- Here is a sample of the leaflet outlining you rights, which you should be given in the event that your flight is cancelled.