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A Guide to Your Airline Compensation Rights

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What You Need to Know

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. If you are entitled to a refund, the airline has to provide it within seven days of your claim being made.
  5. The amount of compensation you’re entitled to depends on the length of your flight. See the ‘Refunds and Compensation’ section for details.
  6. Even if your flight goes as planned you may still be entitled to compensation. See the ‘Downgrades and Baggage Issues’ section for details.
  7. 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.

Alternative Flights

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)

Exceptional Circumstances

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 Reading

  • 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.
Linda Crawley Linda Crawley

How can I claim compensation from Viking Airlines for a 12hr delay in 2010, they have since gone bankrupt. Received 2 letters from the company carefully worded so that I was unable to claim from my travel insurance.

Judith Walsh Judith Walsh

We were booked on AA91 from LHR to ORD. After sitting in the airplane on the tarmac for five hours, the flight was cancelled for mechanical problems. We then had to stand in line for another two and a half hours while arrangements were made for overnight accomodations. We were told there were "no telephones available" and we received no vouchers for food because they said no food was available at one in the morning. We had boarded the plane at 4:30 PM and received one granola bar, a glass of water, and one bag of chips in that time. We were re-booked for a flight the next day at 12 noon. Shortly after getting to the assigned gate, we were told that flight was cancelled and re-booked again. We arrived home 22 hours after we should have arrived. American Airlines has given is 15,000 frequent flyer miles and refuses to communicate further. I do not believe this is adequate compensation. Where do I go from here?
Thank you


I spent 4 hours on the tarmac waiting for my BA flight to depart Barcelona to Heathrow, where I arrived with a 4 hour delay. Pilot explained that a stone had made an indent on the fuselage...: does this constitute an "exceptional circumstance" ?
I therefore missed my connection at Heathrow for Buenos Aires and was booked on the flight 24 hours later, missing all my business apointments. I am disabled and could not have the good seat to stretch my legs that I had booked 2 months before. Therefore, can I claim an economical compensation ? Thank you very much for your reply.

Rania Maged Rania Maged

I met A very rude crew on my last flight to USA ,I was travelling with my kid who is seven years old and asked for a blanket the hostess didn't want to provide me with leaving him very cold and crying at the end of the trip I saw a lot of blankets on the cabin ,I made a complain but the airline just answered we are sorry ,however this is not satisfying me at all ,so can I sue them and ask for compensation as my kid was very affected

Konstantin Konstantin

Dear Mr Kumar, that depends on the reason for cancellations. During bad weather disruptions for example it is normal that several flights are cancelled in a row. That is however not down to the airline, but rather ATC, AC etc. Consequently compensation will not received.

You can only be compensated if you get offloaded of a service due to oversales/operational reasons (i.g. aircraft configuration downgrade) or downgraded to a lower cabin due to oversales/operational of a cabin.

Therefore it is always crucial to know why a service has been cancelled.

Rajeev kumar Rajeev kumar

Dear sir,

Pls let me know the compensation policy in case a flight is cancelled and airlines book me on the alternate flight of their own airlines, which also subsequently cancelled.
If i meet all the laid down criteria of compensation , i would be eligible for compensation twice (one for cancellation of original flight an second for cancelling the alternate flight.) or only one compensation ( for original flight cancellation.)


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