Booking flights seems to get easier and cheaper as the years go by. However, recently, it’s also become a bit of a risky business with the likes of Monarch ceasing to trade and Ryanair cancelling multiple flights. So, what happens if you find yourself caught up in airline drama, whether that’s a delayed flight or something more serious?
Compensation for a delayed flight
The right to compensation comes via an EU regulation (Regulation 261/2004) so you’re only entitled to it if you’re departing from an EU airport on any airline, or arriving at an EU airport on an EU carrier (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland). You’re entitled to compensation if your flight was delayed by more than three hours. If your flight gets cancelled and you take an alternative flight then the right to compensation arises if the second flight was two hours later than either your original arrival time or the original flight. There are specific amounts of compensation available under the regulation:
Delays of 3+ hours for a short flight – €250 (£230)
Delays of 3+ hours for a long flight (1,500 – 3,500km) €400 (£365)
Delays of 3-4 hours for a flight of 3,500km+ – €300 (£275)
Delays of 4+ hours for a flight of 3,500km+ – €600 (£550)
How can you get compensation?
Ultimately, it’s up to the airline – at least at first – and airlines have many ways of avoiding paying out under the regulations. There is an exception, for example, for “extraordinary circumstance,” which will mean that the airline doesn’t have to pay a penny. This will cover extreme situations like war or civil unrest but could also ensure you don’t get compensation as a result of bad weather, strikes or something as basic as an airport’s failure to de-ice the aircraft on time. Technical faults tend to be the airline’s responsibility and so you’re much more likely to get compensation if that’s the basis for your claim. You can claim compensation for any flights over the past six years.
Can you challenge “extraordinary circumstance”
Yes, you can always challenge decisions made about your rights as a consumer. Obviously, airlines are not keen to pay compensation where they don’t have to so it’s often worth challenging a decision that you think has been wrongly made in case it’s a stalling tactic. Whether you’re successful will depend on the airline and how much time and energy you have to pursue them. Ultimately, if the airline still refuses you compensation you believe you were entitled to then you would need to go to court.
Compensation for connecting flights?
If you miss an ongoing flight as a result of delays to an initial leg of your journey then you should be able to claim compensation if everything is under the same booking reference. You’ll also need to have made the connection at an EU airport.
Flights cancelled by the airline
It’s usually possible to get a refund and potentially compensation when your flights are cancelled by an airline. If you had flights booked with Ryanair, for example, and they were cancelled by the airline then you should have the right to a refund. Ryanair has confirmed that all those who were affected by its recent problems have the right either to change their flight for another or to get a full refund. And it’s not an empty promise for some point in the future, as the airline also said that where a refund was requested this would be processed “within 7 days.” Compensation for these cancelled flights would be on the basis of the EU regulation mentioned above. However, there is a caveat – if the flights were cancelled and the airline notified passengers two weeks before departure then there is no right to compensation.
How to protect yourself from losing money with airlines
Buy your flights on a credit card – under the Consumer Credit Act your credit card provider shares responsibility with the seller if there’s a problem with something you’ve purchased. The minimum amount covered is £100. If the airline goes bust or a travel company goes under and you lose your flights or holiday then you can make a claim for them from the credit card company.
Take out insurance – most insurers don’t offer much compensation for delayed flights but it’s possible to take out a policy to cover you for the failure of an airline.
Look for the Atol protection scheme mark – if you buy a package holiday or a seat-only ticket on a charter flight then the Atol protection scheme is one way to arrange a refund. Under the scheme you can also get repatriated if you’re stranded abroad as a result of issues with the airline or travel operator.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley