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Planes or trains hit by cold snap? Know your rights

Jamie Stinson
MSE News Reporter
17 January 2013

Weather forecasters are warning of major travel disruptions over the coming days, so consumers should know their refund and compensation rights in case of problems.

The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning for north-west England, Wales and the West Midlands, which are expected to be the worst hit by a cold snap that could see temperatures plummet to minus five degrees Celsius, along with eight inches of snow.

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Delays and cancellations are likely, with one rail firm, South West Trains, already cancelling Friday's services on some routes. So what are your travel rights? Here's a round-up of what you need to know.

Cancelled flights

When a flight is cancelled, however long before it was due to take off, and regardless of the cause of the cancellation, you have a right to:

  • Either a refund for the flight that was cancelled.
  • Or an alternative flight to your destination (airlines call this re-routing).

If you choose to be re-routed at the earliest opportunity, airlines also have to provide assistance such as food, phone calls and accommodation where appropriate to passengers, regardless of what caused the cancellation.

Some passengers whose flights are cancelled within 14 days of their journey may also be able to claim additional compensation of between €125 (£100) and €600 (£480) per person, depending on the delay in getting to their destination and on the distance travelled.

However, to claim this compensation, the cause of cancellation has to be the airline's fault. Fog and bad weather are classed as 'extraordinary circumstances', meaning a claim for compensation is unlikely to be successful.

See our Flight Delays Compensation guide for more information.

Delayed flights

If your flight departure is delayed for more than two hours, regardless of what caused this delay, your airline may have to look after you until your flight departs. This means you could be provided with food, drinks, communications, and accommodation if you are delayed overnight.

But if bad weather causes the delay, you are unlikely to get additional compensation. The rules states if your flight arrives at its destination three or more hours late, you could also be able to claim compensation of between €250 (£200) and €600 (£480) per person, depending on the flight length and the delay to the destination.

Yet this only applies if the cause of the delay is the airline's fault, such as cancelling an underbooked flight.

For departures delayed by five hours or more, if you decide not to travel, you can also get a refund of your ticket, regardless of what caused the delay.

See our Flight Delays Compensation guide for more information.

Train delays and cancellations – can you claim compensation?

The following generic principles apply to both cancellations and delays longer than 30 minutes, though each operator may apply them differently:

  • You may be entitled to compensation if the delay or cancellation is the fault of the train operator. Examples include train or signal failures.
  • You are NOT entitled to compensation when the problem is out of the control of the train operator. This includes bad weather, strikes and pre-planned maintenance work. However, in practice, some firms may still pay out, so it is worth claiming.

You can't get any money back if a delay is less than half an hour.

The next section applies if your train is cancelled:

  • Can I get on another train? If your ticket is open, you can just get on the next train to your destination. If your ticket is restricted, you can't get on the next train if yours is delayed, but if it's cancelled, you should be able to. See the delays section above as to whether you can claim compensation.
  • Can I get my money back if I don't travel? Yes, you are entitled to a full refund. This applies whether your ticket is for a set train or if it is an open-ended ticket.
  • How do I claim? You can pick up a form from the appropriate company's stations, or visit its website. Make sure you keep hold of your tickets, as you will need these when applying for a refund. You need to apply within 28 days.

The next section applies if your train is delayed, or you get on a later service if your original train is cancelled:

  • What if I don't want to travel? You are entitled to a full refund.
  • What if I'm late arriving? If you travel and the delay is over half an hour, you may be entitled to a refund, but the amount varies (see below). If you are booked on a set train you have more rights than if your ticket is open-ended.
  • How much can I get? The minimum compensation you'll get is 20% of your fare for more than an hour's delay. However, you will usually receive more, depending on the train operator. You may even get cash for delays between 30 minutes and an hour from some firms.
  • How do I claim? You can pick a form from the appropriate company's stations or visit its website. Make sure you keep hold of your tickets, as you will need these when applying for a refund. You have 28 days to apply. Compensation is usually in vouchers, unless you didn't use the ticket, in which case you will be refunded via the payment method you used to book.

London Tube delays — are you due money back?

Under normal circumstances, if your London Underground train is delayed by more than 15 minutes, you can get a refund for the full cost of the journey.

Technically, you cannot claim for bad weather but there is no harm in asking.

Download or fill in an application form from the Transport for London website within 14 days.

As with mainline trains, if you have a paper ticket, keep hold of it as you will need it when applying for a refund.

What if you miss a flight because of a train delay?

If train problems cause you to miss a flight, you may be able to get compensation from your travel insurance provider, though check first as different firms will have different rules.

You will need to show you allowed a reasonable amount of time for your journey to meet the flight.

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