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Flight Delay Compensation

Up to £480/person, back to 2005
plane delays

If you're delayed more than three hours or your flight is cancelled, EU rule 261/2004 means you're often entitled to £100-£480 in compensation. And a landmark decision by the UK's highest court in October should make it easier to claim.

This is a full step-by-step guide to claiming, including free template letters and info on how to stop the airlines squirming out of paying.

Flight delay compensation is big money

The doors for mass compensation for long flight delays were flung open in October 2012 following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice. The ruling clarified that passengers were entitled to compensation for long delays (as long as they met the set criteria) following a challenge by some airlines.

Since then there have been some huge flight delay compensation successes - although of course, not everyone wins. People tend to either get easy payouts or hit a brick wall that only court action will solve, so it depends. To inspire you, here are a few success stories:

I used the template to complain to Thomas Cook about a delayed flight to Egypt in 2010. It is compensating me £1,040. It's made my day. Amanda, Oct 2013

Just got a cheque for £970 from BA for delays in 2009 thanks to you telling me about new legislation. More than I actually paid. Denise, claimed for 2 passengers (£485 each), Dec 2012

Airline-by-airline chances of success

If you've yet to claim, click on our poll results below for an idea of how likely it is your airline will pay up based on what other MoneySavers have found.

If you've already tried to claim compensation, we'd love to know which airlines are paying up, and which are playing hard ball. Please tell us how it went below.

Have you tried to claim compensation for flight delays?This week's MoneySaving poll

Aegean Airlines

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Aeroflot

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Aer Lingus

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Air Asia

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Air Berlin

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Air Canada

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Air China

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Air France

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Air India

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Alitalia

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Continental

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Etihad

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Jet Airways

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KLM

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Qantas

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Ryanair

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Swiss

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Thai Airways

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Thomas Cook

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Thomson

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United

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US Airways

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Other

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Could claiming compensation push air fares up? Martin's view

Before putting in a compensation claim, consider that while you have a legal right to do so, an influx of claims could mean airlines have to shell out big bucks - and flight prices may be hiked to make up for any losses.

MoneySavingExpert.com creator Martin Lewis says:

The law behind this is clear cut, the ethics far less so. My usual focus for these type of issues is on reclaiming; asking for money back that was wrongly taken from you. This, however, is compensation, and like many I worry about a growing compensation culture.

This EU ruling has certainly swung the pendulum against airlines. As the cost of the flight is irrelevant to the payout there will be some who paid £20 for a cheap flight, were delayed a few hours that didn't really bother them, yet are entitled to a disproportionate £320 compensation for it.

If everyone did it, this could cripple budget airlines' pricing models and possibly hasten the financial troubles of airlines already struggling in a tough economy. Therefore balancing this on the see-saw of right and wrong isn't easy.

Yet equally, there are many for whom this is valuable financial justice for substandard service on an expensive product. People who paid £1,000s for flights and spent a dozen hours trapped with upset young children, sleeping on chairs in overheated airports or on planes waiting to take off.

Therefore each individual must make their own ethical choice of whether to take up the cudgels and go for the compensation. While the impact on the airline is no reason not to do it, for me it is a reason to first examine whether the compensation you could be due would be truly fair or excessive.

Martin Lewis' flight delay claiming tips

Watch Martin's flight delay claiming tips video below, which was filmed in June 2014 in conjunction with The Telegraph.

Flight delay compensation - the rules

It's only for EU-regulated flights

An EU flight is where the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline OR where an EU airline landed at an EU airport. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

So a delayed Manchester to Miami flight qualifies, regardless of the airline. Yet for Miami to Manchester, you are entitled to compensation flying Virgin or KLM, but not on Air India.

Quick questions

What if my flight was a codeshare?

What if I was on a package holiday?

What if I wasn't on an EU flight?

You can claim back to 2005, but it's harder for flights before 2008

You can apply for compensation for any past delays, stretching back as far as February 2005.

Yet in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, due to the statute of limitations, if you need to take the airline to court to get the cash (not too common, don't be unduly worried) then you can only go back six years. In Scotland, it's five years. So older claims can be tricky.

Quick questions

My airline says I can only claim back two years. I've heard there's been a court case on this?

What do I do for 2005-2008 cases (2005-2009 in Scotland)?

How far back can I go for non-UK claims?

When did these rules come into force?

Have the rules been tested in court?

It must be the airline's fault to claim

Map of European travel destinations

You are only entitled to the compensation if the delay was something within the airline's control. Staffing problems and underbooking all count. Yet political unrest in a country or bad weather make claiming a no-go.

Guidelines created by European regulators in July 2013 outline scenarios where they believe passengers can claim compensation, although case law created since then may now invalidate some of the scenarios, so it's best just to use it to give you an idea. See the full list on the European Commission's website.

Quick questions

What scenarios are NOT the airline's fault, meaning no compensation?

What scenarios are the airline's fault, meaning I could get compensation?

How do I know if it's the airline's fault?

Does the delay have to be the airline's fault to claim via my travel insurance?


So can I claim if...

...there was a technical fault with the plane? I've heard there's been a court case on this?

...my flight was cancelled due to underbooking, and I flew later?

...the pilot or crew were late?

...the plane I was due to fly on was late arriving from its previous destination?

...my flight was diverted to a different airport?

... I missed a connecting flight?

Delays must be 3 hours+ to claim

Compensation for delays is only due on flights arriving over three hours or more late. How long the delay is determines how much you could be entitled to.

Time is money, claim your plane delay compensation

Crucially, this is a straight rule. It's about when you arrive, not when you leave. So if you're on a flight that takes off 4 hours late but lands 2 hours 55 minutes late, you're not over the 3-hour delay needed to be eligible for compensation. Here's what you're entitled to when your flight has been delayed.

This is also about compensation for a delay, not a return of the flight ticket cost, so the amount you are due is fixed dependent on the delay length and distance travelled. You can use the website Web Flyer to find out the distance of your flight.

Compensation is also per person, so for a family of four, quadruple it. See the table below for how much you could get.

My flight's been delayed. How much will I get?

Arrival delay Distance Costs Compensation (i) Refund of fare if you didn't travel (ii)
Under two hours Any distance No No No
2 hours - 2h 59mins Any distance Maybe (iii) No No
3 hours+ All flights under 1,500km eg, London to Paris Yes €250 (£200) Yes, if delayed over five hours
All flights between 1,500km – 3,500km eg, Manchester to Malaga Yes €400 (£320)
Flights within the EU only, 1,500+ km Yes €400 (£320)
3-4 hours Flights between an EU and non-EU airport, 3,500km+ eg, London to New York No €300 (£240)
4 hours+ Flights between an EU and non-EU airport, 3,500km+ eg, London to New York Yes €600 (£480)
(i) You're only entitled to compensation if you meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the guide. (ii) You're entitled to a refund of your fare, regardless of what caused the delay. (iii) This rule kicks in on delays of between two and four hours, depending on the length of the flight. Sterling figures based on the mid-October 2014 exchange rate of €1.25 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

Here's some more detailed information on your rights as outlined in the table.

Quick questions

When can I claim for costs, and what can I claim?

Am I entitled to compensation?

Am I entitled to a refund of my fare?

How do I check how long my flight was delayed for?


Ready to claim? Now skip to the How to claim section.


Flight cancellation compensation - the rules

Below are the rules if your flight has been cancelled. If your flight has been delayed, please see the rules detailed directly above.

It's only for EU-regulated flights

An EU flight is where the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline OR where an EU airline landed at an EU airport. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

So a delayed Manchester to Miami flight qualifies, regardless of the airline. Yet for Miami to Manchester, you are entitled to compensation flying Virgin or KLM, but not on Air India.

If your flight was booked as part of a package holiday, the tour operator has to either get you an alternative flight, an alternative holiday or refund the whole holiday cost. If you need to make a claim, contact the tour operator.

The cut-off is 2005, but it's harder for flights before 2008

You can apply for compensation for any past cancellations, stretching back as far as February 2005.

Yet in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, due to the statute of limitations, if you need to take the airline to court to get the cash (not too common, don't be unduly worried) then you can only go back six years. In Scotland, it's five years. So older claims can be tricky.

Quick question

My airline says I can only claim back two years. I've heard there's been a court case on this?

You could be entitled to a refund or a new flight, no matter the reason for cancellation

When a flight is cancelled, however long before it was due to take off, you have a right to...

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

This applies:

  • As long as it happened after 17 February 2005.
  • Regardless of how long before the flight you were told of the cancellation.
  • Regardless of what it was that caused the cancellation.
  • And if the flight you were on departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, OR you were on an EU airline and landed at an EU airport. If you were on another flight anywhere else in the world, you may still be able to get your money back and compensation, but you're at the mercy of another set of rules.
Quick questions

What if you're stuck at the airport?

What if you missed a connecting flight because of a cancellation?

What if I paid using air miles?

It must be the airline's fault for compensation

You CAN claim additional compensation of between €125 (£105) and €600 (£480), depending on the arrival time of a rescheduled flight you're put on.

Even if you go for a refund of your original ticket, rather than be re-routed, meaning you don't travel, you can claim compensation based on the timings of the alternative flight offered.

Quick questions

In what circumstances could you claim compensation?

When can't you claim compensation?

What about technical faults with the plane? I've heard there's been a court case on this?

How much compensation you'll get depends on the flight delay and distance

This is compensation for a delay, not a return of the flight ticket cost, so the amount you are due is fixed dependent on the delay length and distance travelled. You can use the website Web Flyer to find out the distance of your flight.

Compensation is also per person, so for a family of four, quadruple it. BUT compensation is based in euros, meaning the amount you'll get in sterling will fluctuate, depending on the exchange rate at that time.

As you can see from the tables below, if you depart earlier than your original flight you'll probably arrive earlier so you won't be due compensation. But where you've departed earlier than the original flight and arrived later, because you've been put on a different route that is longer, or been given a connecting flight that delays you getting to your destination, for example, compensation may be due.

Flight cancelled 7-14 days before departure
Flight length 0 - 1,500km, eg, London to Paris 1,500 - 3,500km, eg, London to Istanbul 3,500km+, eg, London to New York
Delay (i) Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands up to 2hrs after 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 2hrs+ after Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands up to 3hrs after 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 3-4hrs after Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands up to 4hrs after 4hrs+ late
Compensation €125
(£100)
€250
(£200)
€200
(£160)
€400
(£320)
€300
(£240)
€600
(£480)
(i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the mid-October 2014 exchange rate of €1.25 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.
Flight cancelled less than 7 days before departure
Flight length 0 - 1,500km, eg, London to Paris 1,500 - 3,500km, eg, London to Istanbul 3,500km+, eg, London to New York
Delay (i) Leaves 1hr+ before, lands up to 2hrs after 2hrs+ late Leaves 1hr+ before, lands up to 3hrs after 3hrs+ late Leaves 1hr+ before, lands up to 4hrs after 4hrs+ late
Compensation €125
(£100)
€250
(£200)
€200
(£160)
€400
(£320)
€300
(£240)
€600
(£480)
(i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the mid-October 2014 exchange rate of €1.25 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

If you're bumped off a flight, you're entitled to compensation

Where the airline has overbooked and you voluntarily give up your seat, the amount of compensation is between you and the airline to agree on. It must also give you either a refund of the ticket price if you decide not to travel, or an alternative flight.

If you were forced off due to overbooking, then you fall in the same camp as a cancelled flight. This means you're also eligible for compensation as overbooking was the airline's fault. The table below shows how much you can get.

How much compensation are you due?
Flight length Arrival delay Compensation due
Up to 1,500km, (all flights) eg, London to Paris Up to 2 hours €125 (£100)
Up to 1,500km, (all flights) eg, London to Paris 2 hours+ €250 (£200)
1,500km – 3,500km (all flights), eg, Manchester – Malaga Up to 3 hours €200 (£160)
1,500+ km (flights within the EU only) 3 hours+ €400 (£320)
3,500km+ (flights between an EU and non-EU airport), eg, London to New York Up to 4 hours €300 (£240)
4+ hours €600 (£480)
(i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the mid-October 2014 exchange rate of €1.25 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

Still not had your question answered? Let us know in the forum discussion and we'll endeavour to add it to this section.

Landmark ruling confirms rules, which open floodgates

There was doubt about some of the rules above as Thomson tried to overturn a ruling saying you can go back at least six years in England and Wales - arguing it should only be two - while Jet2 did the same, arguing technical faults are not an airline's fault.

But passengers got a big boost in October 2014 when the Supreme Court blocked their attempts to wriggle out of paying claims on those grounds by rejecting their right to appeal, which means the existing rules stand.

A number of airlines had put claims on these two specific issues on hold while two court cases were being fought. Legal sources say that as the Supreme Court is the UK's final court of appeal, there's no realistic prospect of the airlines being able to appeal this decision any further.

As we have two binding decisions from the Court of Appeal, it means:

  • Under the law you can claim for flights going back up to six years.
  • Under the law you can claim for technical problems that haven't been caused by "extraordinary circumstances". So normal technical problems such as component failure or general wear and tear should not be considered "extraordinary".

Technically these rules only apply to cases heard in English and Welsh courts, but airlines and courts based in Scotland and Northern Ireland may also use these rulings when considering cases.

So for flight claims it means the following:

  • I've not yet submitted a flight claim. You should do so now as airlines can no longer put them on hold.
  • My flight claim is on hold. You should ask the airline or court which stayed the case to reopen it. The CAA says it expects airlines to do this automatically, while courts should also do the same. However it's worth giving them a nudge.
  • My claim has already been rejected. If your case was previously rejected by the airline, you should ask for the airline to reconsider it in the light of the judgment, as long as you haven't already agreed a settlement with it. If your claim has already been decided by a court unfortunately it's too late to take it back to court. The CAA says you can only take claims back to court in England and Wales within 21 days of a judgment being made.

What if the airlines still put cases on hold, despite the landmark ruling against them?

If that happens, fight 'em. Any court is likely to take a dim view of that. See our full step-by-step help on how to claim below.

Step-by-step help on how to claim

Whether your flight has been delayed or cancelled, the below step-by-step guide shows how to claim.

Step 1: Gather evidence to support your claim

To claim a refund, compensation or additional cost you should initially:

  • Use these links to double-check if your flight was delayed for over three hours and how far the flight distance was. Both affect the compensation.

  • Prepare the details of the flight you're claiming for and any documents you may have, including boarding passes, tickets and any proof of the delay. However don't worry if you don't have any documented evidence - we've still heard of people claiming successfully without it.

Quick questions

What evidence do I need to submit?

Do I need a boarding pass to claim?

Step 2: Complain to the airline

Passengers should claim compensation

Different airlines have different procedures for claiming. Some will list email or postal addresses you need to send a written claims letter to, others will ask you to fill in an online claims form. So check what method your airline wants you to use before claiming.

Just remember to explain what went wrong and state what you want in terms of compensation and/or reimbursement.

Remember to say you want compensation under:
EC regulation 261/2004

It's important you know this, as quoting the law each time ensures airlines know you're serious.

Free template letters to complain to the airlines: If you need to send a written complaint, you can use our free template letters, which are based on information from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Even if you're asked to fill in an online complaints form you can use our template letter or segments of it to help your claim. Download using the following links: Delayed flights template letter and Cancelled flights template letter.

Remember, it's the operator of the flight, rather than the firm you booked with, which is responsible when things go wrong. So if you booked a ticket via Qantas, but were on a BA plane, then as BA operated the flight, it's responsible if anything goes wrong.

Here's a table linking to all to airline complaints pages, which will explain whether you need to get in touch by writing, or by using online complaints forms.

If your airline's not listed above, go to its website or simply call to find out the best way to make a claim.

Quick questions

Can I claim if the airline I flew with has gone bust?

Can I claim if the airline I flew has been bought out?

Should I use a claims handler or solicitor to get compensation?

How long should my claim take?

Do I have to accept money in vouchers?

If you're successful, hurrah! As compensation for flight delays is set at specific levels depending on the flight delay and length, there's really only two outcomes here - you've received the correct amount and your claim is now over, or your claim has been rejected (in which case see Step 3 below).

Please report successes in the Flight Delays forum thread.

Step 3: Claim rejected by the airline? Take it to the regulator

Just because your case has been rejected by the airline, it doesn't mean the airline is correct. If you believe you've been fobbed off when you think you have a legitimate claim, take your case to the relevant regulator to look into.

Again this is something you can do yourself, you don't need a claims handler to do this for you.

Which body should I complain to?

You can only complain to the CAA about certain flights, otherwise you need to complain to the European Consumer Centre or the regulator in the departure country. What matters is where you departed from and where the airline is registered, as the table below shows.

Who to complain to?
Departure country Airline based in... Who to complain to
UK Doesn't matter CAA
EU, not UK EU, not UK European Consumer Centre or regulator in departure country
EU, not UK Rest of world Regulator in departure country
Non-EU, arriving in EU (not UK) EU Regulator in arrival country
Non-EU, arriving in UK EU CAA

However, none of these are ombudsman schemes along the lines of the Financial Ombudsman Service, so they cannot decide cases or impose requirements. They will advise you whether they think you have a valid complaint and, if so, will take it up with the airline.fhf

What should I write?

To complain to the CAA, most passengers need to fill out its online form. Read its 'Referring your complaint' information first, to check you're eligible to use its online form. Residents in Northern Ireland, for example, where the flight is inbound to or outbound from Northern Ireland, have to send complaints to the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland instead. At the end of July 2014 the CAA told us it's resolving cases in about 10 weeks.

To complain to the ECC or other regulator, use our template letter below. When writing, set out all the details of your complaint and include copies of all correspondence. Download here: Complain to ECC/other regulator.

Please report successes in the Flight Delays forum thread.

Step 4: What if the airline still says no or puts your claim on hold?

Airlines can block your claim in two key ways, however in both these scenarios you have the same options over what to do next. We explain this in more detail below.

  1. My claim's been rejected outright, or I haven't had a response? Some airlines are playing hardball with claims and many are rejecting people even when the CAA or other regulator says you have a claim. The problem is that regulators do not have the same powers as ombudsman schemes – they can't force airlines to pay out.

    So the only way to force airlines to deal with claims that have been rejected or ignored is to take them to the small claims court (or first try mediation – we're currently researching the pros and cons of mediation and will update this guide soon).

    But going to court isn't about judges and wigs, you can actually claim online. See Step 5 for help on making a court claim.

  2. My claim's been put on hold. If your claim has been put on hold it's likely this is due to the Thomson or Jet2 court cases mentioned above, but they've now lost their cases, so the hold should be lifted. For more information, see the Court Cases section.

    If an airline still won't open your case, the only way to force them is to take them to the small claims court (see Step 5).

Important! If your claim was rejected as it was more than two years old or a technical problem was deemed not an airline's fault you CAN reopen it.

Thomson tried to overturn a ruling saying you can go back at least six years in England and Wales - arguing it should only be two - while Jet2 did the same, arguing technical faults are not an airline's fault.

As they both lost in October 2014 (see the Court Cases section for full info), you can reopen a case where an airline rejected your claim based on those circumstances.

But if your claim has already been decided by a court, unfortunately it's too late.

Step 5: How to take your case to court

If you complained to the airline and lost and then complained to the relevant regulator or the European Consumer Centre and lost again - or the airline's put your case on hold - you can go to court. You can take your complaint to a local county court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or a sheriff court in Scotland.

To use the courts' small claims system, your claim needs to be under £10,000 in England and Wales, or under £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You can also ONLY take your case through the small claims system within six years from the delayed flight in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, you've got five years.

Subject to this, anyone can make a claim in the small claims courts, although the airline you claim against could challenge whether or not you can use the court you want to use - it's up to the court you apply to to decide.

  • Booked flights in the UK? You should be able to take your case through the courts in the relevant country you're based in, regardless of where the airline is based.
  • Got a UK address for the airline? The European Consumer Centre says if so, you can take an airline to court here, even if the head office is based elsewhere.
  • Flight departed or arrived in the UK? The ECJ ruled in a flight cancellations case in 2009 that you can take an airline to court for cancellation claims in either the country the plane was due to arrive in or depart from, regardless of where the airline's based.

If none of the above apply, the European Small Claims Procedure can be used for cross-border complaints for claims of under €2,000. This can be carried out in a county court in England and Wales.

For more information on going to court and what this entails, see our Small Claims and How to Complain guides. It may also be worth considering taking legal advice.

Made a claim? Let others know how it's gone in the forum on your airline's thread: British Airways, Easyjet, Flybe, Jet2, KLM/Air France, Lufthansa, Monarch, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Thomson & Virgin Atlantic. If your airline's not listed, let us know on this guide's discussion thread.

If my claim is complex, should I consider using a claims firm/solicitor?

In general, we don't think it's worth giving 30% of what you're due to a claims firm when you can do it yourself for free. However we make a possible exception to this once things get tricky – as then it can be worth paying – especially if the thought of court action scares you.   

So at this point, where you've been rejected by the airline or if your case is on hold - or if you've got a particularly complex case - then it can be worth considering.

How to choose a claims handler/solicitor