Passengers in England and Wales can claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations from more than two years ago, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Three judges confirmed that the time limit for bringing a claim for compensation must be determined in accordance with the laws of each individual country. In England and Wales, that's six years.

For full help and free template letters on reclaiming money back up to six years, see our Flight Delays Compensation guide.

This binding decision means passengers can claim for flight delays and cancellations up from up to six years ago in English and Welsh courts. Airlines and courts based in Scotland and Northern Ireland may also use this ruling when considering cases.

But Thomson – the airline at the centre of today's case – plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning this judgment doesn't automatically open the floodgates for claims.

Thomson argues that passengers only have two years to make a claim under a separate set of rules, the Montreal Convention. managing editor Guy Anker says: "This decision reaffirms what we have always said; that you have the full six years from when your flight was delayed or cancelled to make a claim.

"Some airlines have been trying their utmost to get around this, but today's decision means anyone who thinks they have a legitimate claim should submit it as soon as possible.

"Of course, as Thomson has announced its intention to appeal against the judgment, it's likely cases will be held while airlines see how Thomson gets on with its appeal. But there's no harm submitting a claim in the meantime and getting in the queue especially if, as we would expect, the judgment is upheld."

What exactly are the rules?

If you've been delayed at any time since 2005, you have a right to compensation under EU rules. In the UK, it's easier in practice if it's been since 2008 as you can only take your case through the small claims system within six years from the delayed flight in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and within five years in Scotland.

So what was today's case about?

Today's case centres on passenger James Dawson. He suffered a six-and-a-half hour delay on a flight from London Gatwick to the Dominican Republic in December 2006, following crew shortages brought about by sickness.

He first took Thomson to Cambridge County Court for the delay in July 2013 and won. But it was then referred to the Court of Appeal to set a binding precedent.

Solicitors' firm Bott & Co, which represented him at the Court of Appeal hearing in May, argued that consumers have six years to bring a claim for flight delay compensation (see the Flight delay reclaiming rules to be clarified MSE News story).

What does the judgment mean for my claim?

As we have a binding decision from the Court of Appeal, it means that under the law you can claim for flights going back up to six years in English and Welsh courts.

But as Thomson has announced its intention to appeal to a higher court, it's likely what airlines will almost certainly do is say: "We're awaiting the appeal to the Supreme Court and we won't process claims until then."

So the only way to force airlines to deal with claims is to take them to the small claims court. But even if you do this, the airline could ask the court for a 'stay', which would put the case on hold until the Supreme Court makes its decision. It's up to each judge to decide whether or not to accept the airline's request.

Is it worth submitting a claim?

Despite what we've predicted airlines' reaction will be, you should still submit your claim – you won't lose anything by trying. Here's what you need to know:

  • New claims: You can submit claims to airlines from up to six years ago.
  • Claims on hold: If your claim was put on hold by an airline or court because it was waiting for today's judgment, you can now ask for it to be reopened.
  • Claims already decided: If your case was previously rejected by the airline, you can ask for it to be reconsidered in light of today's judgment, as long as you haven't already agreed a settlement. If your claim has already been decided by a court, the CAA says you can only take it back to court if you're within the time limit for an appeal, which is just 21 days in England and Wales. See our Small Claims Court guide for more info on appealing against court decisions.

See our Flight Delays and Cancellations guide for how to claim and what to do if you're rejected by your airline.

What does Thomson say?

A spokesperson for Thomson says: "As the UK's most on-time holiday airline, at Thomson Airways our focus continues to be ensuring that our customers reach their destination safely and promptly.

"We believe that it is reasonable to expect that those who perceive they have suffered a real loss as a result of an unfortunate delay should be able to make their claim within two years. We also continue to believe that the law stipulates this and we are therefore surprised by today's judgment.

"If unchallenged, this judgment could have a significant impact on the entire airline industry and specifically upon the price that all air travellers would need to pay for their flights. We therefore confirm that it is our intention to seek an appeal to the Supreme Court."

How do I claim?

Today's judgment is only about flights that have been delayed or cancelled more than two years ago. You can still claim for other delays, although to do so you need to meet certain criteria.

  • It's only for EU flights. You must be on a plane that left from an EU airport, or arrived at an EU airport (but then it must be an EU airline).
  • You can go back to 2005. This doesn't just apply to recent flights. If you've been delayed at any time since 2005, you have a right to compensation under EU rules. Though in the UK, it's easier in practice if it's been since 2008.
  • It must have been the airline's fault to claim. The delay had to be under the airline's control. Staffing problems, poor planning, and under-booking all count. Political unrest or bad weather don't.
  • Delays must be over three hours to get compensation. The amount you get is fixed solely on the flight length and delay time. So a 1,000km flight delayed by four hours is €250 (about £202) per person, while a 4,000km flight delayed for five hours is €600 (about £485) per person.
  • How to claim. Write to the airline stating the details of your delay and asking for the compensation. If it rejects you, depending on where you flew from and the airline you flew with, go to the CAA, the European Consumer Centre, or the regulator in the country you departed from to get a ruling. If it gets rejected again, you can take your complaint to the small claims court.

For full information on delays as well as the rules on claiming for cancellations, see our Flight Delays and Cancellations guide, which includes free template letters.