The UK aviation regulator is taking action against five major airlines it says have been failing to pay the legally required compensation for flight delays resulting from missed connections. Hundreds of thousands of passengers who travelled on the airlines may be due up to £500 each for this kind of delay – here's how to claim.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines have been breaching EU law by not paying compensation to passengers with connecting flights who arrive at their final destination more than three hours late.

It's asked the airlines to change their policies, but says they've so far refused to do so. We've contacted all five airlines for comment but only American Airlines and Singapore Airlines have responded so far, disputing the CAA findings.

In the meantime, if you're on a flight covered by EU rules and have been delayed by more than three hours as a result of a missed connection, you can claim – and if you've already claimed and were wrongly turned down, you can claim again. For full help and our free reclaim tool, see our Flight Delay Compensation guide.

What has the CAA found?

The CAA identified the failings as part of a review of airline's compensation policies.

Under EU flight delay law, airlines must pay compensation if passengers arrive at their destination more than three hours late, unless the delay was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances', for example strikes, security alerts or air traffic decisions.

However, the CAA says all five airlines have been refusing to pay passengers who bought one ticket for connecting flights, then ended up arriving at their final destination more than three hours late because a delay to their initial flight meant they missed their connection.

The CAA also found Vueling has been failing to give passengers the proper care and assistance they're owed if waiting at the airport for a delayed flight.

While the CAA hasn't given figures for how many passengers may have been wrongly denied compensation by the five airlines, it estimates that 200,000 passengers a year could be eligible for compensation as a result of missed connections with these airlines.

Five major airlines 'wrongly denied' flight delay payouts to passengers
Five major airlines 'wrongly denied' flight delay payouts to passengers

What does the enforcement action mean for passengers?

The CAA says the airlines have so far refused to change their policies as a result of its findings, and so it has taken enforcement action under the Enterprise Act, which increased the powers of regulators such as the CAA.

It has asked the five airlines to give a legal promise that they will change their policies to comply with EU law, and compensate passengers who arrive at their destination more than three hours late after their initial flight was delayed.

If the airlines don't give these promises, or then breach them, the CAA can take them to court.

How do I know if I'm owed?

The precise rules on who can claim are complicated – for full info see flight delay compensation rules. But in brief, to be covered by the EU rules you need to have been travelling on an EU-regulated flight – that is:

  • Where a flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline
  • OR where an EU-based airline landed at an EU airport

For long-haul flights which have been delayed more than three hours, passengers can claim €300 (£250) – if the delay's four hours or more, it's €600 (£500). Unless the delay was caused by an extraordinary circumstance, such as a strike, the airline should pay out, regardless of how many legs your airline ticket covered.

The CAA says the rules around connecting flights are clear and that the final destination of a connecting ticket is the last airport listed on the passenger's ticket. So if you've bought one ticket, which included multiple legs, what counts is the time you arrive at your final destination.

I think I'm owed compensation – how do I claim?

What you need to do depends on how long ago your flight was delayed, and whether you've already tried to reclaim:

  • If you haven't already reclaimed, do so. You can do this using our free flight delay claim tool.
  • If your delayed flight was within the past six years, you claimed and were turned down by the airline, claim again. Today's news is likely to help your case. Go back to the airline to claim, but if you're turned down again you can escalate your case to the CAA or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

    If you escalated your original claim at the time, but were turned down by the CAA or ADR, your next step would be to go to court.
  • If your delayed flight was more than six years ago, it's difficult. Your ultimate route of appeal is to go to court. But under the statute of limitations, a passenger only has six years from the delay to take an airline to court, so it's highly unlikely the airline will pay out if it's been more than six years (though there's no harm resubmitting your claim to the airline anyway).

Also note that if you want to escalate your case to the CAA, it suggest you do this within five years of the delay, to give you time to go to court if needed.

For full help on how the claims process works, who to escalate to and how to take your case to court, see our Flight Delays guide.

What does the CAA say?

The CAA reviewed the policies of 31 of the busiest airlines flying in and out of the UK, and found the vast majority were meeting their responsibility under EU flight delay law.

It looked at four main areas:

  • Care and assistance if delayed at the airport
  • Compensation for missed connections
  • Passengers being bumped from flights
  • Downgrading
As a result some airlines, not named by the CAA, have changed their policies on downgrading and care at the airport.

The CAA says its own data shows Emirates was the most complained-about airline for not paying compensation for connecting flights, and of the five airlines it singled out, only Turkish Airlines has signed up to an ADR service for passengers.

Richard Moriarty, director of consumers and markets at the CAA, said: "Any disruption to a flight is frustrating for passengers, but delays that cause people to miss connecting flights have a particularly damaging effect on people's travel plans. That's why there are clear laws in place to make sure passengers that experience this type of disruption are looked after by their airline and compensated when the disruption was in the airline's control.

"Airlines' first responsibility should be looking after their passengers, not finding ways in which they can prevent passengers upholding their rights. So it's disappointing to see a small number of airlines continuing to let a number of their passengers down by refusing to pay them the compensation they are entitled to.

"Where we see evidence of passengers systematically being denied their rights, we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to ensure airlines change their policies and their customers get the assistance they are entitled to."

What do the airlines say?

So far only American Airlines and Singapore Airlines have responded.

An American Airlines spokesperson said: "American is aware of the connecting flight portion of the Civil Aviation Authority report, which relates to a discrete legal issue involving [EU flight delay regulation] EC261. We disagree with the CAA's interpretation of this legal issue and look forward to additional conversations on the matter."

A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines, which has been putting these claims on hold, said: "Singapore Airlines has been in contact with the UK CAA on this issue for some time. There is a lack of clarity in the law which is currently the subject of ongoing litigation before the Court of Appeal. We will continue to work with the CAA to resolve our differences with respect to the application of EC regulation 261/2004 to missed connections."