Stuck at the airport?

Your rights if your flight is delayed

If your flight is delayed there are specific rules UK and EU airlines have to follow to make sure you're looked after. This guide looks at what your rights are if you're stuck at the airport, and how you can claim for any food or hotel costs you have to shell out for due to the delay. 

Key flight-rights guides

Stuck at the airport?

How to claim for food or hotel costs if you're delayed.

Check if your flight's eligible and speedily claim what you're owed.

Your rights and compensation rules.


Your rights if you're stuck at the airport

On UK or EU-regulated flights, you're entitled to:

  • Know what's going on. Ask at a check-in desk but also look at the airline's website, app, and Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates. Check the email you used when booking in case you've been sent an update.

    You can also enter your flight number on FlightRadar24, which tracks planes in real time, to see if it can give you an idea of where your plane is.

  • Food and drink. Your airline should provide food and drink (or vouchers to buy them) if you're delayed more than two hours on a short-haul flight, three hours on medium haul (for example, Manchester to Malaga) or four hours for long haul.

    If it's unable to, you can buy your own and claim back, but make sure you keep receipts. Check if your airline's website has any guidance on what it'll cover.

  • Accommodation (if needed). If the flight is delayed overnight you're entitled to a hotel, and the airline must also provide transport to and from it. Ideally it will arrange the hotel for you, so always check before you book somewhere.

  • A 'means of communication'. In this day and age, this just means the airline's likely to reimburse you for the cost of any relevant calls you make.

  • Compensation. If your delays mean you arrive at your destination more than three hours late, and the hold-up was deemed to be within the airline's control, you could be owed compensation of up to £520 per person. See our full Flight delays guide for how to claim.

  • A refund (if your delay is more than five hours). If your flight is delayed for more than five hours and you no longer wish to travel you can ask for a refund, which will include any unused parts of your booking (such as your return flight). However, if you choose this option you're unlikely to get any compensation as well, and you won't be entitled to any further care or assistance.

Top tip. Keep hold of any evidence. As well as any receipts (for food or accommodation, for example), note the reason you were given for the delay or cancellation, and screenshot any information you may have seen online, as this could prove useful if you later want to claim compensation.

Quick question

  • What is a UK or EU-regulated flight?

    A flight is UK or EU-regulated if it departs from an airport based in the UK or European Union, regardless of the airline, OR if it's a UK/EU airline landing at a UK/EU airport. Under these rules, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

    So a Manchester to Miami flight qualifies, regardless of the airline. But for a Miami to Manchester flight, you'd only be eligible for compensation if you flew with a British or EU airline (such as Virgin or KLM).

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How to claim expenses for being stuck at the airport

If your flight is delayed and you're stuck at the airport for several hours, your airline should be proactive in providing you with food and drink (and a place to stay overnight, if necessary), but if they don't, you should be able to claim back any reasonable expenses.

When you contact your airline, include:

  • Receipts. To show how much you spent on food and/or a place to stay. Remember only reasonable expenses are covered, it's unlikely you'd be able to claim for alcohol. Check if your airline's website has any guidance on what it'll cover. If it does, you can include this information in your claim alongside your receipts.

  • Proof you didn't just go for the most expensive option. If you had to book a place to stay overnight, it can be useful to include the rates of nearby hotels to demonstrate that you didn't just pick the most expensive option. It's unlikely an airline will cover the cost of a luxury hotel if there's a cheaper alternative you could've used nearby.

  • Proof of delay. It can be useful to include how long your flight was delayed by – as what you get is based on how long you had to wait. Include any updates you received by text or email, or screenshots of updates posted on the airline's website or social media.

Quick question

  • Can I claim on my travel insurance too?

    Depending on your travel insurance policy, you could be able to claim compensation from your insurer when the delay isn't the airline's fault. Check your policy terms and conditions for what situations it'll cover.

    Here are some examples of what major insurers provide. Whether you'll get compensation will depend on the cause of the delay:

    • Aviva and LV's Premier Policy will give you £25 for each 12-hour period you're delayed, up to a maximum of £250.

    • Churchill and Direct Line will give you up to £200 if you're delayed by more than 12 hours.

    You may also get cash to cover hotel costs or alternative transport to get you somewhere, though airlines should, by law, provide this if your flight is delayed by more than two hours.

    The Association of British Insurers says:

    Most travel insurance policies will give you some cover if your flight's delayed, but this can be quite limited. Usually delay cover will only kick in if the delay was caused by adverse weather, strikes or mechanical aircraft failure.

    This cover will also typically only kick in after a certain amount of time, so if the delay's over eight hours, for example. But this won't be the case for every policy, so you should check the terms of your travel insurance to see what's included.

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