Flight cancellation rights

You may be able to claim up to £520 compensation

If your flight is cancelled, it's important to know you have rights – whether you're reading this at the airport, or it happened weeks ago. You're entitled to a replacement flight or a refund, and potentially up to £520 in compensation on top. This guide helps you figure out what you might be owed and whether you should make a claim.

Key flight-rights guides

Flight cancellation rights

Your rights and compensation rules.

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

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

Step 1: Is your flight EU/UK-regulated?

All the rules we talk about below come from this simple fact. The flight must be regulated either by UK or EU rules (which are the same rules in effect). Here's what's covered:

  • ANY FLIGHT leaving a UK/EU airport
  • ANY UK or EU AIRLINE arriving at a UK/EU airport

This means if it's a flight within the UK and EU, you're covered as it'll definitely have left a UK/EU airport. Where there's a question is if you've got a flight from outside the EU going back to the UK (or another EU airport). Then the airline matters.

So a flight from Manchester to New York is covered by the rules regardless of the airline, but a flight from New York to Manchester would be covered on British Airways, but wouldn't on American Airlines.

If your flight isn't a UK/EU regulated flight, you will probably be entitled to a refund or alternative flight, but whether you're due compensation depends on the country that covers it. See compensation if not on a UK/EU flight.

What about codeshares? 

It's the operator of the flight that counts. So in the above example, if you booked with British Airways but it returned you from New York on a codeshare operated by American Airlines, then it's American Airlines that counts, which means you're not covered by the rules.

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Step 2: You're entitled to a refund or alternative flight

When an EU/UK-regulated flight is cancelled, however long before it was due to take off, you have a legal right to choose between...

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

Here are the key need-to-knows:

  • The airline is responsible, even if you booked via an online travel agency. The law is clear that it's the 'operating air carrier' (so the airline) which is responsible for refunding passengers when a flight is cancelled. So even if you booked with an online travel agency, it's the airline that's responsible if there are any issues.
  • If you booked a package, the tour operator is responsible. If your cancelled 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.
  • You should be offered an alternative flight at the earliest opportunity and it DOESN'T have to be with the same airline. EU flight delay law says passengers whose flights have been cancelled must be offered "re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity".

    It doesn't define what "the earliest opportunity" means, but the Civil Aviation Authority said: "It is our view that passengers should be re-routed on the same day as their original flight and via the same route, but where this is not possible, their airline should instead identify alternative re-routing options which minimise the disruption to the journey plans of affected passengers. This could include travel with a different airline."
  • You can insist on a different flight, but DON'T just book one yourself. In many cases, your airline should be able to put you on another of its scheduled flights – but if none of the options you're offered is suitable, you have a right to ask to be put on a new flight with a different airline. Push for this if it isn't offered.

    You should always check your options with the airline and ask it to book the flight for you in the first instance. Booking a new flight yourself should be a last resort, and it's important you keep all the evidence if you do need to do so.
  • Read more on requesting an alternative airline

    If you believe you should be offered a flight with an alternative airline, here's what to do:

    1. ALWAYS check with your airline first. Don't simply book an alternative flight without checking what re-routing options your airline is offering. Some have agreements with other airlines and may try to book you on one of these initially – though if this alternative is not suitable, stick to your guns and ask for a more convenient flight.

    2. Ask the airline to book the flight for you. Again, don't just book a new flight yourself – it's the airline that cancelled the flight that has a responsibility to offer you an alternative flight. So ask it to rebook for you.

    3. If you have to rebook yourself, keep the evidence. As a last resort, if you have to rebook on another airline, make sure you keep all evidence to help your claim. This could include screenshots of being unable to get through on live chat and evidence that you found a reasonably priced alternative, for instance, you didn't simply pick the most expensive alternative flight.

    4. If you have to claim, include all your evidence. If you had no option other than to book an alternative flight, you can try to reclaim your expenses from the airline that cancelled your flight. Use our free flight delay reclaim tool.

Step 3: Are you due compensation for your cancelled flight?

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Certain EU/UK-regulated flights are eligible for compensation at a set rate under the UK/EU flight delay compensation scheme. To qualify your flight needs to check all the following boxes:

  • The flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure.

  • The rescheduled flight (whether you got on it or not) departed earlier or arrived at your destination later than scheduled.

  • The flight was scheduled to fly in the past six years (five in Scotland).

  • The reason for the cancellation was the airline's fault. So, for example, a staff shortage would be, but bad weather wouldn't be. (Not sure? See full info on what's likely within the airline's control.)

Quick questions

  • Have the rules changed since Brexit?

    Flight delay and cancellation compensation rules remain the same following the end of the Brexit transition period, as the Government has written EU261 into UK law, so you'll get the same cover you would if the UK had remained in the EU. You can read the small print here.

    There is one difference however – you'll now be paid in pounds rather than euros if you're claiming under UK law. Flights covered include those:

    • Departing the UK
    • Arriving in the UK with an EU or UK carrier
    • Arriving in the EU with a UK carrier
  • Does the cancellation have to be the airline's fault to claim via my travel insurance?

    Depending on your travel insurance policy, you could be able to claim compensation from your insurer when the cancellation 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.

Was your flight cancelled less than 14 days before departure?

If the answer's no, unfortunately you're not entitled to compensation for the cancellation. You still have the right to a refund or alternative flight though – and if the alternative flight is delayed, you may be entitled to flight delay compensation.

To get compensation on top of a refund or alternative travel arrangements, your flight has to have been cancelled less than two weeks before you were meant to fly. The amount you'll get is fixed depending on the timing of your new flight and distance travelled.

It's gets a little complicated, so we've tried to simplify how much you'll get in these two tables. 

Note: Compensation is per person, so for a family of four, multiply the amount shown in the table by four (although where a passenger travels free of charge, you cannot claim).

Flight cancelled 7 to 14 days before departure 

FLIGHT LENGTH TIME OF ALTERNATIVE FLIGHT VS ORIGINAL COMPENSATION
0 to 1,500km Leaves 2 or more hours earlier than the original flight and  lands no more than 2 hours later than the original flight

(That means if your flight takes off 12 hours earlier, and arrives 9 hours earlier, you're in this category)

€125 (£110)

Leaves 2+ hours earlier, lands more than 2 hours later €250 (£220)
Lands 4+ hours later €250 (£220)
1,500 to 3,500km Leaves 2+ hours earlier, lands less than 3 hours later €200 (£170)
Leaves 2+ hours earlier, lands 3 to 4 hours later €400 (£350)
Lands 4+ hours later €400 (£350)
3,500km+ Leaves 2+ hours earlier, lands less than 4 hours later €300 (£260)
Lands 4+ hours later €600 (£520)
ANY Leaves less than 2 hours earlier than your original flight and lands no more than 2 hours later No compensation due
Sterling figures based on the late-Nov 2023 exchange rate of €1.15 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

Flight cancelled less than 7 days before departure

FLIGHT LENGTH TIME OF ALTERNATIVE FLIGHT VS ORIGINAL COMPENSATION
0 to 1,500km Leaves 1 or more hours earlier than the original flight and  lands no more than 2 hours later than the original flight

(That means if your flight takes off 12 hours earlier, and arrives 9 hours earlier, you're in this category)

€125 (£110)

Lands 2+ hours later €250 (£220)
1,500 to 3,500km Leaves 1+ hours earlier, lands less than 3 hours later €200 (£170)
Lands 3+ hours later €400 (£350)
3,500km+ Leaves 1+ hours earlier, lands less than 4 hours later €300 (£260)
Lands 4+ hours later €600 (£520)
ANY Leaves less than 1 hour earlier than your original flight and lands no more than 2 hours later No compensation due
Sterling figures based on the late-Nov 2023 exchange rate of €1.15 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

Top tip: You can use the Web Flyer website to check the distance of your flight.

If you fulfil all the criteria, it's likely you have a claim

If you've got this far, it's likely that you'll be able to claim compensation, so head to the how to claim section to continue. And if your flight was cancelled after you arrived at the airport and you waited ages for a replacement flight, see our Stuck at the airport guide for what costs you can claim and your rights.

Flight cancellation rights FAQs

  • What if I missed a connecting flight because of a cancellation?

    If you can't get to your intermediate stop because your first flight was cancelled, then the airline must refund the whole ticket price, or offer an alternative way to get there.

    What matters is when you arrive at the final destination on that ticket. So if you book a London to Las Vegas flight via New York, where both legs are on the same ticket, what counts is when you get to Las Vegas.

    But if you book your connecting flight separately to your original flight, meaning it's on another ticket, then you can only claim based on each individual flight.

    So, for example, if you booked London to New York on a different ticket to New York to Las Vegas, and the London to New York flight is delayed by less than three hours, you wouldn't be able to claim compensation if you missed your flight from New York to Las Vegas.

  • What if I paid using air miles?

    If you paid for part or all of your flight using air miles and you opt for a refund for a cancelled flight, the Civil Aviation Authority says it's reasonable for the airline to reinstate the air miles.

    Provided any taxes were included in the ticket price, these should also be refunded. However, taxes paid at the airport rather than as part of the original booking are unlikely to be refunded.

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Our free tool to claim

If you fit the criteria above you can make a claim using our free online reclaim tool, which uses technology from complaints site Resolver. Alternatively, you can make a claim directly

Our free online tool helps draft the claim letter for you, tells you when you've been sent a response, keeps track of your complaint and escalates it if necessary.

We do this using the complaints firm Resolver, which provides the technology, but the underlying template letters and logic behind it are ours.

As well as helping you to draft a letter of complaint, Resolver will remind you to escalate your claim within the airline and, if necessary, to the appropriate regulator or adjudicator after eight weeks, though if your complaint is escalated to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), you are still likely to be asked to fill in the CAA's own complaints form. See more on escalating your complaint below.

  • How long should my claim take? There's no set timescale, but typically four to 12 weeks.

  • Can't find your airline? If you can't find yours, Resolver says airlines can be added to the tool quickly if you alert it via its website. If you don't want to wait, you'll need to complain directly.
Note: A number of airlines refuse to accept complaints via Resolver, and so you'll need to complain to them directly. The airlines are: Airblue, Emirates, Jet2, Pakistan International Airlines, SAS, Saudia, Swiss, TAP.
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Or submit your claim directly

If you decide not to use Resolver (or your airline doesn't work with it) you can submit your claim directly. Different airlines have different procedures for claiming, including emailing or an online form. So check what method your airline wants you to use before claiming.

Remember, it's the operator of the flight, rather than the firm you booked with that's responsible when things go wrong. So if you booked a ticket via Qantas, but were on a British Airways plane, then its British Airways that's responsible if anything goes wrong.

Explain what went wrong and state what you want in terms of compensation and/or reimbursement. You can use this link to double-check how far the flight distance was.

If you're claiming under EU law, say you want to claim compensation under EU regulation 261/2004.

If you're claiming under UK law, say you want to claim compensation under The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 – this is where EU regulation 261/2004 has been written into UK law.

It's important you do this – quoting the law each time lets airlines know you're serious.

Use our free template letters to complain

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 link: Delayed or cancelled flights template letter.

Quick questions

  • What evidence do I need to submit?

    Whichever route you're using to claim, it'll help if you can attach 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. (If claiming via our online complaint tool, Resolver, you'll be able to attach these to your online claim.)

    Don't worry if you don't have any documented evidence – we've heard of people claiming successfully without it. For example, Nadine emailed us saying: "Only had an old itinerary for a flight that I went on four years ago and used your template. Received a payment of £2,100. Thanks."

    Try to include the following, if you can:

    Passenger details, including names, your home address, email address and phone number.

    Previous airline reference number if you have been in contact before about the same complaint.

    Flight details, such as the booking reference, flight number, where you were travelling to and from, and on what dates.

    The flight length. You can check this on the Web Flyer website.

    You should also include copies of supporting documents, such as receipts, flight tickets or boarding passes. If you can't find these immediately, check your email inbox for e-tickets.

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

    In this instance, you may be a creditor of the company and you'll need to make a claim to the liquidator or administrator.

    However, if you paid for a flight using a credit card, you may also be able to pursue compensation with your card company, providing the flight cost £100 or more. For more information, see our Section 75 refunds guide.

  • Do I have to accept compensation in vouchers?

    We've heard plenty of reports of airlines giving flight vouchers instead of cash. But you don't have to accept these – you're entitled to your compensation in cash.

    Sarah is a great example of this, she tweeted us saying: "Thomas Cook offered vouchers, so I asked for the money – no problem, the money's in my account."

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Claim rejected or put on hold by the airline? Take it further with the regulator or adjudicators

Just because your case has been rejected or put on hold by the airline, it doesn't mean that's the end of the line for your complaint. If you think you have a legitimate claim, you can take your case either to the relevant regulator, or to one of several new alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes many airlines have signed up with. The advantage of going to an ADR scheme is its decision is generally binding on the airline. 

  • If your airline has signed up to an ADR, it has to tell you when it rejects your claim, and if the ADR scheme covers the flight you flew on, you MUST go to it if you want to appeal. Escalating your complaint is normally free, but watch out – some of the adjudicators (such as CEDR, who cover British Airways and Cathay Pacific) charge a fee if your appeal's unsuccessful.

  • If your airline hasn't yet signed up to an ADR scheme, you'll have to go to the relevant regulator instead. It's worth noting regulators can't issue binding decisions (so they can't force airlines to pay out) – they will advise you whether they think you have a valid complaint and, if so, take it up with the airline.

For any flights leaving the UK, or any coming into the UK with a UK or EU airline, you'll need to go to the CAA or regulator in the relevant country. You can submit your complaint via the CAA website for free – it'll take about a week to decide if it can accept your case, and if it does, it'll then give a final decision within 10 weeks.

Struggling to claim? 

There's no need to pay anyone to claim. Use our reclaim tools to draft your complaint, track it and help escalate it to the relevant regulator or resolution scheme if rejected – and as it's totally free, you keep ALL of the compensation. 

If you've tried using the free tools and struggled to get a fair result, there is another solution. We're not usually in favour of using no win, no fee claims companies, because most of the time you're giving away a huge chunk of your compensation for something that is easy.

But when it gets difficult, it can be worth picking a good firm with a strong reputation to do it for you and accepting you'll lose some of the compensation.

For a number of years, Bott & Co has been at the forefront of flight delay compensation in the UK, taking many of the test cases that were needed to court. While they may not be the cheapest out there, we tend to believe they're the professionals when it comes to these claims, and are worth considering. But again, this should be a last resort.

  • What if the airline still says no?

    Some airlines play hardball with claims and sometimes reject people even when the CAA or other regulators say 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.

    • If the airline rejects your claim even after you've gone to the regulator. Unfortunately, the next step is really to take it to the small claims court. Don't think going to court is about judges and wigs though – you can actually claim online.

    • If you used the airline's ADR scheme and you're not happy with the outcome. The adjudicator's decision is only binding on the airline, not on you, so if you're unhappy with the outcome you could consider taking your case to the small claims court.

    • If the airline is keeping your claim on hold. The only way to force the airline to deal with your claim is to take it to court. If your claim's been delayed due to the ongoing legal battles, you may be best waiting for them to be resolved.

      However, if your claim is nearing the six-year time limit for taking court action, consider filing proceedings fast. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed court claims which go over the six-year limit while on hold will still be heard.

    While the onus is on the airline to prove the cause of the delay, unfortunately, as there's no central database collating why flights are delayed, it's their word against yours. So try and recall whether you were told anything by the pilot or airport staff at the time of the delay to back up your claim. If you don't think the airline has cited the correct cause of delay, it may be worth challenging in court.

Made a claim? Let others know how it's gone in the forum on your airline's thread: British Airways, EasyjetJet2, KLM/Air France, Lufthansa, Ryanair, Tui and Virgin Atlantic. If your airline's not listed, let us know on this guide's discussion thread.

Not a UK/EU flight? You may still have a claim, but it'll take more legwork

If you weren't on a UK or EU-regulated flight, then sadly you won't be covered by the UK/EU flight delay compensation scheme.

Luckily, most airlines base their terms and conditions on those recommended by the International Air Transport Association. This means that when delays happen, most airlines have a contractual obligation to offer passengers a choice between a later flight, mutually agreed alternative transport or a refund.

But if you want to try to get compensation as well, there are some avenues you can try:

  • Check if similar compensation schemes exist. The CAA says you should first check whether the country the airline is based in has a compensation scheme.

  • See if you can claim under the Montreal Convention. If you were on an international flight which took off from one of the countries signed up to the Montreal Convention (more than 100 are – see a full list), you might be able to claim for any losses caused by a delay. To claim, complain directly to your airline saying you wish to reclaim under the Montreal Convention.

  • Complain to the airline. Check the airline's website for its complaints procedure.

  • Check if you're covered by your travel insurance. Your travel insurance policy may offer some limited cover for delays, though not all policies will. Some may pay you a lump sum based on the length of the delay, while others will simply refund costs you've incurred, such as hotels or alternative transport.

Do any non-EU countries offer compensation for cancellations?

A number of countries do offer compensation for delays and cancellations, including Canada and New Zealand. But not all do   we've listed some of the biggest destinations below.

Which non-EU/UK countries offer compensation?

  COMPENSATION SCHEME? REGULATORY AUTHORITY
Australia No Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Canada Yes, you're entitled to compensation up to $1,000 (£585) Canadian Transportation Agency
India Yes, you're entitled to compensation for cancellations, up to 10,000 rupees (£95) Directorate General of Civil Aviation
Japan No Civil Aviation Bureau
New Zealand Yes, you're entitled to compensation up to 10 times the price of your ticket Consumer Protection NZ
Turkey Yes, you're entitled to compensation, up to the Turkish Lira equivalent of €600 (£520) Directorate General of Civil Aviation
United Arab Emirates No UAE Government Entities
USA No, but the Department of Transportation lists what different airlines offer for delays and cancellations US Department of Transportation

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