Flight delay compensation
Claim up to £520 per person
If your flight is delayed, it's important to know you have rights – whether you're reading this at the airport, or it happened weeks ago. And if it's delayed for more than three hours, you may be entitled to up to £520 in compensation – provided the delay was the airline's fault.
Key flight-rights guides
Flight delay rights
Check if your flight's eligible and speedily claim what you're owed.
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.
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.
Step 2: Are you eligible for compensation?
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:
- You arrived at your destination more than three hours later than scheduled.
- The flight was scheduled to fly in the past six years (five in Scotland).
- The reason for the delay 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.)
You may also be able to claim compensation if you've been bumped off your flight due to overbooking.
Flight delay 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
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.
Compensation under EU and UK rules is designed to make up for the inconvenience of a delay – it's not a refund of the flight ticket cost. So the amount you'll get is fixed depending on the amount of time you were delayed and how far you were travelling.
Crucially, it's about when you arrive, not when you leave. You'll start being eligible for compensation if your flight arrives three hours (or more) later than scheduled. So if you're on a flight that takes off four hours late but lands two hours 55 minutes late, you won't be eligible.
Your arrival time is deemed to be when at least one of the plane doors is opened.
|Up to 1,500km||3+ hours||£220|
|1,500km to 3,500km||3+ hours||£350|
|3,500km+||3 to 4 hours||£260|
Top tip: You can use the Web Flyer website to check the distance of your flight.
If you don't remember exactly how long your flight was delayed for, it's a little trickier. But there is a calculator that can help.
Free historical flight data is hard to come by, and so one alternative is to use a claim firm's delay calculator. But to be clear, we're NOT suggesting you use a claims firm, just that you use its calculator and then submit your own DIY claim.
The Bott & Co calculator is easy to use – just tap in your flight number, date of flight and the airports you flew between. It'll say whether it thinks you may be able to claim. Yet there are two drawbacks:
First, the tool doesn't tell you the length of delay, just how much it thinks you can claim (if it says you're owed €600 and your flight was over 3,500km, your delay was likely over four hours).
And secondly, you have to give your name and email address (your phone number is optional), so you may get some marketing emails.
When we tested the calculator, it seemed to give generally accurate results, but we don't have much feedback, so just use answers as a rough guide. Let us know how you find them, and if you've come across others which provide reliable free historical flight data, in the Flight delays forum thread.
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.
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, which is 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.
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.
You should also include copies of supporting documents, such as receipts, flight tickets or boarding passes – you'll usually need to provide proof that you 'presented yourself for check-in'. If you can't find these immediately, check your email inbox for e-tickets.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
If you are bumped off a flight, you may be entitled to compensation
Airlines often book more passengers on to a flight than there are seats, on the basis that it's unlikely all of them will show up. If they all do, then airlines may have to ask some passengers to wait for another flight.
If you voluntarily give up your seat, then the amount of compensation you're due is between you and the airline, though you're likely to get cash or vouchers, plus a seat on a later flight and food/a hotel if it's a long/overnight wait.
If there aren't enough volunteers willing to surrender their seats, then airlines can deny boarding to selected passengers. Typically, those with expensive tickets or elite frequent flyer status won't be forced off. Some airlines may choose passengers who checked in last, or those who booked cheap tickets.
If you're forced off due to overbooking, then under UK/EU rules you're entitled to compensation. This means you can get a refund or a new flight, and based on the timings of the alternative flight you're offered, you may also be eligible for compensation – even if you opt for the refund – as overbooking was the airline's fault. The table below shows how much you could get.
|Up to 1,500km, (all flights), for example, London to Paris||Up to 2 hours||€125 (£110)|
|Up to 1,500km, (all flights), for example, London to Paris||2 hours+||€250 (£220)|
|1,500km to 3,500km (all flights), for example, Manchester to Malaga||Up to 3 hours||€200 (£170)|
|1,500km+ (flights within the UK/EU only)||3 hours+||€400 (£350)|
|3,500km+ (flights between a UK/EU and non-UK/EU airport), for example, London to New York||Up to 4 hours||€300 (£260)|
|4 hours+||€600 (£520)|
|(i) Based on the timings of the alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the early-Sept 2023 exchange rate of €1.16 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.|
You also have a right to compensation under EU law if you're chucked out of the higher classes. (As usual, you must be taking off from a UK/EU airport, or arriving at a UK/EU airport on a UK/EU airline.)
Unfortunately you won't get a full refund of what you paid for your ticket, assuming you do get to travel on the plane – the CAA says this is because the airline has still provided you a service, even if it's not what you paid for. But you are due the following amounts of compensation, depending on the distance:
- Short-haul flights (less than 1,500km) – you'll get 30% of your ticket cost back.
- Medium-haul flights (between 1,500km and 3,500km) – you'll get 50% of your ticket cost.
- Long-haul flights (more than 3,500km) – you'll get 75% of your ticket cost.
The airline should pay you within seven days. If you were only downgraded for part of your journey, for example, just the return leg, your refund will be worked out on this basis.
Not on 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 where the airline is based has any similar compensation schemes.
- 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 delays?
|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)||Ministry 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
Is claiming the right thing to do?
Before you go, consider whether claiming's the right thing to do morally. Here's MSE founder & chair Martin Lewis' take on it...
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.
The law, which originates with the EU, certainly swung the pendulum against airlines. As the cost of the flight is irrelevant to the payout, there will be some who paid £60 for a cheap flight, were delayed a few hours that didn't really bother them, yet are entitled to a disproportionate £100s compensation for it.
If everyone did it, this could further cripple budget airlines' pricing models, possibly hasten the financial troubles of airlines already struggling in a tough economy and put prices up. 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.
If you were delayed three hours and a minute and had a great time in the airport bar, I'd say don't go for it. Yet for those 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, I'd say go for it.
Therefore it's a personal ethical case-by-case choice whether to take up the cudgels and go for the compensation. While the impact on the airline is no reason not to do it, it is a reason to first examine whether the compensation you could be due would be truly fair or excessive.
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