Flight Delay Compensation

Up to £540/person, back to 2012

If you're delayed by more than three hours or your flight's cancelled, under EU rule 261/2004 you are often entitled to between £110 and £540 in compensation – and it's possible to claim this for free.

This is a step-by-step guide to claiming, including our free online tool to help draft and manage your complaint (plus free template letters if you want to do it yourself), how to stop the airlines squirming out of paying and the latest on the court cases surrounding claims.

Flight delay compensation is big money

The doors for mass compensation for long flight delays were flung open in October 2012 following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice. It clarified that passengers were entitled to compensation for long delays (as long as they met the set criteria) following a challenge by some airlines.

Since then, passengers who've been delayed have been fighting to get that compensation and MoneySavingExpert has helped lead the charge. Over 580,000 people have downloaded our free flight delay reclaiming letters – and we launched a free online reclaim tool to make the process even easier.

Not everyone has won compensation. Some airlines tried to block people from claiming for flights that were over two years old, and for unforeseeable technical faults, although courts ruled against this in 2014 and 2015 – see court cases info.

Yet we are also swamped with some huge successes – here are a few to inspire you:

I used your tool on the Tuesday, and by the Friday I had £706 in my account. I couldn't believe it. Thanks.
- Jennifer

There were four of us. I would never have found out about the compensation if it weren't for Martin's easy link. It took me five minutes to fill in and we got £1,200! I booked flights for October with the money and had change. Bonus!
- Andrea

We got back £3,300 from BA for our delayed flight to the USA recently. We were delayed five hours and there were seven of us so it worked out €600 per person. Thank you so much for the direction to use the Resolver website. So quick and easy.
 - Deanne

I sent an email through Resolver [our free online tool] on Wednesday evening to Air Malta asking for compensation for a flight delay in 2013. I was astounded to receive an email back from the airline on Thursday morning offering me 400 euros compensation.
- Liz

Could claiming compensation push air fares up? Martin's view

Before putting in a compensation claim, consider that while you have a legal right to do so, an influx of claims could mean airlines have to shell out big bucks, and flight prices may be hiked to make up for any losses.

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.

This EU ruling has certainly swung the pendulum against airlines. As the cost of the flight is irrelevant to the payout there will be some who paid £20 for a cheap flight, were delayed a few hours that didn't really bother them, yet are entitled to a disproportionate £230 compensation for it.

If everyone did it, this could 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.

If I were rejigging the rules to make it fairer for both travellers and the industry (to keep flight prices down), I'd suggest the compensation paid should be whichever is cheaper – your flight price or the fixed compensation amount set out in law. For example, if you were on a £50 flight and entitled to £310 compensation, you'd get £50. But if your flight cost £300, you'd be entitled to the full £300.

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 each individual must make their own ethical choice of whether to take up the cudgels and go for the compensation. While the impact on the airline is no reason not to do it, for me it is a reason to first examine whether the compensation you could be due would be truly fair or excessive.

- Martin Lewis MSE founder & chair

Stuck at the airport? Your rights

We've got chapter and verse below on how to claim compensation if your flight is delayed or cancelled. But if you're stuck at the airport right now waiting for an EU-regulated flight (ie, any flight leaving an EU airport or on an EU airline to an EU airport) or worried you might be in future, here's a checklist of what you need to know:

Your airline should tell you what's going on. Ask at a check-in desk but also look at its website and Twitter and Facebook for updates. Check the email you used when booking, too, in case you've been sent an update, and the airline's app may have info. 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 what's going on.

You're entitled to food and drink. Regardless of what caused the hold-up, your airline must look after you if you're delayed or waiting for an alternative flight if your original was cancelled. It 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 (eg, 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 – 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.

You're entitled to accommodation if needed. If delayed overnight you're entitled to a hotel, and the airline must also provide transport to and from it. Ideally it would book the hotel so always check first, but if it's unable to help, try to find a reasonably priced one and keep all receipts – again it's unlikely to cover a luxury hotel.

You're entitled to a 'means of communication'. In practice this just means the airline's likely to reimburse you for the cost of any relevant calls you make.

Keep hold of any evidence. As well as keeping receipts, note the reason you were given for the delay or cancellation and screenshot any information you may have seen on Twitter etc, as this could prove useful if you later claim compensation.

If your delay means you arrive at your destination more than three hours late, you may be owed up to £540. If the delay was deemed to be within the airline's control you could be owed compensation. See full flight delays help.

If you're delayed more than five hours, you can get a refund regardless of cause. If you no longer wish to travel you can ask for a refund after this point, which will include any unused parts of your booking such as a return flight. If you opt for this though you'll no longer be entitled to any further care and assistance, and it's unlikely you'll get compensation as the law specifies it's based on arrival time, and you won't arrive at your destination.

If your flight is cancelled you're entitled to a new flight or refund, and possibly compensation. See our flight cancellation section for full details, including why you may be entitled to a flight on an alternative airline, and how to check if you're owed compensation.

It's worth noting these rules only apply to EU-regulated flights. For more on the rules on other flights see non-EU flights help below.

Flight delay compensation – the rules

  1. It's only for EU-regulated flights

    An EU flight is where the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline OR where an EU airline landed at an EU airport. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

    So a delayed Manchester to Miami flight qualifies, regardless of the airline. Yet for Miami to Manchester, you are entitled to compensation flying Virgin or KLM, but not on Air India.

    If you WEREN'T on an EU-regulated flight, you can't claim under EU rules, but there are still avenues you can try. See What if I wasn't on an EU flight?

    Quick questions

    • It's the operator of the flight which is responsible when things go wrong. So if, for example, you book with American Airlines but your flight is operated by British Airways, it's British Airways which is responsible for any problems. If the operator counts as an EU airline, then you can claim.

      Where things may get tricky is connecting flights that are operated by different airlines. For example if you fly from New York to Newcastle via London, and the New York-London leg is American Airlines but the London-Newcastle leg is British Airways, it can be a bit of a grey area. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says there are two factors:

      • Whether the court would consider this as one flight or two separate ones.
      • Whether the cause of the delay occurred in the US or the UK.

      The CAA says if it's deemed you travelled on two separate flights and the delay to the British Airways flight was caused by an issue in the UK, then you may have a case. However, it's a complex issue that ultimately a court would need to consider.

    • It makes no difference, the rules are exactly the same.

  2. You can claim back to 2012

    In theory you can apply for compensation for any past delays stretching back as far as February 2005 – but in practice it's extremely unlikely you'll be able to go back further than 2012.

    In fact, flight delay solicitors Bott & Co, who say they've dealt with over 200 airlines and more than 370,000 claims, believe any airline will refuse your claim if it is longer than six years ago.

    This is because in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, due to the statute of limitations, if you need to take the airline to court to get the cash (not too common, don't be unduly worried) then you can only go back six years. In Scotland, it's five years. So older claims can be tricky.

    Quick questions

    • If they say that, it's utter tosh. It always was tosh but Thomson (now rebranded as Tui) had been trying to overturn various court rulings confirming that you can go back at least six years. Thomson argued you should only be able to go back two, and it led the way among airlines in automatically rejecting cases more than two years old.

      However the UK's highest court, the Supreme Court, refused Thomson's application to appeal an earlier judgment against it in October 2014, meaning the six-year rule stands in English and Welsh courts (others may also use the same principle). If any airline tries to fob you off with this rubbish, they are talking nonsense and you should fight 'em. See the court cases section for full details.

      You can actually go back more than six years – to 2005 – under European law. But if it went to court, those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales would only look at cases going back six years, while it's five in Scotland. So this makes winning claims between 2005 and 2011 (2012 in Scotland) extremely unlikely.

    • Unfortunately this would be a very hard battle to win, as you can only go back six years for court cases in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and five for Scotland.

      If you want to try though, you can complain to your airline in the first instance. If your case is rejected, complain to the relevant regulator or to the European Consumer Centre where relevant. See the How do I claim? section for more information.

      Unfortunately, if your case is rejected by both the airline and the regulator/ECC, then there's nothing more you can do.

    • While you can claim back to February 2005, when EU rules came into force, it may be difficult to enforce. It's likely every country also has its own version of a statute of limitations restricting how far back claims can be made.

    • On 23 October 2012, the Court of Justice of the European Union passed a judgment which said consumers who arrived at their destination three or more hours late could claim compensation. This upheld a long-standing rule which airlines had challenged.

    • Since 2012 we've seen many reports of courts upholding the rules. Take MoneySaver Jeremy Noott, for example. He received £1,000+ in September 2013 after York County Court ruled in his favour following a 21 hour delay on a Thomson flight in 2010. See the Thomson defeated in court MSE News story for how he did it.

    • For delays, the Civil Aviation Authority says passengers will need to prove they were at the check-in. The best way to do this is to either submit:
       

      • Your boarding pass.
         

      • Email confirmation of boarding passes being issued and other forms of acknowledgement if you don't still have your boarding pass.
         

      • If you've lost your boarding pass or other form of acknowledgement, ask the airline if it has confirmation you checked in. We've heard of success when trying this.

    • In this instance, you may be a creditor of the company. If this is the case, 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.

    • It's likely the business that bought the airline has taken over all liabilities, meaning you can put in a claim to the new owner.

      If the buyer doesn't take over liabilities, but you paid for a flight using a credit card, you may be able to claim for compensation with your credit card company instead, providing the flight cost £100 or over. For more information, see our Section 75 refunds guide. If you're unsure about what's happened, ask the Civil Aviation Authority.

  3. It must be the airline's fault to claim

    You are only entitled to the compensation if the delay was something within the airline's control. Staffing problems and underbooking all count. Yet political unrest in a country or industrial strikes by airport staff make claiming a no-go.

    The European Commission has published "interpretative guidelines" for the flight delay law, referencing case law in a bid to clarify some of the grey areas, but these are not legally binding on the airlines.

    The guidelines say the airline must prove there were extraordinary circumstances and it took all reasonable steps to avoid them.

    Quick questions

    • Where the delay is out of the airline's hands, then 'extraordinary circumstances' include:

      Bad weather (though it's worth noting flight delay solicitors Bott & Co argue some bad weather may NOT be an extraordinary circumstance, eg, heavy snow at an airport near a ski resort is to be expected).

      Industrial action by air traffic controllers, airport staff and ground handlers

      Political problems

      Security or safety issues

      Air traffic management decisions, eg, airspace shut due to volcanic ash

      Technical problems caused by an event that is "out of the ordinary" eg, a hidden manufacturing defect

    • Examples of where the delay is usually within the airline's control, and therefore not an 'extraordinary circumstance', include:

      Crew or pilot late

      Flight cancelled because of underbooking

      Strikes by airline staff (see our 'Wildcat' strikes MSE News story for more info)

      If the airline doesn't submit its documentation on time, if the delay was its fault

      Technical problems that are caused by something routine, such as component failure and general wear and tear

    • Let's face it, most of us wouldn't have a clue how to tell for sure if a problem was due to a technical fault. We wouldn't be allowed to inspect the aircraft, and even if we could, we probably wouldn't have the necessary aviation knowledge.

      If you don't believe an airline when it says the delay wasn't its fault, you can refer the complaint to the airline's named Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, the UK's regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), another European regulator or the European Consumer Centre. Any of these can liaise with the airline on your behalf to establish what caused the delay.

      However even then the CAA says it doesn't separately collect reasons for a flight delay and it will rely on airlines to explain what caused a delay.

    • 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.

    So can I claim if...

    • There have been multiple court cases on this. The most recent was van de lans v KLM, which went in consumers' favour – in September 2015 the European Court of Justice clarified you CAN claim for technical faults. As it's the highest court in Europe, all others should follow its decision.

      This ruling followed a previous judgment in June 2014 made by the UK's highest court, the Supreme Court – it also said passengers are able to claim for technical problems. See the court cases section for full information.

    • Yes, you can claim, depending on the arrival time of the rescheduled flight you're put on, and as long as you meet certain other criteria. See the cancellations section for the full details of when you can claim.

    • It's likely you could claim if the pilot or crew were late, as this could be seen as the airline's fault for not properly planning turnaround times between flights, or for not providing additional cover. However, claims are investigated on a case-by-case basis, and will depend on why exactly the crew or pilot were late.

    • To be honest, we're not 100% sure whether you can claim for compensation as the law isn't specific enough to cover this scenario.

      The Civil Aviation Authority says these type of decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

      A case heard at Macclesfield County Court in September 2013 may strengthen your right to claim in this scenario. A judge ruled in favour of a passenger whose Easyjet flight from Gatwick was delayed after the aircraft was held up following bad weather on an earlier flight. The judge said the airline couldn't demonstrate it had done everything it its power to prevent the delay.

      While the case outlined above isn't binding as it was heard at a county court, it's still worth making a claim and citing it as an example. Why should you be penalised if the airline chose a tight turnaround time, meaning more chance of it suffering delays? If nothing else, it will help set a precedent.

    • What matters is if you arrived at your final destination more than three hours late. Depending on the cause of the diversion, you may be able to claim for compensation.

      An example is if you were supposed to fly direct from London to New York, but ended up being diverted via Washington, which meant you suffered a delay. In this example, you would normally be taken by an alternative flight, coach, taxi or train, provided by the airline, to New York – so what counts for your claim is the overall time it took to get to New York.

      The European Commission's most recent guidelines on diverted flights (see 3.2.4. on page 24) say that in this situation the claim would be treated as a delay.

    • If the initial disruption causes you to arrive at your final destination over three hours late, then depending on what caused the disruption, you can claim compensation. What matters is when you arrive at the final destination on your 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 from your original flight, meaning it's on another ticket, then you can only claim based on the delay to each individual flight. So using the same example, if you book London to New York separately from New York to Las Vegas, and the London to New York journey is delayed by less than three hours, causing you to miss the Las Vegas flight, then you can't claim compensation.

  4. Delays must be 3 hours+ to claim

    Compensation for delays is only due on flights arriving over three hours or more late. How long the delay is determines how much you could be entitled to.

    Crucially, this is a straight rule. It's about when you arrive, not when you leave. So if you're on a flight that takes off four hours late but lands 2 hours 55 minutes late, you're not over the three-hour delay needed to be eligible for compensation.

    Your arrival time is actually deemed to be when the plane opens at least one of its doors, not when it touches down. This follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice in September 2014, after Germanwings unsuccessfully tried to argue that as its plane had touched down just less than three hours late its passenger had no right to compensation.

    The three hour rule is also about compensation for a delay, not a refund of the flight ticket cost, so the amount you are due is fixed dependent on the delay length and distance travelled. You can use the Web Flyer site to check the distance of your flight.

    Compensation is also per person, so for a family of four, quadruple it (although where a passenger travels free of charge you cannot claim). BUT compensation is based in euros, meaning the amount you'll get in sterling will fluctuate, depending on the exchange rate at the time the payment is made.

    • If you don't remember exactly how long your flight was delayed for, it's a little trickier. The FlightStats website previously offered a free tool to help you check, but it now charges.

      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. Here are two options:

      • The FlightRight calculator is easy to use – just tap in your flight number, date of flight and the airports you flew between, and it'll say how long you were delayed for.
         

      • The Bott & Co calculator is similar, and later in this guide Bott & Co's the firm we suggest you consider if court is the only option left. 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 (phone number is optional) so you may get some marketing emails.

      When we tested the calculators with a few known delays, they 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.

    See the table below for how much you could get.

    My flight's been delayed. How much will I get?

    ARRIVAL DELAY DISTANCE COSTS COMPENSATION IF YOU TRAVELLED (I) FARE REFUND IF YOU DIDN'T TRAVEL (II)
    Under two hours Any distance No No No
    2 hours – 2h 59mins Any distance Maybe (iii) No No
    3 hours+ All flights under 1,500km, eg, London to Paris (iv) Yes €250 (£230) Yes, if delayed over five hours
    All flights between 1,500km and 3,500km, eg, Manchester to Malaga (iv) Yes €400 (£360)
    Flights within the EU only, 1,500+ km Yes €400 (£360)
    3-4 hours Flights between an EU and non-EU airport, 3,500km+, eg, London to New York No €300 (£270)
    4 hours+ Flights between an EU and non-EU airport, 3,500km+, eg, London to New York Yes €600 (£540)
    (i) You're only entitled to compensation if you meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the guide. (ii) You're entitled to a refund of your fare, regardless of the delay's cause. (iii) Depending on the length of the flight, this rule kicks in on delays of more than two or more than four hours. (iv) If leaving an EU airport, or returning to an EU airport on an EU airline. Sterling figures based on the early-September 2018 exchange rate of €1.11 to £1. Rounded to nearest £10.

    Quick questions

    • We've heard plenty of reports of airlines giving flight vouchers instead of cash. In particular, Thomas Cook often crops up as doing this. Yet you don't have to accept these – you're entitled to your compensation in cash (likely to be paid by cheque).

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

    • Depending on the length of the flight, you're entitled to costs on delays of more than two or more than four hours. This means you need to be provided with food, drinks, communications and accommodation if you are delayed overnight.

      You are entitled to this help in all circumstances, regardless of the delay's cause. The Court of Justice of the European Union upheld consumers' rights to care and assistance in 2013 after Ryanair challenged it (see the Ryanair ordered to pay costs MSE News story).

      The airline should sort this for you, such as giving vouchers for food and drinks etc on the spot. If however, you have to pay for these costs yourself, keep the receipts and claim them back later from the airline. See the how to claim section for how to do this.

    • Passengers can claim compensation of between €250 (£230) and €600 (£540) if their flight was delayed by more than three hours and they meet the wider criteria for compensation (eg, travelling on an EU flight, delay has to be the airline's fault and so on). The amount depends on the length of the flight and the delay. See the How much will you get? table above.

    • When the delay hits five hours, you qualify for a refund of the ticket cost, no matter whose fault the problem was, if you decide not to travel.

      You can get a refund for a delayed flight if:

      The flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, or you were on an EU airline that landed at an EU airport.

      Your flight departure is delayed by five hours or more and you decide not to travel.

      You will also receive a refund for any unused parts of your booking (for instance, the return flight), and a flight back to your departure airport if you've already completed part of your journey.

      Can I get both a refund and compensation?

      It looks pretty unlikely.

      The law around the amount of compensation and delays is based on the time you arrive at your destination, therefore if you opt for a refund instead you technically haven't arrived and so it can be argued you're not entitled to compensation as well.

      That said, there have been court cases on this, so far unsuccessful, which suggests there are arguments for you to be owed some kind of compensation. Until there is a definite precedent set you could always ask the airline to pay the equivalent compensation as a goodwill gesture, if you feel you were suitably inconvenienced.

    • 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 still heard of people claiming successfully without it – eg, 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 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.

  5. If the airline says no, it isn't the end

    Just because the airline's rejected or put your case on hold, doesn't mean it's correct. If you feel you've a legitimate claim but have been fobbed off, you can take your case to the relevant regulator or alternative dispute resolution service to look into. Again, this is something you can do yourself – you don't need a claims handler to do this.

    Exactly who you escalate your case to depends on which airline you flew on, and where you were flying from and to – see who to go to if the airline turns you down for full help. In some cases you'll be able to appeal to an ombudsman-style scheme with binding powers. In others, the regulator's rulings will be advisory.

    For most airlines it won't cost you anything to take your claim further, though with five – British Airways, Condor, Easyjet, Thomas Cook and Tui (formerly Thomson) – there's now a £25 fee if your appeal's unsuccessful. See our how to claim section for full help.

    If your appeal is unsuccessful it's still possible to go to court if you really want to press your case, though then you need to weigh up if it's worth it – see how to take your case to court.

  6. Don't meet these conditions? You may still be able to claim

    There are a number of circumstances where you may not meet the conditions of EU regulation 261/2004 as outlined in the points above, but it may still be worth trying to claim for some compensation. For example...

    More info if...

    • If you weren't on an EU flight, as described above, sadly you won't be covered by the EU flight delay compensation scheme.

      The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says 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 transportation or a refund.

      But to try and get compensation as well, there are still a few avenues you can try – see What if I wasn't on an EU flight? below.

    • Sometimes it can be unclear whether you meet the conditions to get compensation. For example, the airline may not have told you the reason for the delay, in which case it can be difficult to know.

      Having said that, it's possible that if the airline didn't tell you, it's because it knows you're eligible to claim and it doesn't want you to. If you're unsure, we'd suggest you submit a complaint anyway. Follow our how to claim information below.

    • Even if you don't meet the rules for claiming compensation, there's nothing to stop you from claiming a goodwill gesture or payment for poor customer service. 

      For example, let's say you were delayed 50 hours due to bad fog. The fog isn't the airline's fault so you can't claim under EU regulations, but if you were treated abominably during that time in a way that you don't believe is acceptable, then just like anyone else who has a bad experience with a company, you can complain.

      If this is what's happened to you, there's no point writing your letter following the templates below because they won't apply. You simply need to write a normal letter explaining what went wrong, saying you don't think it was good enough, and stating what you expect in terms of a goodwill gesture.

    Ready to claim? Now skip to the how to claim section.

Flight cancellation compensation – the rules

Below are the rules if your flight has been cancelled. If your flight has been delayed, please see the rules detailed directly above.

  1. It's only for EU-regulated flights

    An EU flight is where the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline OR where an EU airline landed at an EU airport. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

    So a cancelled Manchester to Miami flight qualifies, regardless of the airline. Yet for Miami to Manchester, you are entitled to compensation flying Virgin or KLM, but not on Air India.

    If you WEREN'T on an EU-regulated flight, you can't claim under EU rules, but there are still avenues you can try. See What if I wasn't on an EU flight?

    Quick questions

    • It's the operator of the flight which is responsible when things go wrong. So if, for example, you book with American Airlines but your flight is operated by British Airways, it's British Airways which is responsible for any problems. If the operator counts as an EU airline, then you can claim.

    • If your 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.

  2. You can claim back to 2012

    In theory you can apply for compensation for any past delays stretching back as far as February 2005 – but in practice it's extremely unlikely you'll be able to go back further than 2012.

    In fact, flight delay solicitors Bott & Co, who say they've dealt with over 200 airlines and more than 370,000 claims, believe any airline will refuse your claim if it is longer than six years ago.

    This is because in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, due to the statute of limitations, if you need to take the airline to court to get the cash (not too common, don't be unduly worried) then you can only go back six years. In Scotland, it's five years. So older claims can be tricky.

    Quick question

    • If they say that, it's utter tosh. It always was tosh but Thomson (now rebranded as Tui) had been trying to overturn various court rulings confirming that you can go back at least six years. Thomson argued you should only be able to go back two, and it led the way among airlines in automatically rejecting cases more than two years old.

      However the UK's highest court, the Supreme Court, refused Thomson's application to appeal an earlier judgment against it in October 2014, meaning the six-year rule stands in English and Welsh courts (others may also use the same principle). So if any airline tries to fob you off with this rubbish, they are talking nonsense and you should fight 'em. See the court cases section for full details.

      You can actually go back more than six years – to 2005 – under European law. But if it went to court, those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales would only look at cases going back six years, while it's five in Scotland. This makes claims between 2005 and 2012 (2013 in Scotland) extremely difficult.

    • The CAA says for cancellation claims, passengers should only need proof of purchase in order to make a claim, but other evidence such as receipts from the airport or luggage tags can help.

    • In this instance, you may be a creditor of the company. If this is the case, 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.

    • It's likely the business that bought the airline has taken over all liabilities, meaning you can put in a claim to the new owner.

      If the buyer doesn't take over liabilities, but you paid for a flight using a credit card, you may be able to claim for compensation with your credit card company instead, providing the flight cost £100 or over. For more information, see our Section 75 refunds guide. If you're unsure about what's happened, ask the CAA.

  3. You're entitled to a refund or a new flight, no matter the reason for cancellation

    Flight delayed or cancelled display panel in airport

    When a flight is cancelled, however long before it was due to take off, you have a right to choose between...

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

    This applies:

    Regardless of how long before the flight you were told of the cancellation.

    Regardless of what it was that caused the cancellation.

    And if the flight you were on departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, OR you were on an EU airline and landed at an EU airport. If you were on another flight anywhere else in the world, you may still be able to get your money back and compensation, but you're at the mercy of other sets of rules.

    Quick questions

    • Airlines have to provide assistance such as food, phone calls and accommodation (where there's an overnight delay) to passengers whose flight has been cancelled, regardless of what caused the cancellation.

      However, this only applies to cancelled flights where you choose to be re-routed at the earliest opportunity. If you decide to get a refund for the cancelled flight, or decide to be re-routed at a later date, then the airline doesn't have to provide this assistance as you're no longer its customer.

      What if the airline didn't do this?

      Sometimes the airline will provide meals and accommodation so you don't need to claim it back. But less caring carriers may not, meaning you end up forking out for these essentials.

      If so, keep all receipts so you can claim. More information in the how to claim section.

    • If you can't get to your intermediate stop because your first flight was cancelled, then the airline must refund the whole ticket price.

      If you are offered an alternative flight to get to that intermediate point, then you fall into the delayed flight category.

      What matters is when you arrive at the final destination on your 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 the delay to each individual flight.

      So if you book 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 can't claim compensation if you miss your flight from New York to Las Vegas.

    • If you paid for part, or all of your flight using air miles and you opt for a refund for a cancelled flight, the CAA 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.

  4. It must be the airline's fault for compensation as well – and it must have cancelled your flight within two weeks of departure

    You CAN claim additional compensation of between €125 (£110) and €600 (£540), depending on the arrival time of a rescheduled flight you're put on.

    Even if you go for a refund of your original ticket, rather than be re-routed, meaning you don't travel, you can claim compensation based on the timings of the alternative flight offered.

    Quick questions

    • To qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

      As long as it happened after 2012 (in theory you can claim post-17 February 2005 but rules surrounding claims courts make this extremely unlikely).

      Your rescheduled flight, whether you board it or not, must have arrived at its destination later than scheduled. The compensation for flight cancellations section below explains how much you'll get, depending on the length of the delay.

      Your flight is cancelled by the airline within 14 days of your journey.

      The flight you were on must have departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, OR it must have been an EU airline and landed at an EU airport. If you were on another flight anywhere else in the world, you may still be able to get your money back and compensation, but you're at the mercy of other sets of rules.

      The reason for the cancellation must have been the airline's fault, eg, the pilot was sick and not replaced, the flight was cancelled as it was underbooked, or the airline's staff called a strike.

    • You won't be able to claim compensation if any of the following apply:

      You were told of the cancellation between seven days and two weeks before the scheduled time of departure and offered re-routing, which meant you departed no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure, reaching your final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

      You were told of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and offered re-routing, which meant you departed no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure, reaching your final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

      The flight you were on departed from and landed at a non-EU airport, regardless of the airline, or you were coming from a non-EU country on a non-EU airline, regardless of where it landed.

      Where the delay is out of the airline's hands due to an 'extraordinary circumstance'. These 'extraordinary circumstances' include:

      • Bad weather (although common sense is needed here as it could be argued heavy snow at an airport near a ski resort is to be expected).

      • Industrial action by air traffic controllers, airport staff and ground handlers

      • Political problems

      • Security or safety issues

      • Air traffic management decisions

      The above scenarios are outlined in EU regulations as being 'extraordinary circumstances'. It's a grey area as to what other situations and scenarios would be covered. The only guidance we have is that an 'extraordinary circumstance' relates to anything outside the airline's hands.

      If you're unsure about whether your cancellation was due to an extraordinary circumstance, it's worth putting in a claim. If the airline rejects it, you're able to take your complaint to the relevant regulator or adjudicator.

    • 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. Don't worry if you don't have any documented evidence – we've still heard of people claiming successfully without it. Nadine, for example, 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:

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

      Previous airline reference number if you 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.

    • There have been multiple court cases on this. The most recent was van de lans v KLM, which went in consumers' favour – in September 2015 the European Court of Justice clarified you CAN claim for technical faults. As it's the highest court in Europe, all others should follow its decision.

      This ruling followed a previous judgment in June 2014 made by the UK's highest court, the Supreme Court – it also said passengers are able to claim for technical problems. See the court cases section for full information.

  5. How much you'll get depends on the flight delay and distance

    This is compensation for a delay, not a return of the flight ticket cost, so the amount you are due is fixed dependent on the delay length and distance travelled. You can use the Web Flyer website to check the distance of your flight.

    Compensation is also per person, so for a family of four, quadruple it (although where a passenger travels free of charge you cannot claim). BUT compensation is based in euros, meaning the amount you'll get in sterling will fluctuate, depending on the exchange rate at the time the payment is made.

    As you can see from the tables below, if you depart earlier than your original flight you'll probably arrive earlier so you won't be due compensation. But where you've departed earlier than the original flight and arrived later, because you've been put on a different route that is longer, or been given a connecting flight that delays you getting to your destination, for example, compensation may be due.

    Flight cancelled 7-14 days before departure

    FLIGHT LENGTH 0 – 1,500KM, EG, LONDON TO PARIS 1,500 – 3,500KM, EG, LONDON TO ISTANBUL 3,500KM+, EG, LONDON TO NEW YORK
    Time of alternative flight vs original (i) Leaves 2+ hrs before, lands up to 2hrs after

    Lands 4+ hrs late. OR leaves 2+ hrs before, lands 2hrs+ after

    Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) Lands 4hrs+ late. OR leaves 2hrs+ before, lands 3-4hrs after Leaves 2hrs+ before, lands late (up to 4hrs after) Lands 4hrs+ late
    Compensation €125
    (£110)
    €250
    (£230)
    €200
    (£180)
    €400
    (£360)
    €300
    (£270)
    €600
    (£540)
    (i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the early-September 2018 exchange rate of €1.11 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

    Flight cancelled less than 7 days before departure

    FLIGHT LENGTH 0 – 1,500KM, EG, LONDON TO PARIS 1,500 – 3,500KM, EG, LONDON TO ISTANBUL 3,500KM+, EG, LONDON TO NEW YORK
    Time of alternative flight vs original (i) Leaves 1hr+ before, lands up to 2hrs after Lands 2hrs+ late Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 3hrs after) Lands 3hrs+ late Leaves 1hr+ before, lands late (up to 4hrs after) Lands 4hrs+ late
    Compensation €125
    (£110)
    €250
    (£230)
    €200
    (£180)
    €400
    (£360)
    €300
    (£270)
    €600
    (£540)
    (i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the early-September 2018 exchange rate of €1.11 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

    Quick questions

    • We've heard plenty of reports of airlines giving flight vouchers instead of cash. In particular, Thomas Cook often crops up as doing this. But you don't have to accept these, you're entitled to your compensation in cash (likely to be paid by cheque).

      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."

You can be bumped off a flight – but 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.

The airline's likely to first ask for volunteers – this normally happens before anyone boards a 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, plus food/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 are booked cheap tickets.

If you're forced off due to overbooking, then under 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.

How much compensation are you due?

FLIGHT LENGTH ARRIVAL DELAY COMPENSATION DUE
Up to 1,500km, (all flights), eg, London to Paris Up to 2 hours €125 (£110)
Up to 1,500km, (all flights), eg, London to Paris 2 hours+ €250 (£230)
1,500km – 3,500km (all flights), eg, Manchester – Malaga Up to 3 hours €200 (£180)
1,500+ km (flights within the EU only) 3 hours+ €400 (£360)
3,500km+ (flights between an EU and non-EU airport), eg, London to New York Up to 4 hours €300 (£270)
4+ hours €600 (£540)
(i) Based on the timings of alternative flight offered. Sterling figures based on the early-September 2018 exchange rate of €1.11 to £1. Rounded to the nearest £10.

What if I'm downgraded?

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 an EU airport, or arriving at an EU airport on an 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, eg, just the return leg, your refund will be worked out on this basis.

Still not had your question answered? Let us know in the forum discussion and we'll endeavour to add it to this section.

How to make a claim

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

The flight delay tool is best for anyone with an EU claim who, if rejected by their airline, would go on to complain to the Civil Aviation Authority or an adjudicator covering a flight to, from or via the UK. This covers…

  • Anyone whose flight departed from the UK.
  • Anyone who arrived in the UK on a UK/EU airline, from outside the EU.

Anyone with an EU claim, who if rejected by their airline would go on to complain to a (non-UK) EU regulator, may be better off using our free template letters. This covers…

  • Everyone not included in the categories above – you can still use Resolver to go to the airline, plus there's a function to take you to different regulators.
  • Those who flew on an EU airline from outside the EU to somewhere in the EU other than the UK (eg, KLM from New York to Amsterdam) – you can still use Resolver to go to the airline, but if your claim is rejected, Resolver does not escalate to a regulator.

Easyjet, grrrrr. The orange-loving airline says it's not accepting claims via Resolver currently. We're hoping it'll sort this soon, but in the meantime if you're claiming from Easyjet you can use Easyjet's own form instead.

Use our free tool to apply for EU flight compensation

Our free online tool helps drafts the 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. We're working with Resolver on many projects to combine our expertise on how to complain with its cutting-edge technology.

Enter your details to claim EC regulation 261/2004 compensation:

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, 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 4-12 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. (As above, Easyjet also isn’t in the tool currently as frustratingly it’s not accepting complaints via Resolver.)

  • Unhappy with Resolver? The majority of feedback we have on on flight delay reclaims with Resolver is positive. Read past feedback and leave your own on our Resolver forum thread. For more on how we work with Resolver see our full Resolver guide.

Or use our free template letters

If you decide not to use Resolver, you can submit your complaint directly, using our free template letters to help.

Step 1: Complain to the airline

Different airlines have different procedures for claiming. Some will list email or postal addresses you need to send a written claims letter to, others will ask you to fill in an online claims form. So check what method your airline wants you to use before claiming.

Just remember in both scenarios to 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.

Remember to say you want compensation under:
EC regulation 261/2004

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

Use our free template letters to complain

 

If you need to send a written complaint, 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 links: Delayed flights template letter and Cancelled flights template letter.

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 BA plane, then as BA operated the flight, it's responsible if anything goes wrong.

Here's a table linking to all airline complaints pages, which will explain whether you need to get in touch by writing, or by using online complaints forms.

If your airline's not listed above, go to its website or call to find out the best way to make a claim.

If you're successful, hurrah! As compensation for flight delays is set at specific levels depending on the flight delay and length, there's really only two outcomes here – you've received the correct amount and your claim is now over, or your claim has been rejected (in which case see Step 2 below).

Step 2: 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 one of several new adjudicators many airlines have signed up with.

Escalating your complaint is normally free, but watch out – one of the adjudicators, CEDR, now charges a £25 fee if your appeal's unsuccessful.

If you flew to or from the UK and your airline's with an adjudicator, you MUST use it

The CAA, the UK's airline regulator, has been approving various Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes to take on cases. If your airline has signed up to one it has to tell you when it rejects your claim – if the ADR scheme covers the flight you flew on you MUST go to it if you want to appeal. The advantage of going to an ADR scheme is its decision is generally binding on the airline.

Here's a round-up of the different ADR schemes which have so far been approved by the CAA, and the airlines they cover:

  • AviationADR (formerly The Retail Ombudsman) – Air Astana, Air Canada (and Air Canada Rouge), Air China, Air France/KLM, Air India, Air Mauritius, Asiana Airlines, CityJet, Delta, Egypt Air, Flybe, Garuda Indonesia, Norwegian, Royal Brunei Airlines, Ryanair, Skywork Airlines AG, Small Planet Airlines, South African Airways, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air. You can submit your complaint here – there's no fee if your claim's unsuccessful.

  • CEDR – British Airways, Condor, Easyjet, Thomas Cook and Tui (formerly Thomson). You can submit your complaint here. If your claim's unsuccessful you'll have to pay a £25 fee, but if you're awarded any compensation this fee will be waived.

  • Czech Trade Inspection Authority – Czech Airlines and Smart Wings/Travel Services. You can submit your complaint here. There's no fee if your claim's unsuccessful, but this scheme's decisions are not legally binding on the airline

  • Latvian Consumer Rights Protection Centre – Air Baltic. You can submit your complaint here.

  • Söp – Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, Germania, Germanwings, Lufthansa, Scandanavia Airline SAS and Swiss. You can submit your complaint here– there's no fee if your claim's unsuccessful. This scheme's decisions are not legally binding on the airline, but it says 90% of businesses follow its rulings.

If your flight leaves from and arrives at a non-UK airport, it's more of a grey area

Other European regulators have also been approving ADRs. In theory, if an airline has signed up to one which covers your route, it should signpost you to this adjudicator if it rebuffs your claim.

We have, however, had varying reports about how this works in practice. In some cases airlines have apparently referred passengers to an ADR scheme which then says it can't take on their case because the route is outside its jurisdiction.

We're looking further into this, but if you encounter similar problems, or have not been signposted to an adjudicator, your best course of action is to contact the relevant regulator in the first instance (see which regulator to complain to below). Let us know too, at  news@moneysavingexpert.com.

Airline not signed up to an adjudicator? You'll have to stick with a regulator

If you're complaining about an airline that 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 – 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.

If you're taking your complaint to a regulator outside of the UK what matters is where you flew from and to and where the airline's registered, as the table below shows.

Writing to the CAA? To complain to the CAA, most passengers need to fill out its online form. Read its complaints information first, to check you're eligible. It should take no longer than 10 weeks to resolve the case, but the average is about six weeks. 

Writing to the ECC or other regulator? You can use either our delayed flights template letter or you can use the EU's complaints form – it doesn't matter which. When writing, set out all the details of your complaint and include copies of all correspondence.

Quick questions

  • If you need to complain to either the ECC or to a regulator that isn't the CAA, it's likely to be easier going to the ECC in the first instance. It accepts complaints in English.

    If you need to submit a complaint to a regulator elsewhere in the EU, the CAA says regulators will also normally accept complaints in English, so give it a go if you've had no luck with the ECC.

  • The CAA says some regulators will reply in English and some will reply in their own language. That's why you're better off complaining to the ECC first as it will respond to you in English regardless of the national language of the country where the airline is based or the delay/cancellation took place. Even if the ECC receives a response in another language it will provide a summary of this in English for you.

What if the airline STILL says no?

Some airlines are playing hardball with claims and many are rejecting 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. See below for help on making a court claim.

  • 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 (see court cases for more details), 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.

Unlike regulators, ADR schemes do have binding powers – so if you went to an adjudicator and it ruled in your favour the airline should pay up.

How to take your case to court

If you complained to the airline and lost and then complained to the relevant regulator or the European Consumer Centre and lost again – or the airline's put your case on hold – you can go to court. Unfortunately our Resolver tool can't help with this – though you will be able to download details of your case so you have it to hand.

You can take your complaint to a local county court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or a sheriff court in Scotland.To use the courts' small claims system, your claim needs to be under £10,000 in England and Wales, or under £5,000 in Scotland or £3,000 in Northern Ireland.

You can also ONLY take your case through the small claims system within six years from the delayed flight in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, you've got five years.

Subject to this, anyone can make a claim in the small claims courts, although the airline you claim against could challenge whether or not you can use the court you want to use – it's up to the court you apply to to decide.

  • Booked flights in the UK? You should be able to take your case through the courts in the relevant country you're based in, regardless of where the airline is based.

  • Got a UK address for the airline? The European Consumer Centre says if so, you can take an airline to court here, even if the head office is based elsewhere.

  • Flight departed or arrived in the UK? The ECJ ruled in a flight cancellations case in 2009 that you can take an airline to court for cancellation claims in either the country the plane was due to arrive in or depart from, regardless of where the airline's based.

If none of the above apply, the European Small Claims Procedure can be used for cross-border complaints for claims of under €5,000. There is a standard claim form which you can issue through the county court.

It's worth noting that if your claim has already been decided by a court, unfortunately you can only appeal the decision within 21 days of it being made.

For more information on going to court and what this entails, see our Small Claims and How to Complain guides. It may also be worth considering taking legal advice.

Made a claim? Let others know how it's gone in the forum on your airline's thread: British AirwaysEasyjetFlybeJet2KLM/Air FranceLufthansaRyanairThomas CookTui (formerly Thomson) & Virgin Atlantic. If your airline's not listed, let us know on this guide's discussion thread.

Major court challenges – how your claim is affected

Some airlines have fought tooth and nail in court to try to reduce the number of passengers that can claim – and have previously put claims on hold while they went to court. There were two big issues – whether you can claim for technical faults and how far back you can claim – plus there's now a third dispute over connecting flights. Here's the latest on all three:

  1. The 'extraordinary circumstances'/technical faults issue – highest EU court confirmed you CAN claim

    Technical faults were a major bone of contention for both passengers and airlines. But a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice in September 2015 finally handed victory to passengers after more than a year of court battles. The key point here is:

    You CAN claim for technical problems that haven't been caused by "extraordinary circumstances". Normal technical problems such as component failure or general wear and tear should not be considered "extraordinary".

    However you CAN'T claim when a manufacturer or other authority discovers a hidden defect, as this is outside the airline's control.

  2. The 'you can only go back two years' issue

    The key point here under UK law is:

    You CAN claim for flights going back at least six years (five in Scotland) – so don't listen if an airline claims you can only go back two years.

    In 2014 the UK Court of Appeal ruled in the Dawson v Thomson case that you can claim for flights going back at least six years in England and Wales. Later that year the Supreme Court, the UK's highest court, refused to hear Dawson v Thomson after Thomson Jet2 (now rebranded as Tui) tried to appeal against the Court of Appeal's decision.

  3. The 'can't claim for connecting flights' issue

    In February 2017 the CAA announced it was taking action against five major airlines, American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines, which it claims had been "wrongly denying" claims for connecting flights.

    The CAA says the airlines had been refusing to compensate passengers who bought one ticket for connecting flights, but arrived at their final destination over three hours late because a delay to their initial flight meant they missed a connection.

    In October 2017 the Court of Appeal ruled in a court case which tested the issue, and came out in favour of passengers who'd tried to claim. Emirates asked for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, but this was refused (see news story).

    If you were delayed as a result of a missed connection, here's what the CAA's action means for you:

    • If you haven't already claimed, do so. Use our step-by-step help.
       

    • If your delayed flight was within the past six years, you claimed and were turned down by the airline, claim again. You can try going back to the airline to claim, but if you're turned down again, escalate your case to the CAA or an ADR scheme. If you've already had a claim turned down by the CAA or ADR you may not be able to escalate to them again, but you can try going back to the airline (or straight to court, though this could be tricky).
       

    • If your delayed flight was more than six years ago, it's difficult. You only have six years from the date of delay to take an airline to court, so it's highly unlikely the airline will pay out after this (though there's no harm trying anyway).

  4. The 'wildcat strikes by airline staff' issue – you CAN now claim

    In April 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that a 'wildcat' strike by airline staff (a wildcat strike is one which wasn't officially organised by a trade union) DOESN'T count as an 'extraordinary circumstance'. This means any resulting flight delays therefore ARE covered by EU rules (though other strikes, for instance by baggage handlers or air traffic control staff, still won't be).

    For full details of the court ruling, see our You CAN claim for delays caused by 'wildcat' strikes MSE News story. If you were delayed as the result of a 'wildcat' strike, here's what you need to do now:

    • If you haven't already claimed, do so. Use our step-by-step help.
       

    • If your delayed flight was within the past six years, you claimed and were turned down by the airline... claim again. You can try going back to the airline to claim, but if you're turned down again, escalate your case to the CAA or an ADR scheme. If you've already had a claim turned down by the CAA or ADR you may not be able to escalate to them again, but you can try going back to the airline (or straight to court, though this could be tricky).
       

    • If your delayed flight was more than six years ago, it's difficult. You only have six years from the date of delay to take an airline to court, so it's highly unlikely the airline will pay out after this (though there's no harm trying anyway).

If my claim is complex, should I consider using a claims firm/solicitor?

Certainly in the first instance you should be writing to the airline and then to the relevant regulator yourself. This is simple and free to do with our template letters – we don't think it's worth giving 30% of what you're due to a claims firm when you can do it yourself.

However we make a possible exception to this if things get tricky and court is the only option left – then it can be worth paying, especially if the thought of court action scares you. Even then though consider using a reputable solicitors' firm like Bott & Co, which has been pioneering in this field, rather than a claims management company.

Of course if you do, it means you will need to give away some of your payout. It's also worth remembering that claims firms usually only like the easy cases that you could win yourself easily without their help, so the fact that one is willing to take you on at this point is in itself a good sign.

  • Again, before you start thinking about choosing a claims handler...

    Complain to the airline and regulator yourself, for free!

    Once you've done that, we would always suggest you follow these four crucial points before agreeing to let a firm represent you:

    • Never pay anything upfront.
    • Always pick a no-win, no-fee firm (ie, so you only pay if you win).
    • Never go for a company that charges more than 30% of your win plus VAT.
    • Ensure the firm has actual solicitors working on cases rather than just administrative claims handlers.

What if I wasn't on an EU flight?

If you weren't on an EU-regulated flight (ie, a flight from an EU airport or to an EU airport on an EU airline) then sadly you won't be covered by the EU flight delay compensation scheme.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says 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 to try to get compensation as well, there are still avenues you can try:

  1. Check if similar compensation schemes exist

    The CAA says you should first check whether the country where the airline is based has any compensation schemes similar to the EU one. Failing that, check whether there are any compensation schemes in the country where the flight departed from (if it's different). 

    The European Consumer Centre for Services website may be able to direct you to other agencies outside the EU, for help or advice on your rights locally.

  2. See if you can claim under the Montreal Convention

    The Montreal Convention, an international agreement about flights, is more typically used to make claims for missing baggage. But you may be able to use it to make a claim for a flight delay too if your flight's not covered by the EU rules.

    In a nutshell, 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 losses caused by a delay. You can't claim for cancellations or being bumped off a flight under this rule though.

    This is about reclaiming losses rather than compensation, so you'll need to prove you've suffered a financial loss as a direct result of the delay, eg, extra car park or hotel costs. To help your claim, make sure you keep evidence of extra costs, such as receipts.

    To claim, complain directly to your airline saying you wish to reclaim your cash under the Montreal Convention. If it refuses your claim, you may be able to go to an alternative dispute resolution scheme if the airline's signed up to one, or to a court – however, the CAA says it does not have any enforcement powers regarding the Montreal Convention.

  3. Complain to the airline

    It may get you nowhere, but it's worth a try anyway. Check the airline's website for its complaints procedure.

  4. 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 delay, while others will simply refund costs you've incurred such as hotels or alternative transport.

    Here are some examples of what the major insurers provide, although 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 refund up to £200 in costs if you're delayed by more than 12 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.

SPOTTED OUT OF DATE INFO/BROKEN LINKS? EMAIL: BROKENLINK@MONEYSAVINGEXPERT.COM