Delayed Flight? Know Your Rights

The recent debacle involving British Airways, an IT failure and thousands of stranded holidaymakers just goes to show – even the best-planned trip can descend into chaos. With ambiguous promises of refunds and bags still failing to be reunited with their owners, the word on everyone's lips is "compensation".

Unfortunately, airline compensation is notoriously tricky to obtain. This is in part to carriers’ reluctance to volunteer the appropriate sums, but also due to weary, frustrated travellers not fully realising what they are entitled to. The answer is to be fully aware of what you are due in accordance with the EU Regulation 261/2004. Brush up on the fundamentals now, to make sure that even if your summer holiday takes a nosedive, you can guarantee a smooth landing.

Understand your Flight

Firstly, be aware that these rules only apply to EU flights. These are qualified as:
Flights departing from an EU airport, by any airline (EU or non-EU);
Flights between EU destinations, by any airline; or
Flights arriving in the EU, but only if they are with an EU airline.

Also, the further you’re travelling, the more compensation you can claim. Flights fall into three brackets:
Short haul: any flight shorter than 1,500km
Medium haul: flights between 1,500km and 3,500km, or any EU flight exceeding 1,500km.
Long haul: any flight travelling outside of the EU exceeding 3,500km

If your travel involves connecting flights, it’s useful to know that the distances above relate to the last destination affected by the delay. This means if disruption causes you to miss several short connections you may fall into a higher bracket.


Your flight has to be delayed for a certain amount of time before the EU law applies:
Short haul: delays of 2 hours or more
Medium haul: 3 hours or more
Long haul: 4 hours or more

Once these limits have been reached, the airline has to provide appropriate care, and if the delay exceeds 5 hours you can claim for a reimbursement of any unused tickets.


Cancelled flights are always eligible for re-routing or reimbursement. You should also be given appropriate care (refreshments and accommodation where necessary).

Also, depending on when you were made aware of the cancellation, you may be entitled to additional compensation. For example, if you receive less than 7 days’ notice, any alternative route offered must leave within an hour of your original departure, and allow you to reach your final destination no more than 2 hours late – otherwise, you can claim.

Extraordinary circumstances

The phrase "extraordinary circumstances" refers to disruptive events that are deemed entirely beyond the control of the airline, providing they have taken all reasonable measures to avoid it.

These incidents may include volcanic eruptions, terrorist acts or industrial strikes, but the phrase is often used as a shield by operators reluctant to cough up. Pay attention to the claims made by the airline and look for evidence to support or refute it – for example, if you are told “bad weather” is causing the problem, are other flights travelling through the affected area?

Reimbursement and Re-routing

Refunds for unused tickets must be paid by the airline within 7 days, by cash, cheque or bank transfer. Air vouchers or other forms of payment are only acceptable if you specifically agree to them.

If you still wish to travel, you may decline a refund of your ticket and opt instead for an alternative route via "comparable transport" to your intended destination, which can be taken at your convenience. Your route may include another transport hub within reason – such as another city airport or rail station.


In addition to reimbursement or re-routing, you should claim compensation if it is due. The maximum compensation for each band is as follows:
Short haul entitlement: 250 EUR each
Medium haul entitlement: 400 EUR each
Long haul entitlement: 600 EUR

If an alternative route is provided, and you reach your destination within a reasonable time ( 2 hours of your intended arrival for short-haul trips; 3 hours for medium haul; 4 hours for long-haul), this compensation may be halved.

Appropriate Care

Once your flight is reasonably delayed or cancelled, you are entitled to free refreshments proportionate to your delay, and suitable accommodation should your disruption force you to stay overnight. The airline will have recommended hotels for you to use and must refund transport between the airport and where you stay. Keep any receipts you receive.

Don't be swindled by an airline that doesn't want to pay. If you can't find a resolution, contact the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who will advise if they think your case is worth pursuing, and what steps you can take. Sometimes this ruling is enough to convince the airline to pay, otherwise, you may have to take them to court. If you wish, you can hire professional representation, like George Ide Lawyers, but this may not be necessary as disputes under the value of £10,000 are eligible for the small claims court.

Have you ever been delayed on a flight?

* Guest post by Dakota Murphey.


  1. I was delayed once due to snow but I couldn't have claimed then as it was out of the airlines control, to be honest I was happy enough to be at home after 12 hours at the airport x

    1. That is a long delay, no wonder you were happy to get home!

  2. We've had a fair few delays in our time, always a nightmare. Touch wood, at least I've never had a cancellation or lost bag!

  3. This was a very useful article for me. I rally wasn't aware of the different ranges of flight delays and how EU low.

  4. Wow, thank you. This is really interesting and I'll definitely be bookmarking it for the future. Our last fight was just a 1/2 hr delay and I was fine with that! Mich x

  5. I found this really interesting and helpful. I've been delayed quite a few times so it was interesting to understand what my rights were etc x

    1. Glad it's been helpful to you Kerry. I wonder how things will change if we leave the EU?

  6. This is really interesting especially as we had a huge delay last year and struggled to get anything in return. It's really really good to know the facts because you never know when you might need them

    Laura x

  7. I can only agree to the importance to knowing your rights. Especially at days like these when it is common with delays and cancelled flights. We had a fight with Norwegian last year and even though it looks dark, it is actually sometimes possible to get a proper compensation. :)