If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to flight delay or flight cancellation compensation, so it’s important to know your flight rights. Flight delays compensation is a legal right for anyone flying in the UK and EU, and flight delay compensation is free to apply for. We’ve collected what you need to know to make a successful claim.

Denied Boarding Regulations for flight delays compensation

Flight rights governing delayed or cancelled flights are rooted in the Denied Boarding Regulations. It sounds complex but it isn’t – and all you need to know is how much compensation you’re entitled to and what triggers it.

Flight compensation falls under the EU Regulation 261/2004, termed the Denied Boarding Regulations. To be eligible you must have a confirmed booking that you’ve checked-in to and be departing from an airport within the EU, including Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.

Crucially, it is the departure location that’s applicable. It won’t apply if you’re departing from a non-EU airport even if flying into an EU airport. The airlines you are flying with must also be headquartered in the EU such as British Airways, Virgin and KLM. Outside of the EU, your best bet is to target similar schemes such as the Montreal Convention, which can be helpful in seeking flight compensation.

Your entitlement to compensation for delayed or cancelled flights

The amount of compensation you can claim depends on the length of the flight delay and whether the flight was cancelled. The length of time determines the type of compensation and covers both immediate needs such as food and water, as well as financial compensation.

If your flight is delayed by at least two hours. If your flight is delayed by more than two hours, you’re entitled to certain expenses but not compensation. Expenses cover the cost of phone calls, free meals and beverages (vouchers are often provided) and overnight accommodation if the delay stretches on. It’s important to keep receipts of all your expenditures as evidence of what you’ve spent. Be aware too that expenses must be reasonable. As tempting as it may be, you won’t be able to get away with a champagne-fuelled lunch or a stay at a nearby luxury hotel. Check with the airline if you’re in any doubt.

If your flight is delayed three hours or longer. You are entitled to all the above expenses with the addition of possible compensation. However, the ‘time is money’ rule holds true as your arrival determines your compensation, ensuring that if the plane has made up time during the flight, you won’t be able to claim.

If your flight is delayed five hours or longer. You’re entitled to the above expenses and compensation as if your flight had been cancelled, which includes a refund or rerouting. Aside from the compensation, the airline also has a duty of care to get you home.

If your flight is cancelled. If your EU-regulated flight is cancelled, you’re legally entitled to a full refund or a replacement flight to reach your destination. This is regardless of the cause of the cancellation or when you were told, so don’t let an airline try to wriggle out of it. Furthermore, barring ‘extraordinary circumstances’, you’re also entitled to compensation which we detail below.

Compensation available

When it comes to flight delays compensation, remember that for a successful claim you must claim within six years of the flight. This covers both flight delays compensation and flight cancellation compensation.

It’s worth knowing that compensation is per passenger, so make sure you claim for each person travelling in your group. Flight delays compensation and flight cancellation compensation is calculated by the flight’s distance and length.

Flight rights compensation

Up to 1,500kmOver three hours£230
Any EU flight over 1,500km or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500km Over three hours£360
More than 3,500kmBetween three-four hours£270
More than 3,500km Over four hours£540

However, compensation is subject to an ‘extraordinary circumstances’ clause – and airlines may sneakily try to use this to get off the hook for paying out.

The clause stipulates that entitlements are only available where the fault lies in the hands of the airline, leaving this grey area as a basis for rejecting claims. In theory, ‘extraordinary circumstances’, should constitute anything that the airline cannot reasonably be expected to control such as the weather, political instability or security threats.

Remember though that compensation is different from expenses. You are always entitled to expenses when your flight is delayed including communication, refreshments and accommodation regardless of fault. The ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause is not applicable here, and airlines have to cough up expenses if you’re delayed.

Flight delays compensation – how to claim

If you’re stuck at the airport, head to the airlines’ customer service help desk. Customer service representatives should be able to provide up-to-date information, inform you of your rights and convey the airline’s claims procedure. You should also check the airline’s app or social media accounts for updates and the ability to reroute onto another flight when possible. Taking a proactive approach is useful in dealing with flight delays and cancellations. Track your flight on FlightRadar24 so you react quickly in the event of a problem.

Once safely home, check that you’re entitled to compensation and put in a claim. Remember that it’s the flight’s operator – not the travel agent or holiday company it was booked with – who are liable.

Use the airline’s claim process for expenses and/or compensation, detailing your experience. If writing a letter, remain clear and composed, and provide evidence of your claim with receipts.

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Flight delays compensation – what to do if a claim is refused

If your airline refuses to pay flight delays compensation, it’s not the end of the story. With a bit of tenacity, your complaint can be resolved using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme. Your airline must tell you about their affiliated ADR scheme if they reject your claim. For those airlines yet to join an ADR scheme, you will need to find the relevant regulator as the next point of call who can issue advisory decisions to help your case. In the UK, try the Civil Aviation Authority or use the relevant regulator in other EU countries. These generally hand down binding decisions on airlines.

There’s usually no cost involved in escalating your complaint, however, some adjudicators such as CEDR charge a nominal fee if unsuccessful.

If your claim fails, you still have alternatives. The small claims court can provide restitution for those who feel aggrieved with how their case has progressed. The claim must be less than £10,000 In England and Wales but it’s best at this stage to seek legal help to negotiate this process. Botts & Co, for example, are specialist solicitors that have dealt with thousands of airline claims.

Flight delays compensation – check your travel insurance

In addition to flight delays compensation, don’t forget to check and claim against your travel insurance policy. Most travel insurance policies include payments for flight delays, and other costs incurred such as missing events. Each policy is different, but you’re entitled to make a claim as well as pursuing flight delays compensation with the airline.

Not sure which travel insurance is right for you? Read our guide to travel insurance for the over 50s and travel insurance for the over 65s.