Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
Flight compensation and your rights as a consumer.
What should be the start of a relaxing break to ease the stresses and strains of our busy working lives has been anything but for millions of us looking for a foreign holiday this year. Wildfires, strike action, technical issues and a UK air traffic system failure have played havoc with the country’s travel plans and left many families almost £2,000 out of pocket.
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reveal 32 per cent of flights departing from the UK were cancelled or delayed in the first five months of the year.
Admittedly a fifth of European airspace has been closed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that’s creating congestion in the skies which can lead to delays, but CAA data claims the demand for flights hasn’t yet reached pre-pandemic levels. In May 2023 there were 78,149 scheduled flights compared to 90,452 in the same period in 2019.
Whether it’s due to bad luck or bad management by the airlines and airports, there have been countless horror stories of people paying for unscheduled and expensive hotel stays or forced to find alternative ways home that will put a severe dent in their bank balance.
If flights are cancelled, passengers are often entitled to financial compensation – more of that later – but the air traffic control fault falls under what is termed ‘extraordinary circumstances’, which means the airlines are not responsible and you won’t be due any compensation for the delay or cancellation.
However they do owe you a duty of care and you have the right to choose between a refund or an alternative flight.
Whether you choose the latter, or indeed if you flight is severely delayed, the airline must provide you with the following while you wait at the airport. Food and drink, often provided in the form of vouchers, a way to communicate and may refund the cost of your calls, accommodation in a nearby hotel if you are re-routed the next day, transport to and from the accommodation.
The airline must continue to supply you with these until it is able to fly you to your destination, however long the delay last and no matter what has caused it.
If you are delayed more than three hours and the airline is to blame, compensation starts at £220 for a short haul flight and £520 for long haul.
If your flight was cancelled with less than a fortnight to go, you may be eligible for compensation based on the timing of the alternative flight. The sum will depend on the type of flight, length of delay and notice given but payouts range from £110 to £520.
You should also get money back for all parts of the ticket you haven’t used. For example if you booked a return flight and the outbound leg was cancelled you should get the full ticket cost back from your airline.
When airlines sell more seats than there are on the plane then you may be denied boarding, known as being bumped. Usually this happens on the grounds that people don’t always turn up but sometimes it’s because they’ve had to use a smaller aircraft.
You can volunteer to be bumped and then you must agree with the airline any compensation, Airlines will often offer cash or vouchers at the gate as an incentive in these situations. You are also entitled to an alternative flight or refund.
However, if it happens without your consent, and as long as you checked in on time, you will be entitled to compensation. It will depend on the flight type and the delay, but the compensation framework is the same as for cancellations.
When all around you is chaos it can be difficult to know what to do. First step is to make yourself known to an airline representative before you start thinking of booking hotels, taxis or alternative ways home.
If the airline isn’t offering accommodation vouchers you have the right to organise reasonable care and assistance for yourself.
It’s hard to say what is reasonable because airlines don’t specify a threshold so use your common sense. Booking an expensive five star city centre hotel may not be reimbursed, however if it’s the only option available, then you may be able to argue your case but it is a grey area and could lead to stressful and prolonged negotiation.
Make sure you keep every receipt and always check the airline’s website for their claims procedure.
The CAA advises passengers to set out their case clearly and concisely, including all relevant information to provide evidence they were booked on the flight.
Make it clear what compensation and expenses you are claiming, include all your contact details, details of all the passengers in your party, the booking reference and travel dates, flight number, departure and destination airport and details of where the disruption occurred. Detail the length of the delay and make sure you include the names of any staff you spoke to. Boarding passes, receipts, tickets and booking confirmation should all be included. Make sure you keep copies of everything, especially if you have to forward the originals to the airline. For more information on how to make a claim go to caa.co.uk
If the airline rejects your claim you can appeal and persistence often pays off. You can refer your complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body which looks at your complaint out of court, in the UK there is the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) and Aviation ADR.
They will argue your case for you and your complaint can be escalated to the CAA. However not all airlines are members of ADR schemes. If this doesn’t work then you will have to go to the small claims court. It’s a time consuming and exhausting process so make sure you’ve tried all other avenues first.
And be warned, Which? recently revealed that airlines owe £4.5 million to passengers from outstanding County Court Judgements.
Mat Megens, founder of Hyper Jar, a tech services and data company, says that unbelievably there are hundreds of millions of pounds worth of vouchers that were sent to customers for cancelled flight and trips during Covid that still haven’t been spent. Issued by companies like British Airways and Easy Jet, they may still be valid so check your email inbox and see if there are any savings you can make for your next break