How to claim for flight or ferry delays

There’s nothing worse than setting off on your holiday, only to be stuck at the airport or ferry port for hours on end due to delays.

A man and a woman waiting in a departure lounge

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So it pays to know whether you could be entitled to compensation and how to go about claiming it.

Here, we run through your legal rights and what you need to know…

What are my rights if my flight is delayed?

If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline*, EU law states that your airline must provide you with ‘care and assistance’ if you are:

  • travelling less than 1,500km and delayed for more than two hours 
  • travelling between 1,500km and 3,500km and delayed for more than three hours
  • travelling over 3,500km and delayed more than four hours.

This means your airline must provide you with food and drink (usually in the form of vouchers), phone calls, accommodation if you’re delayed overnight and transport to and from your accommodation (or home).

However, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in some cases (for example, during major disruption), your airline may not be able to offer this type of welfare package for everyone.

If this happens and you end up buying food and paying for a hotel yourself, you should keep hold of your receipts so you can claim back the cost later. Just don’t get carried away – your airline is only likely to refund you for what it considers to be ‘reasonable costs’.

Am I entitled to a cash pay-out?

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, you may be entitled to compensation of up to €600 if your flight arrives at your destination more than three hours late – again, this is only so long as you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline*.

And again, the amount of compensation you could receive depends on how far you’re travelling:

  • If you’re travelling less than 1,500km and your flight is delayed for more than three hours you can claim €250
  • If you’re travelling between 1,500km and 3,500km and your flight is delayed for more than three hours you can claim €400
  • If you’re travelling more than 3,500km and your flight is delayed for more than three hours you can claim €300. If your flight is delayed for more than four hours you can claim €600.

Watch out for…

Your airline can refuse to pay compensation if your flight is delayed due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

These can include extreme weather, strikes, and acts of nature such as the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in 2010.

In September 2015, a European Court found that (in the case of KLM v van der Lans) technical faults with an aircraft could not be classed as extraordinary circumstances – the only exceptions are if there is a hidden manufacturing defect or aircraft damage is caused by sabotage or terrorism.

Note that if your flight is severely delayed due to extraordinary circumstances you should still be offered a welfare package.

What if I am travelling by ferry?

If you are travelling to or departing from an EU country by ferry and you are delayed for more than 90 minutes, you must be provided with food and drink and, if necessary, overnight accommodation.

You should also be offered either an alternative sailing or a full refund, payable within seven days.

EU rules also state you can claim compensation of 25% of the ticket price if you are delayed for:

  • One hour for journeys of up to four hours
  • Two hours for journeys of between four and eight hours
  • Three hours for journeys of between eight and 24 hours
  • Six hours for journeys of more than 24 hours.

If the delays are double those above, you are entitled to compensation of 50% of the ticket price.

How do I claim compensation?

If you are flying and think you’re entitled to compensation, you should contact your airline or check its website to find out how to apply. You will usually need to fill in a form.

If there is no standard claim form, you can use the template on the CAA website and send this to your airline.

Don’t be tempted to use a claims company to make your claim for you as they will charge a fee.

If you are travelling by ferry, it’s best to contact the ferry company. The company must pay compensation within one month of your application, but be aware that if the amount of compensation is less than €6, it doesn’t have to pay out.

What if I am flying with a non-EU airline?

If you are not flying with an EU airline, you won’t have the same rights to compensation. Instead, your rights will depend on your airline’s terms and conditions.

According to the CAA, most airlines base their terms and conditions on those recommended by the International Air Transport Association. This means that if a flight is delayed, you should be offered a choice between a later flight, alternative transportation or a refund.

How will Brexit affect EU compensation rules?

The government has said that once the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, 2019, regardless of whether we leave with a deal or not, flight delay compensation rules won't change. This is because EU Regulation 261/2004 has been written into UK law.

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*EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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