What Does the Law Say About Flight Delay Compensation?
Flight delays and cancellations affect people across the world every day. When an aircraft fails to meet an appointed take off time, there is usually a knock-on effect, causing passengers to miss their connecting flights, hotel bookings and airport transfers.
Ultimately, a flight disruption could leave you out of pocket, which is why you can claim for compensation under EU law when something goes wrong.
European regulations protect passengers against flight delays under traveller’s law, so each affected passenger has the right to make a claim. However, the disruption must be the airline’s responsibility, and you won’t typically be awarded compensation if the delay is due to bad weather or strike.
If you're not sure if you can claim compensation for delayed flight, read this handy guide to help you understand your rights.
My flight was delayed – can I make a claim?
EU law states that passengers whose flights are cancelled or delayed are entitled to claim compensation from the airline. You must have booked a ticket for the flight in question to be able to make a claim.
You may be entitled to compensation if:
• Your flight started or ended in an EU country, or you flew with an EU airline.
• Your flight was delayed for 3 hours or more.
• Your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure.
• You missed a connecting flight due to a previous flight delay, not through a fault of your own.
• Your flight was overbooked by the airline and you were denied boarding.
• Your flight departed within the last 6 years.
What if my flight was delayed by 2 hours?
If your flight was delayed by 2 hours, you are not entitled to monetary compensation. However, the airline is legally obligated by Regulation 261/2004 to provide "passenger care and assistance": this means they must provide food and drink, access to emails and a telephone, and overnight accommodation or transfers if necessary.
This kind of compensation is given in airport vouchers, and you will need to ask the airline to provide them at the time of the delay.
How much compensation can I claim for a delayed flight?
Based on European law, if your flight was delayed, cancelled or overbooked, you are entitled to claim up to £530 (€600) per passenger. The amount of compensation you get will depend on the length of your delay and the distance you travelled. The settlement is intended to cover the inconvenience caused by the disruption, so your compensation is not affected by the price of your plane ticket.
As is set out in EU Regulation 261/2004, airlines are legally obliged to pay out if a passenger’s flight has been disrupted, but they will often refuse to do so; this is why passengers often need legal assistance to help them recover their compensation.
Can an airline offer vouchers as compensation?
Article 7.3 of EU Regulation 261/2004 says that “airlines must pay compensation in cash, electronic bank transfer, bank order or cheque.” Therefore, you do not have to accept vouchers as compensation.
However, according to this same regulation, if you sign a document to say you are happy to receive vouchers instead of monetary compensation, the airline no longer has to pay out.
Can an airline refuse to pay compensation for a flight delay?
Although EU Regulations are there to protect the passenger’s rights, airlines can still refuse to pay out due to "extraordinary circumstances." In other words, if the airline can prove that a delay or cancellation was outside of their control, they won’t have to provide compensation.
It’s important to note that airlines will often refuse to pay out, even if they are at fault, in the hopes that the passenger won’t pursue the claim.
Defining ‘extraordinary circumstances’
An airline can successfully claim extraordinary circumstances if the delay or cancellation was deemed to be outside of their control. In this case, you won’t be awarded compensation.
According to EU Regulation 261/2004, examples of extraordinary circumstances include:
• Acts of terror or sabotage.
• Risks to passenger safety and security.
• Political or civil unrest.
• Airport strikes or industrial action unrelated to the airline (e.g., baggage handlers or Air Traffic Control).
• Hidden manufacturing defects.
• Extreme weather conditions that make flying unsafe (e.g., a volcanic ash cloud in the flight path). This does not always apply if other flights were able to depart safely.
Extraordinary circumstances do not include:
• Staffing issues or crew arriving late.
• Extreme weather affecting a previous flight that led to your flight's delay.
• An overbooked aircraft.
• Technical problems, except those caused by terror incidents, sabotage, or hidden manufacturing defects.
My airline won’t pay out – can I still make a claim?
Yes, you can still make a claim even if your airline has denied you compensation. In fact, flight providers will often refuse payouts or offer vouchers in the hope that passengers won't pursue their claims further.
Remember: if your flight was more than 3 hours late and you flew with an EU airline or to or from an EU country, you could be legally entitled to compensation.
However, EU regulations can get complicated in this area, and it’s important to be aware of the many historical cases that have helped clarify the law; this is why most claimants need legal representation after being denied compensation from their airline.
Can I claim if my flight was cancelled?
You can't claim compensation if your flight is cancelled more than 14 days in advance. In this instance, you will usually be offered an alternative flight or the refund of your fare.
If your flight was cancelled with less than two weeks notice, you are entitled to claim €250 in EU261 passengers' rights compensation.
Can I claim for a missed or delayed flight as part of a package holiday?
Yes. Booking an EU flight as part of a package holiday does not affect your rights to claim compensation. As long as the plane you travelled on landed 3 hours later than planned, and the delay was in control of the airline, you have the same right to claim as any other passenger.
Often if the airline cancels your flight, your tour operator has to arrange an alternative flight or refund your entire trip, but you should still be entitled to compensation from the airline. However, if you have booked accommodation separately, the proprietor may still charge you for the room.
Can I claim if I missed my connecting flight?
Delayed flights can cause all kinds of travel disruptions, one of the most stressful being a missed connecting flight. If you missed an onward flight due to an airline delay or cancellation and you were more than 3 hours late to your destination, you can make a claim.
The rules of missed connecting flights can be a little complicated, so it’s worth checking with one of our advisors to see if you're eligible.
Can I claim if my flight was overbooked?
Often, budget airlines will overbook their flights in the hope that some passengers won’t turn up. If the flight gets overbooked and you are denied boarding, you absolutely can claim compensation. Overbooking is an attempt by the airline to maximise profits, so they are the ones at fault if you cannot fly.
Bad weather, technical faults and airport strikes
Due to the nature of EU law, the exceptional circumstances clause is a grey area. While airports will often claim that extreme weather, technical faults or airport strikes fall into this category, this defence is not always adequate, so you may still be entitled to compensation.
Can I claim compensation if my flight was delayed or cancelled due to bad weather?
Despite what airlines claim, bad weather is not always considered an extraordinary circumstance. If bad weather caused your flight to be cancelled or delayed, you might still be able to make a claim. Under EU regulation 261/2004, extreme weather can only be deemed an extraordinary circumstance provided:
• The flight was disrupted by ‘freak’ or ‘exceptional’ weather conditions.
• The airport closed due to bad weather.
• Air Traffic Control delayed a flight and this affected other departures from the airline.
• Air Traffic Control reduced the airline's flow rates due to bad weather (e.g., they decided it’s only safe to depart 20 planes per hour rather than the scheduled 40).
Extreme weather is not considered an extraordinary circumstance if your flight was delayed due to a previously disrupted or cancelled flight.
Can I claim compensation if there was a technical fault on the aircraft?
Proving that a technical fault is eligible for flight compensation is not easy, but it is possible. Due to EU Regulation 261/2004, the only time an airline does not have to pay out because of a technical problem is under extraordinary circumstances. To be considered extraordinary circumstances, technical faults must:
• Be regarded as "hidden manufacturing defects" (e.g., the recall of an entire fleet of aircraft due to a manufacturing fault).
• Be notified by the manufacturer or a component authority.
• Be unbeknown to the airline.
• Be considered a risk to passengers.
Acts of terror or sabotage that result in technical faults may also constitute extraordinary circumstances.
Can I claim compensation due to an airport strike or industrial action?
If a strike was related to the airline (for instance, if it was the airport staff that caused the issue) it does not affect your ability to claim.
How to claim compensation for a flight delay
When the time comes to claim compensation for your flight delay or disruption, you need to know what steps to take. As a general rule, you should:
• Never accept a compensation amount without checking your legal entitlement first.
• Never sign for vouchers if you initially claimed monetary compensation.
• Make your claim as soon as possible.
• Write down all the details (e.g., how long your flight was delayed, which airport staff you spoke to, what you were told about the cancellation or delay).
• Keep your tickets and flight documentation.
Other frequently asked questions
Sometimes, it can feel as though you have more questions than answers when it comes to flight compensation. We realise it can be a tricky business, which is why we’re here to lend our expertise and help you claim the money you deserve.
How long do I have to make a claim after my flight delay?
The time limit for your claim depends on the country you’re claiming from. In the United Kingdom, you have 6 years (starting from the cancellation, delay or overbooking of your flight) to make your claim on the basis of the European Regulation 261/2004.
Can I claim for someone else?
Yes, you can claim for all the passengers in your party, however, you will need permission from the other people before making a claim on their behalf, and they will need to sign the paperwork.
Can I claim for an infant passenger?
You can claim for a child of any age as long as you paid something for their flight ticket. Children under 2 may be eligible for reduced airfare, but that does not affect your ability to claim for them. Children who travel for free will not receive any compensation.
What information do I need to make a claim?
To make a claim for a delayed or cancelled flight, you will need:
• The flight number and date of your flight.
• The booking reference for your flight.
• Details of any connecting flights.
You can usually find all these details on your plane tickets or confirmation email.
Will it cost me to make a claim?
At FairPlane, we operate on a No Win No Fee basis, meaning we will only ever charge you if your claim is successful. Even then, the fee you pay will depend on the amount of compensation you are awarded by the airline. There is a £25 Admin Fee plus 25% + VAT of the compensation recovered to be paid. Again, this cost will only be deducted from your compensation if we win your case.
Flight delayed? Find out if you’re eligible for compensation today
You can check to see if you have a claim for flight delay compensation by getting in touch today or using our free online form. It only takes a minute, and there is no commitment required at this stage.