If your holiday has been disrupted due to flight issues, under Consumer Law you have certain rights which allow you to claim compensation and other benefits to compensate for the inconvenience caused to your travel plans.
Can I get a refund or compensation if my flight is delayed or cancelled?
In some cases you can. There are laws protecting you from delays and cancellations if you are departing from an EU airport or from a non-EU airport but on a 'community carrier' (an airline with its headquarters and main place of business in the EU). To be able to get redress, you must have a confirmed reservation and have checked-in in time for your flight.
What happens if I get to the airport and my flight is cancelled?
If this happens, you should be offered a choice of a refund or re-routing. Any refund should be within seven days and cover the full cost of the parts of your ticket you haven't used or can't now use. You should also get a return flight to your departure point as soon as possible.
Re-routing to your final destination can either be as soon as possible, or at a later date convenient to you.
Does the airline have to look after me while I am sorting this out?
Yes, they should give you free meals and refreshments suitable to your waiting time. If you are being re-routed and you have to stay overnight at the airport, you should also get free hotel accommodation and transfers. You are also entitled to two free phone calls, faxes or emails.
What about any compensation for a cancelled flight?
You might be able to get compensation as well, but the rules about this are very complicated. In the first place, the airline doesn't have to pay any compensation if they can show the cancellation was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances' that could not have been avoided, although you will be able to get a refund or re-routing. The law doesn't set out exactly what 'extraordinary circumstances' are, but they include things like security threats or acts of terrorism, bad weather or strikes.
You also won't be able to get any compensation if you are offered a re-routing that leaves an hour or less after the cancelled flight and is scheduled to arrive two hours later or less.
If you take a refund, or you are offered a later re-routing, you can get compensation. The amount will depend on the distance you are flying and how late your eventual arrival will be.
What happens if my flight is delayed?
If your flight is delayed, you won't get any financial compensation but you are entitled to get food, refreshments and, where necessary, accommodation and to make contact with friends or family to explain what's happened. Your entitlement depends on the length of the flight and how long the airline expects the hold-up to be. If the delay is over five hours, you can also get a refund if you decide not to travel.
What can I do if the flight is overbooked?
Firstly, the airline should ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Obviously you don't have to say yes, but if you do, you can then agree 'benefits' for doing this with the airline. You will also be entitled to a refund or re-routing.
If you don't volunteer, unfortunately the airline can still bump you off the flight. You will then have the choice of a refund or re-routing and also get compensation.
Can I get compensation if I missed my flight because the wrong time was printed on my ticket?
The airline must use 'reasonable skill and care' and you could argue that they have failed in this case. But it's a tricky area and the airline might refuse to pay up. Your best bet is always to call the airline to confirm your flight the day before.
If the airline cancelled the flight without telling you, then you are entitled to a refund or they should book you on an alternative flight.
What can I do if the airline won't respond to my letters or fails to pay out for a delayed or cancelled flight?
You can contact the Air Transport Users Council if you don't think you have received good customer service. Their website is http://www.caa.co.uk/homepage.aspx or you can call them on 020 7240 6061.
If you are entitled to compensation and the airline doesn't pay up, you can take them to the small claims court. For more information about how to do this, visit the website of HM Courts Service.
Please be aware that this is not legal advice and if you are concerned about any of the issues mentioned you should speak to a lawyer.
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