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Airline disputes

Airline disputes are a common issue for leisure and business travellers alike. Whether it's lost baggage or cancelled flights, it's important that consumers understand their rights and how to seek compensation.

You may be able to claim compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight if it was:

  • departing from an airport within the UK on any airline
  • arriving in the UK on a UK or EU airline
  • arriving in the EU on a UK airline

Cancellation

For cancelled flights, airlines must offer the option of reimbursement (including for any other flights from the airline - eg return or connecting flights - in the same booking, that won’t be used because of the cancellation) or replacement (ie a replacement flight). Airlines must also offer meals, access to telephone calls and emails and, if there is an overnight delay,  hotel accommodation and transportation between the hotel and the airport). 

If a later leg of a journey is cancelled, and the passanger doens’t want a replacement flight, airlines have to provide them with a return flight to their departure airport.

In addition, compensation must be paid unless the passenger is informed of the cancellation:

  • at least 2 weeks prior to departure

  • between 1 and 2 weeks prior to departure if a rerouted flight will result in no more than a 4-hour delay

  • between 1 and 2 weeks prior to departure if rerouting will result in no more than 2 hours delay

The amount of cancellation passangers are entitled to depends on:

  • when the flight was cancelled

  • the flight distance (ie if it's a short, medium or long haul flight)

  • the departure and arrival times of the rescheduled flight

If the reason for a cancellation is outside of the control of the airline (eg due to bad weather or a security threat) compensation will generally not be payable.

For more information, see the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) guidance.

Delays

Airline passengers whose flights have been delayed by between at least 2 and 4 hours (depending on the length of the flight) are entitled to food and drink, access to phone calls and email and accommodation for overnight delays. These must be arranged by the airline.

Delays which result in a passenger arriving at their destination at least 3 hours later than the originally scheduled arrival time are subject to compensation of between £220 and £520 (depending on the length of flight and the total delay). As with cancellations, if the reason for a delay is outside of the control of the airline compensation will generally not be payable.

If a flight is delayed by at least 5 hours, passengers can decide not to take the flight and airlines must provide  and airlines must instead provide:

  • a refund for the delayed flight

  • a refund for any other flights with their airline that will not be used in the same booking (eg return flights)

  • a return flight to the original departure airport, if the delay happens part-way through a journey 

For more information, see the CAA’s guidance.

If any baggage is delayed, airlines will normally only reimburse passengers in respect of any essential items (eg toiletries and underwear). Delayed baggage should be reported within 21 days of receiving the delayed luggage.

Damaged baggage should be reported on arrival at the airport (eg at a dedicated baggage desk).To make a claim, damaged luggage or baggage which is missing items should also be reported in writing to the airline within 7 days. Luggage that has been lost should be reported within 21 days. 

Airlines will not usually pay out more than £1,000 in total compensation.

For more information, see the CAA’s guidance.

If booking a flight via a travel agency, passengers should check that the agent is ATOL registered. This protects their money if the agent goes into liquidation.

Certain rights will only apply if the holiday is considered a package holiday. For information on problems with travel agents, see CAA’s guidance and Citizens Adice’s guidance.

The first step is for the passenger to write to the airline, outlining their complaint and specifying any demands for compensation. Details of the flights should be stated, including relevant dates and flight numbers. The exact nature of the problem should be explained, along with the desired outcome (eg compensation).

In respect of delays and cancellations, you may wish to make reference to the 'EU Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC)' that deals with delayed and cancelled flights, downgrade and denied boarding. Many airlines will have a dedicated method for submitting these types of claims.

For more information, see the CAA’s guidance.

In respect of delays and cancellations, passengers who cannot resolve the issue with the airline can report the problem to the CAA. However, in practice, the complaint will normally be heard by an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body - CEDR or Aviation ADR. If this method does not work, a claim can be made directly against the airline.

In December 2020, the UK Government wrote EU Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC) into UK law (under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and amended by The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018). This was done to enable passengers from the UK to still benefit from the same rights as before when travelling. Therefore, you will still be protected under the same rights provided your flight departs:

  • from the UK no matter what airline

  • outside the UK and landing in the UK, if the operating carrier is an EU or UK carrier

  • outside the UK and landing in the EU, if the operating carrier is a UK air carrier