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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.

EU law grants certain rights to passengers (i) departing from an airport within the EU on any airline or (ii) departing from an airport outside the EU for an airport within the EU if the airline is based in an EU state.


Airlines must offer the option of reimbursement or being rerouted in respect of cancelled flights, along with meals and telephone calls (and sometimes hotel accommodation). In addition, compensation must be paid unless the passenger is:

  • informed of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to departure

  • informed of the departure between one and two weeks prior to departure if a rerouted flight will result in no more than a four hour delay

  • informed of the departure between one and two weeks prior to departure if rerouting will result in no more than two hours delay


Airline passengers whose flights have been delayed by at least two hours are entitled to food and drink, access to phone calls and email, and accomodation for overnight delays. These must be arranged by the airline.

Delays which result in a passenger arriving at their destination at least three hours later than the original scheduled arrival time, are subject to compensation of between €250 and €600 (depending on the length of flight and the total delay).

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

If baggage is delayed, airlines will normally only reimburse passengers in respect of any essential items (eg toiletries and underwear).

Damaged luggage or baggage which is missing items should be reported to the airline within 7 days in order to make a claim. Luggage which has been lost should be reported within 21 days. Airlines will not usually pay out more than £1,000 in total compensation.

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

Certain rights will only apply if the holiday is considered a package holiday. For information on problems with travel agents read Claim compensation for a holiday.

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 a desired outcome (eg compensation).

In respect of delays and cancellations, it is a good idea to make reference to the 'Denied Boarding EU Regulation (Regulation 261/2004 EC)'. Many airlines will have a dedicated method for submitting these types of claims.

In respect of delays and cancellation, passengers who cannot resolve the issue with the airline can report the problem to the Civil Aviation Authority (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.

The majority of these rights originate in EU law. However, the Withdrawal Agreement 2020 has been put in place to ensure that current EU laws are incorporated into UK law. Therefore, you will still be protected under the same rights provided your flight falls into one of the following:

  • flights departing from the UK no matter what airline

  • flights departing outside the UK and landing in the UK, if the operating carrier is a EU or UK carrier

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

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