What rights do you have if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

Airline strikes, staff shortages and soaring passenger numbers have created a perfect storm for the travel industry.

What compensation are you entitled to if your flight is delayed or cancelled? STV News
Long queues at Edinburgh Airport.

Flight cancellations, snaking airport queues and lost luggage – it’s a chaotic picture for the UK’s “great getaway” this summer.

Airline strikes, staff shortages and soaring demand for holidays after lockdown have created a perfect storm for the travel industry as it enters its peak period.

In Spain, Ryanair and Easyjet workers have walked out over pay and conditions with further dates planned the rest of the month.

Easyjet staff are set to strike this weekend and July 29-31, with Ryanair crew walking out over July 18-21 and July 25-28. The airports affected include Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Madrid, Barcelona, Girona, Malaga, Seville, Valencia, Alicante and Santiago de Compostela.

Meanwhile more than 5,000 passengers at London Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, have faced flight cancellations so far this summer due to unprecedented capacity.

These issues are understandably causing concern for Scots jetting off abroad in the coming weeks.

ABTA spokesman Sean Tipton is keen to reassure worried holidaymakers reading the news that the chance of their flight being cancelled is slim.

“Travel chaos is hitting headlines lately and it’s understandable after years of not being able to go anywhere,” he said.

“People are getting worried about cancelled flights when they should be looking forward to their holiday; the reality is that the number of cancelled flights is actually very small.

“It’s not likely to happen to you, but it could. And you have comprehensive rights if it has been cancelled.”

What are your rights?

For EU-regulated flights that are cancelled, and where “extraordinary circumstances” do not apply, customers can ask for a refund or choose to take an alternative flight.

For medium-haul flights of two to four hours, the delay must be three hours or more to claim compensation, rising to four hours for long-haul journeys.

If the delay lasts longer than five hours, customers may be able to choose between being rerouted or getting a refund.

The airline should offer you an alternative flight under EU law. If, for example, the flight the company offers you is three days later, you’re entitled to ask the company to book you a flight with a different airline.

If you’re overseas and travelling back to Scotland, the same law applies. The airline should pay for your hotel and day-to-day expenses including food and refreshments – such as tea and coffee – but not alcohol.

Sean added: “Sometimes you’re asked to pay for it yourself; so keep receipts and keep costs at a reasonable leve. No five-star hotels. Claim the money back when you return home. You will get your money back as this is a legal requirement.”

In some cases, you may be due compensation on top of the refunds if the flight is cancelled less than 14 days before you’re due to go.

Compensation can only be claimed if the delay is not due to “extraordinary circumstances” such as severe weather, long security queues, security risks, unlawful acts and strikes by non-airline staff such as baggage handlers.

This was part of the 2004 EU Directive that was transferred into UK law after Brexit.

Sean said: “Obviously if there’s an air traffic control strike or bad weather, they can’t control that. You can get quite a lot of money depending on the length of flight.

“All the things you’re entitled to should be made very clear by the airline when these things happen because it’s a law.”

Package holidays

If you’ve booked with a package holiday operator or a travel agent, they are obliged to arrange your accommodation and flights for you in the event of a cancellation.

If the firm you booked with cancels your holiday, you are entitled to a full refund within 14 days of the cancellation date. Your refund should be provided regardless of whether the company received funds from other companies involved in your trip, such as airlines.

How much can I claim?

  • Flight distance up to 1,500km (932 miles) – arriving more than three hours late – entitled to €250 (£215)
  • Any flight in EU over 1,500km (932 miles) or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500km (2,175 miles) – arriving more than three hours late – entitled to €400 (£344)
  • Flight distance more than 3,500km (2,175 miles) – arriving between three and four hours late – entitled to €300 (£258)
  • Flight distance more than 3,500km (2,175 miles) – arriving more than four hours late – entitled to €600 (£516)

How would I go about getting compensation?

To claim back a refund or compensation, your first port of call would be the airline website’s complaints forms or compensation pages.

If you’re flying back from outside of the EU or UK and the airline is not UK or EU-based, you are not legally entitled to compensation such as a hotel or refunds, so it’s important to have travel insurance.

But many bigger airlines will still offer accommodation and expenses as a gesture of goodwill to customers. 

“It’s not a legal requirement but generally speaking more traditional airlines will go above and beyond what they have to,” Sean said. “You can ask them, but you can’t insist.”

Where can I get more info?

Colin Mathieson, spokesperson for Advice Direct Scotland, said: “With flights being cancelled and delayed by airlines, it is important for people to understand their rights in relation to the refunds, compensation and assistance they are entitled to, and how to go about claiming it.

“We have published an overview of some of the most commonly-asked questions on our consumeradvice.scot website.”

If you’ve experienced disruption on your holiday and want to share your story, email us at news@stv.tv.