Advice for passengers at times of major disruption

Know your rights when your flight is delayed or cancelled at times of major disruption. This could be when a lot of flights are delayed and cancelled or the airport is shut.

At a glance – key points

  • Contact your airline or tour operator to find out if your flight is likely to depart. Try their website first.
  • If you are already at the airport and your flight is cancelled (and your airline says there will be no more flights that day) try to make your way home if you can.
  • When stuck at an airport in the UK and your flight is delayed or cancelled, you have the right to be looked after by your airline, whatever caused the delay or cancellation. If you choose to go home and return, the airline should cover reasonable costs of your journey.
  • When major disruption happens, it may take longer to get through to customer service telephone numbers, websites and customer helpdesks. Please be patient, reasonable costs of your call should be reimbursed by your airline.
  • Keep receipts.

Your right to another flight or a refund

If your flight has been cancelled, your airline must get you to your destination or offer you a full refund. If your flight is delayed by more than 5 hours and you no longer want to travel you are entitled to a full refund. If you are a transfer passenger you are also entitled to a flight back to your original departure point. Be aware, once you accept a refund your airline no longer has to look after you. If you are on a package holiday and you choose to cancel your outbound flight, you may lose your entire holiday.

If you decide you still want to fly, your airline should help get you to your final destination. Airline call centres and websites will be very busy but be patient and persistent. If you allow your airline to re-book you then you will have a better chance of getting on an earlier flight with no risk of extra cost or the hassle of seeking a refund.

If the disruption is severe, your airline may advise you to make your own travel arrangements and will reimburse reasonable costs. If this happens, make a note of the conversation (when, where, and with whom) and any guidance from your airline. Ask the airline to update your booking with the agreement. You shouldn’t assume your travel insurance will cover you if you choose to get yourself to your destination.

If you have contacted your airline but they refuse to organise alternative travel for you, you have the option to make your own arrangements and claim the costs back from your airline. Try to rebook with the same airline and travel in the same cabin class. It will be easier to get all your money back if you can keep the costs down.

Your right to care and help

If your flight has been cancelled or delayed for several hours, your airline must look after you. This means providing food, drinks, and some communications. If you are delayed overnight, this also means a hotel and travel to and from it. Airlines may give you vouchers for food and drink at the airport. Airlines are likely to be dealing with a large number of passengers so you may need to be patient.

It is often best to go home if you can and return to the airport when your flight is rearranged. However, for some journeys, it may be more practical and cheaper to stay in a hotel than go home, so discuss your options with your airline if you can. If the best option is to go home and return, the airline should cover reasonable costs.

If the airline does not provide refreshments (or vouchers), or organise a hotel, you can pay for your own and claim the money back from the airline. Be aware that your airline will not pay for alcohol or expensive meals, and you must hold on to receipts. Try to check if your airline has guidance on what is reasonable to spend.

How long does my flight need to be delayed before I can expect to get assistance?

If your flight length is between 0 and 1,500km, for example Manchester to Frankfurt, you will need to be delayed more than two hours.

If your flight length is between 1500 and 3500km, for example Newcastle to Majorca, you will need to be delayed more than three hours.

If your flight length is more than 3500km, for example London to Delhi, you will need to be delayed more than four hours.

If you are delayed overnight and your airline cannot or will not arrange a hotel, you can make your own arrangements and claim a refund from your airline later. Do not spend more than is reasonable and keep your receipts. What is reasonable will depend on the availability of hotels, but you are unlikely to be fully refunded for 5 star hotels or any alcohol for example. Try to talk to someone from your airline or check their website before you do this and keep note of any conversations.

Extra help for vulnerable passengers

Airlines must look after passengers with a disability and unaccompanied children as a priority. If you need special assistance, make this known to your airline, preferably when you book, or to airport staff as soon as possible.

Package holidays

If you have booked a package holiday, your tour operator is responsible for rearranging your flight. If your holiday cannot be rearranged or is significantly changed you are entitled to a refund of the full package price if you wish.

Where in the world you have these rights

These rights apply to all flights from European airports. These rights also apply to all flights to European airports, from outside of the EU, on an EU airline.

After the disruption

To resolve complaints, to claim back expenses, or to make an insurance claim, it will help to have supporting evidence. Keep a record of times things happen and who you spoke to. Keep a note of your flight number and flight time. Keep receipts. Insurance claims will need the reason for the cancellation – you will need to contact your airline for this.

At times of major disruption such as strikes, severe weather, volcanic ash affecting airspace or terrorism, you are unlikely to be entitled to automatic compensation if your flight is cancelled. You will always be entitled to be looked after until your alternative flight departs or a refund. See for more information.

Resolving any complaint

You should first seek to resolve the issue with your airline or tour operator. They may be dealing with a number of passengers so you may need to be patient. If you cannot resolve the issue with the airline or tour operator, the CAA website has information about whether you have a valid claim.

If you have checked our website, and still need help, then contact us by email:

Consumer advice helpline: 020 7453 6888 (Monday to Friday 9.00am to 2.30pm)

Civil Aviation Authority CAA House 45-59 Kingsway London WC2B 6TE

For timely updates follow us on twitter @UK_CAA

BAA and some other airports and airlines offer free smartphone apps with airport and flight updates and information.