Airlines do their best to avoid disruption and delays to your journey. However, sometimes problems do occur. As a consumer you have important legal rights when the flight you are booked on is delayed, cancelled or when you are denied boarding.
This page explains your rights and what to do when your flight has been disrupted.
Does UK law apply to your flight?
Under UK law, you have important legal rights on many flights to, from or within the UK. The information on this page is only relevant to flights covered by UK law. To be covered, your flight must be either:
- departing from an airport in the UK on any airline, or
- arriving at an airport in the UK on an EU or UK airline; or
- arriving at an airport in the EU on a UK airline.
You can check if UK law applies to your flight by viewing this document explaining how your entitlement changes dependent on specific criteria.
While you wait for your flight
Under UK law, airlines must provide you with care and assistance if your flight is significantly delayed. The law splits the set timeframes into three categories:
|Length of flight||Waiting time|
|short-haul flight of under 1,500km (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam)||more than two hours|
|medium-haul flight of 1,500km – 3,500km (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh)||more than three hours|
|long-haul flight of over 3,500km (e.g. London to New York)||more than four hours|
This means they must provide:
- A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers)
- A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)
- Accommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel)
- Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there)
The airline must provide you with these items until it is able to fly you to your destination, no matter how long the delay lasts or what has caused it.
How it works in practice
If your flight is delayed, many airlines will provide vouchers for you to buy food and drink. If you require accommodation, they may book a hotel and arrange transportation for you.
Sometimes airlines are unable to arrange care and assistance for all passengers. This can happen when staff are stretched during major disruptions.
If this happens, in our view you have the right to organise reasonable care and assistance yourself, then claim the cost back later. If you end up paying for things yourself, keep every receipt and do not spend more than is reasonable. Airlines are unlikely to refund you for things like luxury hotels or alcohol. Some will provide guidance on reasonable costs.
We would expect the airline concerned to respond to a claim for reimbursement in a reasonable time and a the very least provide you with an indication of how long you should expect to wait for a response. If you are unhappy with the length of time it is taking or disagree with the airline’s decision regarding your claim, please see our section on how to make a complaint.
Under UK law, airlines may have to provide compensation if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late.
This depends on what caused the delay – if it wasn’t the airline’s fault, don’t expect to receive any compensation.
Disruptions caused by things like extreme weather, airport or air traffic control employee strikes or other ‘extraordinary circumstances’ are not eligible for compensation.
The length of your flight determines the amount that you may be entitled to, so it’s a good idea to check which category your flight falls into:
|Length of flight||Compensation|
|short-haul flight of under 1,500km (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam)||£220|
|medium-haul flight of 1,500km – 3,500km (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh)||£350|
|long-haul flight of over 3,500km (e.g. London to New York)||£520|
|long-haul flight of over 3,500km (e.g. London to New York)||£260 (in case you arrived at your destination with a delay of under 4 hours)|
Rearranging your flight
If your flight has been delayed or cancelled, the airline should inform you when you will be able to fly to your destination. You can also ask staff at the airport, check the airline’s website (often the quickest way) or call them.
Decide whether you still want to fly
If you have been delayed for more than five hours and no longer wish to travel then you are entitled to a refund.
If you are a transfer passenger and missed your connection flight because your first flight was delayed, you are also entitled to a flight back to your original departure point.
Once you decide to take a refund or to travel later than the first available flight, your airline has no obligation to provide you with food, drink or accommodation. If you are on a package holiday and you decide not to travel on your outbound flight, you may lose your holiday too, we recommend you contact your package organiser or the airline for further information.
Getting to your destination
If you still want to travel then your airline must get you to your destination. You might have to be patient while they rearrange transport and rebook passengers, but the law says they must get you there. Your airline must take care of you by providing food, drink, access to communications and accommodation (if you are delayed overnight) while you wait for your rearranged transport.
Sometimes airlines may advise you to make alternative travel arrangements, then claim back the cost later. If you do this, try to keep costs down as much as you can, keep receipts and record the name of the person giving this advice. Book with the same airline if at all possible.