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.
In instances of denied boarding, this law provides rights where the airline cannot accommodate you due to a lack of space on the aircraft (see below) but allows for some circumstances where denied boarding is reasonable. This includes for reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation. So, for example, it is reasonable for an airline to deny boarding if the passenger does not have a valid passport or, where required, the correct paperwork to prove a negative covid test.
Before you travel, please check the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for your destination.
Sometimes airlines book more people onto a flight than there are seats on the plane. This is because people don’t always turn up — despite having booked a flight. Airlines may also be unable to carry all passengers for other reasons, such as using a smaller aircraft than planned.
This means that occasionally too many people will attempt to check in for a flight. As a result, some passengers may be asked or forced to give up their place on the flight.
If this happens to you, it means you have been ‘bumped’ from your flight. It is also called ‘denied boarding’. Often you can volunteer to be bumped, but sometimes airlines will bump you without your agreement.
Volunteering to be bumped
If you volunteer to be bumped, it’s up to you and your airline to agree compensation. Often, airlines will make an announcement at the gate offering compensation, which might be cash or vouchers.
If you volunteer to be bumped, you are also entitled to an alternative flight or a refund, as described below.
When it is not your choice
If you are bumped without your agreement, you are entitled to compensation, as long as you checked-in for your flight on time.
The level of compensation depends on the length of your flight and the timings of the alternative flight you are offered:
|Length of flight||Length of disruptions||Compensation|
|short-haul flight of under 1,500km (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam)||Arrive 2 hours or more later at final destination||£220|
|short-haul flight of under 1,500km (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam)||Arrive less than 2 hours later at final destination||£110|
|medium-haul flight of 1,500km – 3,500km (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh)||Arrive 3 hours or more later at final destination||£350|
|medium-haul flight of 1,500km – 3,500km (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakesh)||Arrive less than 3 hours later at final destination||£175|
|long-haul flight of over 3,500km (e.g. London to New York)||Arrive 4 hours or more later at final destination||£520|
|long-haul flight of over 3,500km (e.g. London to New York)||Arrive less than 4 hours later at final destination||£260|
Your other rights when bumped
No matter whether you volunteered or were forced to be bumped, your airline must also let you choose between two options:
1. Choose an alternative flight
Your airline must offer you an alternative flight. It’s up to you whether to fly as soon as possible, or at a later date that suits you. Airlines often refer to this as being ‘rerouted’.
If you want to fly as soon as possible, your airline must also provide care and assistance while you wait for the flight.
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.
2. Receive a refund
If you don’t want to fly, you can get your money back instead. You’ll get a refund for all parts of the ticket you haven’t used.
For instance, if you have booked a return flight and you are bumped from the outbound leg, you can get the full cost of the return ticket back from your airline.
If you’re part-way through a journey, your airline should also provide a flight back to your starting point.