18:26 06 November 2012
An EU court judgement on October 23 clarified the rights of passengers to claim compensation if their flights are delayed by three or more hours under EC Regulation 261/2004.
But, if the cause of the cancellation or delay is "extraordinary circumstances" beyond the airline's control - such as in the case of flights to and from the east coast of America during the recent Hurricane Sandy - the rules change.
The flight delays and cancellations around Hurricane Sandy were timely proof that passengers are still confused about what they are entitled to when their travel arrangements don't go to plan. So, to clear things up, here we answer the most common questions relating to delayed or cancelled flights.
My flight is cancelled - what are my rights?
If you are travelling from a European airport or to a European airport on an EU airline and your flight is cancelled, your airline must either offer you a full refund or rebook your flight subject to the airline's rebooking policy.
However, if you've booked your flights independently - rather than as part of a package holiday - and you decide to accept a refund, your airline no longer has any obligation to look after you.
And, if you've booked your flights independently and you decide to rebook your outward flight and travel on a new date, it is up to you to sort out all of your onward arrangements in your holiday destination - not the airline.
So, for example, if you have a hotel or hire car booked in your holiday destination, you'll have to cancel or rebook it yourself or you could be classed as a 'no-show' and charged the full amount. If you incur any losses due to cancellation of these elements, the only way to claim compensation is through your travel insurance policy.
If you are left stranded as a result of your cancelled flight, you'll also be entitled to a welfare package from your airline. This is likely to be food and drink, two phone calls and, if you need to stay overnight, hotel accommodation as well as transport to and from it.
Depending on the airline's policy, this will either be provided and arranged by the airline itself or it will reimburse reasonable costs if you sort out your own arrangements. But, before you make any plans, make sure you talk to your airline about its policy and what it will/won't refund - and be sure to keep all of your receipts to make the claims process as pain free as possible.
My flight is part of a package holiday - what happens here?
If your outward or return cancelled flight is part of a package holiday, your holiday will be protected by the ATOL scheme and your tour operator will look after you.
If your outward flight is affected, you will be offered a full refund on your whole holiday or the option to rebook the same holiday, at the same price, again when it's available.
If your return flight is cancelled, your tour operator will cover all extra costs such as accommodation in your holiday destination and will sort out getting you home as soon as is possible. But, again, don't just book your own accommodation. Speak to your tour operator about its policy.
Can I make a claim on my travel insurance?
While you can claim a full refund from your airline for a cancelled flight, your airline won't pay for any other elements of your trip such as cancelled hotels or hire cars and this is where a comprehensive travel insurance policy can prove to be a godsend.
When buying travel insurance bear this in mind and check the small print to make sure your policy includes cover for irrecoverable losses as a result of delays or cancellation.
My cancelled flight is with a non-EU carrier from a non-EU country - do I have the same rights?
As the rights you get under EC Regulation 261/2004 only apply to passengers flying to or from an EU country or with an EU carrier, they won't apply outside of these circumstances. Instead, you will have to check the individual policy of your airline.
Can I claim compensation for a cancelled flight?
If your flights are cancelled within 14 days of your travel date, you could be entitled to financial compensation of up to €600 under EC Regulation 261/2004 - depending on the length of your flight. You can see what you are entitled to in the clickable table on the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) website.
This compensation, however, does not apply when delays or cancellations are due to "extraordinary circumstances" as shown in the case of Hurricane Sandy.
This compensation also applies to flights that are delayed by more than three hours and on October 23, the European courts confirmed passengers' rights in this instance.
My flight is delayed - what are my rights?
If your flight arrives three or more hours late and you are travelling out of the EU or on an EU airline you will be entitled to compensation so long as the delay wasn't caused by extraordinary circumstances.
The level of compensation you are entitled to is determined by the length of your flight (as shown in the table below).
How much compensation could be due?
|Length of flight||Delay to Destination||Compensation due|
|Up to 1500km||More than 3 hours||€250|
|1500km to 3500km||More than 3 hours||€400|
|More than 3500km||More than 3 hours but less than 4 hours||€300|
|More than 3500km||More than 4 hours||€600|
What constitutes extraordinary circumstances?
The CAA classes extraordinary circumstances as those which are outside of the control of the airline and which, even if the airline had taken reasonable measures, would still have delayed the flight - for example, extreme weather conditions or a strike.
Even in these circumstances, you are entitled to be looked after by your airline - whether this is a refund in the case of a cancellation or welfare package - you just won't be able to claim any extra compensation.
How do I claim the compensation?
If your flight's arrival was delayed by three or more hours and you want to claim compensation, the first step would be to talk to your airline to find out what caused the problem.
Then make a note of useful details to do with the delay as well as holding onto your tickets and copies of any relevant receipts.
When you get home, check your airline's website to find out the best way to communicate to them about the complaint - this may be by letter, email or an online form. The CAA provides a letter template on their site which you can download and use free of charge to claim compensation.
In the letter there are gaps and prompts for all of the details and documents you need to include and you can also see a checklist here.
Remember to keep copies of everything you send off and to photocopy receipts and tickets rather than sending off the originals.
Is there a time limit on when I can claim on a delayed flight?
Yes. You will have up to six years to make a claim for a flight delay, so long as you have all of the relevant documentation to support your claim.
I've previously made a claim but not received compensation - what should I
The EU court judgment on October 23 now clarifies your right to the compensation, so you should contact your airline again stating that following the judgment in the TUI v CAA case, you'd like to pursue your claim.
If you can include a copy of your original letter and documents, your claim is likely to go through more speedily.
What do I do if I've been contacted by a third party offering to help with my claim?
Following the news of the judgement, airlines face paying millions of pounds out in compensation to customers and, as with PPI claims, some claims management companies are now offering to help consumers.
But, stay clear of them as they will charge a fee and you can make the claim for free yourself. If you do need help, consult the CAA's passenger portal.
Finally, if you have any problems with your airline, you can contact the CAA's passenger complaints team.
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