Flight and train compensation: UK legal rights explained to passengers if travel is delayed or canceled

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But if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, what are your rights – and how can you claim a refund from the operator?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What are my rights in the event of a delayed flight?

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Compensation may be available if your flight or train service is cancelled. Photo: Adobe Stock

If your flight is delayed, you may be entitled to assistance from your airline.

The length of the flight you’re supposed to be on determines how long you’ll be delayed before you receive assistance:

Less than 1,500 km – a delay of two hours or more requires compensation

Between 1,500 km and 3,500 km – a delay of three hours

More than 3,500 km – a delay of four hours

You can see how far your flight is supposed to travel on the WebFlyer website.

According to Citizens Advice, if you hit the delay length for the type of flight you’re on, you should get:

* access to phone calls and emails

* accommodation in case of late night – and transfers between the airport and the accommodation hotel

The airline will take care of you right at the airport and may give you vouchers to get some of these things on your own.

If they don’t give you any of the help you need, Citizens Advice advises you to keep all receipts to later claim any expenses you have incurred.

These expenses will probably only be fully compensated if they are deemed reasonable, so it is unlikely that you will receive money for a luxury hotel.

If the flight arrives more than three hours late and it’s the fault of the airline – for example, a technical fault, or if they overbooked the flight – you could get compensation under EU Regulation 261.

This law, which was copied into UK laws after Brexit, sets specific levels of compensation, again depending on the length of your flight.

A delay of more than three hours for a flight of less than 1,500km – £220

A delay of more than three hours for a flight between 1,500km and 3,500km – £350

A delay of four hours or more for a journey over 3,500km – £520

You must contact the airline to claim this compensation and you can find more information on this below.

Keep in mind that if the delay is due to something beyond the airline’s control, such as bad weather, they don’t have to compensate you.

A delay of five hours or more means the airline must legally give you:

* a full flight refund

* a full refund for other airline flights that you will not use in the same booking, such as a connecting flight or a return flight

If you are halfway through a trip, they must give you a flight back to the airport you originally departed from.

You must inform the airline as soon as possible if you do not accept the free flight.

The refunded money shouldn’t take longer than a week to reach you.

If you decide to fly, you can claim up to £520 in compensation if the delay was the fault of the airline.

What if the delay was at the airport?

Rather than suffering flight delays, many of the queues currently seen at UK airports are due to staff shortages and IT issues – sometimes both simultaneously.

These have led to delays at security and passport checks – issues that fall within the purview of the airport, not the airline.

According to the consumer website Which?, if you miss your flight because of queues at the airport, you are unlikely to receive compensation or a refund.

Indeed, most UK airports do not have a policy covering such eventualities.

Who? points out that you could claim a frustrated contract and argue that the airport is responsible for you missing your flight – but that would probably force you to sue the airline.

The check-in counter and baggage drop-off are the responsibility of the airline, so you can complain to them in case of long queues causing you to miss your flight – as long as you have arrived at the airport when you were told.

But again, the claims process is not as straightforward as with the flights themselves.

You may need to bring an action against consumer rights law, which could also involve a court date.

The best thing to do if you are stuck in a queue and are running out of time for your flight is to let the airport staff know.

They may be able to guide you through the queues to give you a chance to catch your flight.

Some airlines may place you on their next flight to that destination for free.

What are my rights in the event of a canceled flight?

If your flight is canceled altogether, you have the legal right under the Denied Boarding Regulations to:

* a full refund – including other airline flights that you will not be using in the same booking, such as return flights

* an alternate flight to get you to your destination (the airline should book you an itinerary as close to your original travel times as possible)

If you are halfway through a trip and do not want a replacement flight, you are also entitled to a return flight to the airport of departure.

For refunds or replacement flights, it’s best to request them at the airport – if you can.

If this is not possible, you can claim them from the airline later.

You also have the legal right to:

* help with costs – if the cancellation delays you by more than two hours

* compensation – if you are delayed by two hours or more on the proposed alternative flight and the airline has given you two weeks’ notice

Again, compensation depends on the expected duration of your original flight and the delay you experience as a result of the cancellation.

It also depends on how far in advance the flight was cancelled.

Be aware that the airline does not have to compensate you if what are called “extraordinary circumstances” are at stake.

This term covers things that are not under the airline’s control – like extreme weather conditions (but it’s up to the airline to prove it).

How can I claim compensation from the airlines?

As we discussed, you need to contact the airline for a chance to get compensation if your flight is canceled or delayed.

You must contact the airline operating the flight, even if you have booked it with another operator.

You will need to give details to the airline’s customer service, such as:

* booking reference numbers

Be sure to keep track of who you spoke to and what they told you.

If you write to the airline, you will need to provide these details, copies of your tickets, any receipts, and a description of what went wrong, and the amount you believe should be compensated.

If the airline denies your right to compensation or a particular amount of compensation, you can make a claim under Article 75 with your card provider (if you spent more than £100 on tickets).

This will see your card provider take over the dispute with the airline on your behalf.

You can also lodge a complaint with an independent body such as the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body if the airline is a member.

If the airline is not a member of an ADR, you should report your concern to the Passenger Advice and Complaints Team (PACT) operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Here are the numbers and links to get in touch with the major UK airlines:

My train was delayed – am I entitled to a refund?

Whether or not you are entitled to a full refund depends on how long your train was delayed and whether it was postponed or cancelled.

This applies to anyone who has purchased a ticket in advance, has a season ticket or has just purchased a ticket on the day of travel.

Customers can request a refund through the Late Payment program if a train is delayed by more than 15 minutes.

This scheme is set up to help people access partial or full reimbursement, depending on their situation.

To be eligible for a refund, customers must contact the train company they are traveling with and provide details of the delayed train and proof of their ticket.

If you are claiming multiple trains, you must claim each one individually.

Each train operator has its own delay reimbursement website.

Here are the details of the late payments of the different railway companies:

How much reimbursement can I receive?

The amount of refund you will receive depends on your ticket type and the length of the delay.

If you have a single ticket, you can get 25% of the price refunded if your train is delayed by 15 to 29 minutes.

If your train leaves you waiting 30-59 minutes, you can get a 50% refund.

You are entitled to a full refund if you wait more than 60 minutes.

If you have a return ticket, the amount refunded is calculated based on the fare of the affected trip.

According to National Rail, customers can get a full refund if their trip is “delayed or cancelled” and customers choose not to travel.

Can season ticket holders get a refund if they were affected by the June rail strike?

Season ticket holders will be able to claim a full refund if they choose not to travel during the three days of the strike.

The unique arrangement will allow customers to apply through the late payment scheme.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained: ‘I have decided to help make this an automatic process’, to ‘remove inconvenience to passengers’.

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