If you or your family suffered a flight delay of at least three hours from 2005 onwards, you could claim compensation of up to £500 per person.
The departure board flickers into life. You gaze up hopefully, and your heart sinks. The dreaded words ‘DELAYED’ appear next to some flights. Your flight.
If your flight was delayed by three hours or more, you could claim up to £500 in compensation
Any traveller knows that flight delays can make for some truly miserable experiences.
But now, all the pain will be worth it. Thanks to the European Court of Justice, if your flight to or from Europe is delayed, you could be in the money.
Who can claim flight delay compensation?
To qualify for compensation, certain conditions have to be met. There are five main rules to be aware of:
1. The three hour rule
Your flight must have been cancelled or delayed by at least three hours in order to be eligible for compensation of up to £500 per person.
An important point to remember is that the 'three hour rule' only applies to the time you arrive - NOT the time you leave.
For example: your flight might take off three and a half hours late; but if it arrives at the destination only two and a half hours late (having made up time in the air) then you don't have a right to compensation through the EU scheme.
Remember you can claim compensation if you are re-routed on another flight but still arrive three or more hours late.
2. Compensation only applies to EU flights
To claim compensation, your flight must:
- Take off from an EU country, OR
- End in an EU country
But there is one exception to this: if your flight doesn't take off or land in an EU country, the other way you can claim compensation is if the airline itself is based in the EU.
If your airline is based in the EU, then even delayed flights outside the EU (but which are run by an EU airline) are eligible for compensation.
For example, the following flights would be eligible for compensation if they were delayed for three hours or more:
- A flight that took off from the UK and landed in the US (as the UK is in the EU)
- A flight that took off from Australia and landed in Spain (as Spain is in the EU)
- A British Airways flight that took off from Australia and landed in Canada (as despite not taking off or landing in the EU, the British Airways airline is based in the EU).
3. The amount of money you get depends on the distance flown
See below for the current rates of compensation (remember that rates are per person - so if you flew with your partner and one child, triple the sums below).
- Up to 1,500km (932 miles) flight length = €250 (£211) compensation
- 1,500km-3,500km (932 miles - 2,175 miles) flight length = €400 (£337) compensation
- 3,500km-plus (2,175 miles) flight length = €300 (£253) compensation
- 3,500km-plus (2,175 miles) flight length on flights that are delayed by over 4 hours = €600 (£506) compensation
Sterling compensation figures are based on exchange rate on 9th September 2013.
If you're not sure of the distance of your flight, there's a handy flight mileage calculator here.
4. You can only get compensation if the delay was the airline's fault
You can't claim compensation through the EU scheme if your flight was delayed due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. These are events that are judged to be beyond the airline’s control.
This includes things like:
- Extreme weather
- Security risks
- Safety risks outside airline's control (e.g. volcanic ash clouds)
- Industrial action/Workers going on strike
5. The cut off point for claiming compensation is 2005
It's not just recent flights you can claim compensation for - you can claim for delayed flights going back as far as February 2005.
You can claim for delayed flights going back as far as February 2005
Unfortunately, if your delayed flight was over six years ago, it can be harder to get airlines to pay up - as they know that you can't threaten to take them to court if they refuse to pay. (Courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only consider these cases if they occurred in the last six years - while Scottish courts only consider cases in the last five years).
How do you claim compensation for your delayed flight?
First, get whatever evidence you have that you were on the flight you are claiming for (receipts, email confirmations, and the boarding pass if you have it).
If you don't have these things, you should still be able to claim if you have the flight reference number and the length of the delay (you can check the length of past flight delays on the Flight Stats website) as the airline will have flight and passenger logs.
The next step is to write to the airline, quoting the ruling “EC Regulation 261/2004”.
In your letter, make sure you state:
- That you are seeking compensation under "EC Regulation 261/2004"
- Your flight reference number, the date of the flight, and the departure and arrival airports
- The number of people you are claiming compensation for (list their full names in your letter)
- The number of hours your flight was delayed by, and the amount of compensation you are seeking (see rule number 3 above - then multiply that amount by the number of people in your party)
Include scans or photocopies of any tickets or receipts you may have (don't send off the originals).
If for any reason the airline tries to palm you off, you can pursue your claim by contacting the Civil Aviation Authority.
If the airline you flew on has since been taken over by another company, the new company almost always takes on the old company's liabilities - so write to that company instead.
Before you book your next flight, make sure you read our 10 sneaky tricks to get cheap flights!