My flight has been cancelled - What are my rights?
although the United Kingdom has left the European Union, certain pieces of legislation (formally known as 'retained EU law') will still apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation; this means that you will still see references to EU regulations in our guidance.
- This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
Your flight may be delayed or cancelled for a number of reasons, which may include adverse weather conditions, strikes, political or civil unrest and other 'extraordinary circumstances'. You may be downgraded to a class lower than you booked or you may be 'denied boarding', commonly referred to as being 'bumped' from your flight.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights sets out the circumstances when you are entitled to a refund, compensation and assistance at the airport. These rights apply to passengers flying from an airport in the UK (any airline), arriving an an airport in the UK on a UK or EU airline or arriving at an airport in the EU on a UK airline.
This guide explains what you are entitled to and how much compensation (per person) you can claim.
When a flight is cancelled
If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a refund on any unused part of your flight ticket. As an alternative, you can be 're-routed' on to a different flight as soon as possible, or at a later date if that is more convenient to you (subject to seat availability). You are entitled to a return flight to your first departure point if a connecting flight you booked as part of a transfer is cancelled. If you accept an alternative flight, you are also entitled to care and assistance, such as food, drink, access to communications and accommodation (where relevant).
If your flight is cancelled and the airline gives you between seven and 14 days' notice, in addition to a refund or re-routing you may also be entitled to claim compensation at the following levels:
Compensation: cancelled flight with 7-14 days' notice Length of journey Alternative flight arrangements Compensation short haul (up to 1,500 km) arrive at final destination less than 2 hours later £110 short haul (up to 1,500 km) arrive at final destination 2 hours or more later £220 medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km) depart 2 hours before booked flight and arrives at final destination less than 3 hours later £175 medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)
depart more than 2 hours before booked flight and arrives at final destination 3 hours or more later
£350 long haul (more than 3,500 km) depart less than 1 hour before booked flight and arrives at final destination less than 4 hours later £260 long haul (more than 3,500 km) arrive 4 hours or more after booked flight £520
If your flight is cancelled and the airline gives you less than seven days' notice, in addition to a refund or re-routing you may also be entitled to claim compensation at the following levels:
Compensation: cancelled flight with less than seven days' notice Length of journey Alternative flight arrangements Compensation short haul (up to 1,500 km) 2 hours or more to final destination £220
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)
3 hours or more to final destination £350 long haul (more than 3,500 km) less than 4 hours to final destination £260 long haul (more than 3,500 km) 4 hours or more to final destination £520
The airline is not obliged to compensate you if it can prove that the cancellation was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances', which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such extraordinary circumstances might occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of the airline. Technical problems or the failure of a component are not necessarily considered extraordinary circumstances and you may still be entitled to claim compensation.
If you want to claim compensation from an airline for a cancelled flight, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.
When a flight is delayed
If there is a delay in getting you to your destination that is not due to an 'extraordinary circumstance' (see above), you may be able to claim compensation at the levels set out below.
Compensation: delayed flight Length of journey Delay to destination Compensation short haul (up to 1,500 km) more than 2 hours £220 medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km) more than 3 hours £350 long haul (more than 3,500 km) under 4 hours £260 long haul (more than 3,500 km) more than 4 hours £520
If you want to claim compensation from an airline for a delayed flight, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.
When your booking is downgraded
If you are upgraded to a higher class of flight, the airline cannot charge you any extra. If you are downgraded to a lower class, the airline must reimburse you on a percentage basis and within seven days. Bear in mind that may only receive reimbursement for the part of the journey that was downgraded.
Compensation: downgraded booking Length of journey Reimbursement short haul (up to 1,500 km) 30% of the ticket price medium haul (1,500-3,500 km) 50% of the ticket price long haul (more than 3,500 km) 75% of the ticket price
If you want to claim reimbursement for a downgraded booking, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.
If a flight is overbooked by an airline, it may ask you if you want to volunteer to be 'bumped' (in other words give up your seat) or the airline may deny you a seat without your agreement.
If you volunteer to give up your seat, you can claim a refund or an alternative flight and you can negotiate compensation with the airline.
If the airline denies you a seat without your agreement, you are entitled to claim a refund or an alternative flight and you are also entitled to claim compensation at the levels below.
Compensation: denied boarding Length of journey Delay to destination Compensation short haul (up to 1,500 km) arrive up to 2 hours later at final destination £110 short haul (up to 1,500 km) arrive 2 hours or more at final destination £220 medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km) arrive up to 3 hours later at final destination £175 medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km) arrive 3 hours or more at final destination £350 long haul (more than 3,500 km) arrive up to 4 hours later at final destination £260 long haul (more than 3,500 km) arrive 4 hours or more later at final destination £520
If you are denied boarding and want to claim compensation, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.
Assistance at the airport
When your flight is delayed or you are denied boarding, the airline is obliged to provide assistance. You are entitled to:
- assistance with communication (possibly by refunding your call costs)
- free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay (this may be in the form of vouchers)
- free accommodation and transport to and from the accommodation, if an overnight stay is required
- transport home, if it is practical for you to return there
Airlines must give priority to persons with reduced mobility and to persons / service dogs who accompany them and also to unaccompanied children.
The airlines must inform you of your right to compensation and assistance. A notice must be displayed at the check-in area and a written notice of your rights must be given to you in the event of a cancellation, delay or re-route. If you want to make a claim contact the airline; it will have a claims procedure that you can use. If your claim does not succeed you can complain to the Civil Aviation Authority.
What if you are stranded and trying to get home?
Some passengers may wish to make alternative arrangements to get home instead of making arrangements with the airline they originally booked the flight with. In such circumstances airlines are not required to refund your additional expenditure. In exceptional circumstances some airlines may reimburse customers but will not pay if they consider the expenditure unreasonable. You should keep receipts for all expenditure to help you justify your claim.
What will your flight insurance cover?
At the time you book your flight, you may wish to take out a flight insurance policy. Check with insurance providers to see what type of cover suits your circumstances and what you can claim for. Make sure you know the difference between what you are legally entitled to claim from the airline and what you can claim for under the terms of the policy.
If you have a problem with a flight, check the terms of the policy again before you make any arrangements over and above what you may be able to claim from the airline so that you are satisfied you are covered by your insurance.
If you want to complain about flight insurance, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.
What if the airline rejects your claim?
If your flight departed from a UK airport, you can complain to the Civil Aviation Authority. Contact the Civil Aviation Authority for details of this free service.
If you paid for the flight using your credit card and it cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, you have rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the airline for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include a cancelled flight. You are entitled to take action against the airline, the card provider or both. If you are unhappy with the card provider's response then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you use a debit card to buy the flight or if you use a credit card and the price of the item is less than £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply) you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract, you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.
The flights were part of a holiday package: what are your rights?
You have rights under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018
A 'package' means a combination of at least two different types of travel services for the same trip or holiday if those services are combined by one trader (at your request or after you have selected them) before a single contract for all services is formed.
These services are:
- purchased from a single point of sale (retail premises, website, online sales facility or telephone service) and selected by you before you agree to pay
- offered, charged or sold at a total price
- advertised or sold under the name 'package' or something similar
- combined after the contract is formed (the trader allows you to chose from a selection of different types of travel services)
Alternatively the services may be:
- purchased from separate traders through a linked online booking process where both of the following apply:
- all your details are transmitted from the trader who you make the first travel service contract with to other traders
- the contract with the other traders is formed no later than 24 hours after confirming the booking of the first travel service
A 'travel service' means:
- the carriage of passengers
- the provision of accommodation
- the rental of cars, motorcycles or other motor vehicles
- any other tourist service
If a travel organiser cancels your package holiday, you will have several options. You can choose one of the following:
- accept an alternative holiday of an equivalent or higher quality, if possible
- accept an alternative holiday of a lower quality or cost and claim an appropriate reduction in the price
- cancel the holiday and claim a full refund
You may also be able to claim compensation if your holiday is cancelled - for example, to cover any financial loss you have suffered or the disappointment and inconvenience.
The travel organiser must notify you in writing and before the holiday booking is finalised, the minimum number of people required for the package to take place and the time limit before the start of the holiday for the possible cancellation if that number is not reached. Whilst you are entitled to a full refund, you are not entitled to make a claim for additional compensation if an insufficient number of people have booked on to the package holiday.
You cannot claim additional compensation if your package holiday is cancelled by the travel organiser due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances and if you are notified of the cancellation without undue delay before the start of the holiday.
See the 'Holidays' guide for more information.
Payment surcharges: what are your rights?
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, which were amended by the Payment Services Regulations 2017, traders are banned from imposing surcharges on consumers for using the following payment methods:
- credit, debit or charge cards
- e-payment services such as PayPal
- Apple Pay, Android Pay or other similar payment methods
Traders can impose a surcharge for other methods of payment, but the amount must not be excessive; it must reflect the actual cost to the trader of processing the payment. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts.
The Regulations give you rights to redress. Any requirement to pay a banned surcharge or the part of a surcharge that is excessive, is unenforceable by the trader. This means you do not have to pay. If you have already paid the surcharge, or the excess, you are entitled to a refund.
If you have a complaint about surcharges, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
Do you have any other rights?
Most of the Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 do not apply to flights. However, some elements do apply:
- a trader must obtain your clear agreement to charge you for optional extras before you confirm the contract. They must not use pre-ticked boxes that you then have to un-tick to avoid paying for the additional service. You are entitled to be reimbursed if you make a payment that you did not agree to
- a trader must not charge you more than the basic rate for calling their telephone helpline to discuss a contract you have with them. You may still see numbers beginning 09, 084, 0870, 0871, 0872, 0873 but the basic rate number should be equally or more prominently displayed
If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See the guide 'Misleading and aggressive practices: rights to redress' for more information.
Alternative dispute resolution
If a complaint you make to an airline remains unresolved because you have both reached deadlock, the airline should let you know, with their final response, if Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is available. If you do not receive a final response within eight weeks, you may be able to refer your complaint directly to the relevant ADR body. The Civil Aviation Authority website had more information on ADR.
The 'Visiting the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein' page of the GOV.UK website explains the preparations that you should make when travelling to Europe from 1 January 2021.
- Key legislation
- Consumer Credit Act 1974
- Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Consumer Rights (Payments Surcharges) Regulations 2012
- Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013
- Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018
Last reviewed / updated: January 2022
- Please note
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
©2022 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.