You’re all packed, passport in hand and at the airport, ready to jet off to the sun, and then the worst happens – your flight gets delayed.

Suddenly thoughts of lazing in the sun sipping a Cosmopolitan vanishes as the harsh reality of being stuck on a hard metal chair, constantly checking screens for flight updates for the foreseeable future sinks in.

But do you know what your rights are if your flight is delayed and what compensation you might be entitled to?

If your flight is delayed by more than three hours, you could be able to claim compensation thanks to some clarification by the European Court of Justice in 2012. However, it’s not always that straightforward.

Airlines don’t have to pay for flight delays if there have been ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which are outside the airline’s control. While the word ‘extraordinary’ sounds like it’s something that would rarely happen, in reality a great deal of delays fall into the category.

According to The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) extraordinary circumstances are ‘When the flight would have been delayed, even if the airline had taken all reasonable measures.’ Here are some possible examples:

  • Political instability
  • Bad weather
  • Security risks
  • Unexpected flight safety complications
  • Strikes
  • Air traffic management decisions

If however you do feel you may have grounds for a claim, there are a few things you can do to strengthen your case.

  • Keep copies of bookings or tickets. Also keep any receipts for any refreshments, transport or hotel costs you end up paying for. The better organised you are the easier it will be for claiming compensation.
  • Take notes of the exact timings of your flight delays, flight numbers, staff names and any other relevant information.
  • When you get home check online for the airline’s flight delay policy – they may ask you to send an email or fill out an online form. Alternatively, you can use the letter template provided by the Civil Aviation Authority to send to the airline.
  • Keep records of all communication with the airline.

What if I don’t hear anything back?

If you don’t hear anything back, the first step is to contact the airline to find out what’s happening. If you’re not happy, the CAA provides a free service to passengers who are having trouble resolving complaints.

Be aware, they admit that they’re currently snowed under and the process may take a while!

If the CAA agree that you are entitled to compensation the airline will usually pay out, otherwise your next step will be to go to the small claims court.

How much could I get?

According to consumer watchdog Which?, the amount of compensation you may be entitled to depends on how far you were travelling and how long your flight was delayed. The compensation is paid in euros:

 

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

 

These payments are for the inconvenience of the delay only. If you end up having to pay for refreshments, taxis or accommodation because the airline didn’t provide them they should be refunding these costs (within reason).

It’s worth noting the airline should always provide refreshments after a two-hour delay and accommodation for an overnight one. That’s regardless of the cause of the delay; ‘extraordinary circumstances’ do not apply.

Can I claim for delays several years ago?

According to the Civil Aviation Authority you can claim for delays, provided you still have all the necessary documents.

Here in the UK, the time limit for bringing a claim to court is six years from the date of the delayed flight. Generally, the sooner you make a claim the better.