D’you know what to do if your flight is delayed? It’s everybody’s worst nightmare (yes, even us; married to a determined non-flyer, we do the same frustrated grown at train stations as oyu do at airports – possibly more frequently!) – you’re neatly packed, you have your passports, your brain is already on holiday, you make it through security with almost an hour to spare … and then you see that dreaded word appear on the departures board…
Quite apart from sorting your immediate needs (just an hour is okay, but what if you’re stuck for five hours? Nine?), even once you’re back on your journey again there are repercussions to those delays. They’ll probably cost you. But did you know that, according to EU regulations, when airlines cancel European flights (or delay them by more than 3 hours) they owe you up to €600.
Yes, you heard me. €600!
Obviously not all flights are equal, and the compensation will vary and rely on assorted factors. But if you’ve been delayed or cancelled, it’s definitely worth a check, according to Flightright, an online based legal service which helps all passengers to exercise their rights and enforce them with the airlines.
Of course it’s often not the airlines fault – when my son Cameron was waiting for take off at JFK airport after a New Years in New York, they were delayed as the extreme cold weather meant they had to de-ice plane. This took so long they missed their take off slot, and had to wait for the next. The delay was long enough for the plane to freeze over again, and need to be de-iced again… the frustrating process meant a 4 hours delay to a 1 hour flight.
He was flying within the USA, so the EU rules don’t apply of course. But here in Europe you’re covered against
- Denied boarding against the passenger’s will (overbooking)
- Missed connecting flights
But it’s not a general free-for-all any time you miss a connection. No no no.
- The flight must have taken off in the EU or, if it is landing in the EU, must also have been operated by an airline that is headquartered in the EU
- Passengers have checked in on time
- The airline must be responsible for the problem that has arisen
- To be eligible for compensation in the event of a flight delay, the flight must arrive at its destination at least 3 hours late.
So that frozen plane in New York? Totally not the airline’s fault, so Cam never once expected compensation for it. Even Delta can’t keep the air warm – to be frank he was grateful they were getting off the ground at all in such Arctic conditions.
But Karen from Mini Traveller‘s 28hr horrorshow of an experience getting home from Kenya (a delay meant they missed the Istanbul connection, and eventually got back to the Uk via Venice (!) – all with two young kids) would probably have been fully covered had it been with an EU airline.
So if your airline messes up – if they overbook their flights and bump you, cancel your underbooked flight, or delay because they’re short-staffed, then yes. That’s on them.
If you find your flight is cancelled whilst you’re in the departure lounge life might suddenly become very confusing for you (and the rest of the passengers!). Take a few minutes to read Gretta’s tips on What to do if your flight’s cancelled and you’re in the departure lounge over on Mums Do Travel – there’s a super-handy checklist to keep in mind.
If your flight’s delayed for 5 hours or more You don’t have to take the flight. It doesn’t matter whose fault the delay is or the distance of the flight.
If you don’t take the flight the airline legally has to give you all of the following:
- a full refund for the flight
- a full refund for other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, eg an onward or return flight
- if you’re part-way through a journey, a flight back to the airport you originally departed from
Do talk to an airline rep as soon as you decide you don’t want to take the flight.
How much compensation has to be paid?
In principle, the amount of compensation depends on the distance covered and not on the ticket price.
- Short-haul flight covering up to 1,500 km (e.g. London – Edinburgh): €250
- Medium-haul flight covering 1,500-3,500 km (e.g. London – Athens): €400
- Long-haul flight covering 3,500 km or more (e.g. London – Tokyo): €600
What if my flight is cancelled?
If a flight is cancelled, passengers have the right to receive a refund for the full ticket price or to request a replacement flight from the airline as soon as possible (flights brought forward are considered the same as a cancellation). The entitlement to, and the amount of, compensation depends on the time at which the airline informed its passengers about the cancellation and the time difference compared with the originally planned departure.
On a different trip through JFK, Cameron found his flight was delayed. Well, I say delayed – it was more delayed an hour > delayed another hour > moved gate > delayed > plane cancelled > rebooked onto another > delayed > delayed another hour> boarded > delayed taking off > stuck in taxi queue > finally took off. He was booked onto a 5pm flight; and didn’t take off until after midnight. Crucially, the meal he was expecting wasn’t served until 2am as the stewards can only serve food at cruising altitude. Here in the EU the airline would have had to provide drinks and snacks for this delay.
Ultimately, how your airline deals with delays will probably go a long way towards how well you cope with them. As Cathy from Mummy Travels says when she wrote about her nightmare experience with Ryanair at Stansted – all due to a lightning strike which again they couldn’t be held accountable for –
“Problems happen. Everyday ones like French traffic controllers striking, and weird freakish issues like destructive lightning bolts – or ash clouds, or messed up pilot rotas or who knows what else – happen. It’s easy to be good (or fine, or tolerable because you’re cheap) when things are running smoothly. It’s how you react to the problems which shows how good an airline is – even when those problems are not of your own making. “
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