Tips for a successful claim if your flight is delayed or cancelled


Airports are being scrutinized for long delays at check in and security, and a major raft of flight cancellations in the past couple of weeks. This is mainly down to staffing levels and pilot shortages across the board, in many cases exacerbated by Covid layoffs back in 2020-21. 

Globally, the industry has lost more than £145bn and an estimated four million jobs since the start of the pandemic. EasyJet alone cut 1,400 jobs, while BA laid off 10,000 employees during the pandemic, only rehiring about 4,000 as of 2021. Many airlines have acted by cancelling flights as demand outstrips what they can actually fulfill.

So what if you’re affected by a flight cancellation? Do you claim against the airline, or your own travel insurance policy? And how do you make sure they pay out?

We’ve put together some key information that will help you understand the broad claims process, and tackle any ‘technicalities’ that could see your compensation claim rejected! We can’t promise these will guarantee a successful claim, but being aware of them should give you a strong chance.

1. Approach the airline before your travel insurance company

In the first instance, contact the airline operating the flight; the customer services department will usually help. Be ready to give all your flight details and booking reference numbers.

Write your claim – say what went wrong and what you want the airline to give you. The Civil Aviation Authority has information about how to write a good claim, and you can download a template letter from the Which? website. Include copies (not originals) of your tickets and any receipts.

Keep records – keep copies of your claim and any response from the airline. Take notes if you speak to anyone from the airline – this could be useful if you decide to take your claim further.

long queues for security at a UK airport
Credit: The Telegraph

2. Prove you arrived at the airport in time


Yes, you read that right. Of course, the airport is aware of its queuing system and any related delays. If you miss your flight due to being held up in a long line, in order to claim at any compensation, you’ll need to provide proof you arrived at the airport on or before the recommended time prior to departure, as specified by the airline.

This could be a parking ticket/receipt, taxi receipt or train ticket. Failing to prove your arrival time could mean the airline refuses to compensate you.

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3. Keep receipts!


To be reimbursed for any extra hotel stays (if you’ve had to stay over due to a delayed flight), communication costs for calling around to arrange transport, or even food & drink consumed whilst delayed, you’ll need to keep the receipts. You will have to provide these when you submit a claim to the airline to be reimbursed.

Furthermore, airlines only pay for ‘reasonable’ expenses – you’re unlikely to get money back for alcohol, expensive meals, or luxury hotels (unless nothing else was available).


4. Claim for late or lost luggage


You have the legal right to claim compensation from the airline if your checked-in luggage is delayed, lost or damaged.

You only have the right to claim for a problem with cabin baggage if it’s the airline’s fault.

You’re more likely to get compensation if you act quickly. You should report the problem as soon as possible, as some airlines have a 7-day deadline for reporting these issues. If you wait until you get home from a week-long trip, you could find you’ve missed the boat!

What you can get from the airline is limited when it comes to luggage. They’ll typically cover:

  • The bare essentials if your luggage is delayed, e.g., toiletries and underwear
  • Part of the cost to replace or repair lost or damaged luggage and contents
  • If you have to collect delayed luggage yourself, you may be able to get the airline to pay for transport costs

Airlines often want receipts for everything included in your claim, and they won’t usually pay:

  • ‘New for old’ replacement for anything lost or damage
  • For anything valuable, fragile or perishable in checked-in luggage
  • More than around £1,000 total compensation – and it’s usually a lot less
  • For stress, inconvenience or other things that happen because of a problem with your luggage, e.g. you miss a connection
  • if your luggage was faulty

Because this coverage is fairly scant, you’re best off ensuring you have a separate travel insurance policy (or home contents insurance that covers luggage). You’re likely to be better off making an insurance claim instead of claiming via the airline.

Key things to consider


You don’t have to take the flight


Citizens Advice, a free service that protects consumers, have outlined your rights. One of them being, if your flight is delayed for 5 hours or more, you don’t actually have to take it and you could still be compensated.

If you don’t take the flight after such a significant delay, 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 e.g., an onward or return flight
  • if you’re part-way through a journey, a flight back to the airport you originally departed from

If you do take the flight, you can claim up to £520 in compensation if the delay is the airline’s fault – depending on the distance and destination of your flight, and how late it arrived. It might have been your airline’s fault if there was a technical problem, or they overbooked.

You’re unlikely to get compensation if the delay was because of something outside the airline’s control.

flight board showing delayed and cancelled flights
Credit: The Telegraph

Reason for the flight delay/ cancellation


The flight must have been cancelled or delayed for reasons within the airline’s control, not “extraordinary circumstances” such as extreme weather or strikes at the airport.

Otherwise, they may be covered under an ‘act of god’ clause.

Your own travel insurance could kick in at this point – it’s best to check the policy wording to have an idea of what would be looked at by your airline, and what would come under your own travel policy.


How compensation is calculated for delays


If your flight is delayed for long enough, your airline has to give you compensation. You may have heard from friends or on Facebook about compensation pay outs for various amounts – this really does differ dependent on the delay time/destination.

Compensation is typically calculated on length of delay and the distance of the flight and the countries it’s flying between, to determine at what point compensation is due. E.g.


Flight distance Length of delay to qualify for compensation
Less than 1,500km 2 hours
Between 1,500km and 3,500km 3 hours
More than 3,500km 4 hours
Source: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/holiday-cancellations-and-compensation/if-your-flights-delayed-or-cancelled/


Your rights if the flight is cancelled


If your flight is cancelled, you should always be able to choose between taking an alternative flight offered by the airline (either around your original travel plans, or as a voucher), or receiving your money back in full for any flights you booked.

If you accept the offer of an alternative flight around your original dates of travel, you should also be entitled to compensation anywhere between £110 and £520. The amount of compensation varies, as you can see below.


Flight distance Departure and arrival times Compensation
Less than 1,500km Departure – at least 1 hour earlier than booked flight
Arrival – up to 2 hours later than booked flight
Arrival – at least 2 hours later than booked flight £220
1,500km to 3,500km Departure – at least 1 hour earlier than booked flight
Arrival – up to 3 hours later than booked flight
Arrival – at least 3 hours later than booked flight £350
More than 3,500km Departure – at least 1 hour earlier than booked flight
Arrival – up to 4 hours later than booked flight
Arrival – at least 4 hours later than booked flight £520
Source: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/holiday-cancellations-and-compensation/if-your-flights-delayed-or-cancelled/

If you’re not getting anywhere

If you’ve asked the airline and they won’t give you the right compensation, you can complain to an independent organisation.

First, check if the airline is a member of an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body. If they are, complain to the ADR body. If they’re not, report your issue to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) using the form on its website. The CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints Team (PACT) will deal with your complaint.


What else?

Obviously, we recommend taking out a full travel insurance policy when you plan to go away, and not leaving your chances of a claim purely down to the airline. If other things are affected by a flight delay, such as hotel bookings at your destination, the airline isn’t going to stretch that far. But, by taking note of the points above, you should be well-armed if you do run into difficulties. We hope that’s not the case – but that’s what insurance is for!


For your travel insurance needs, click ‘Get a quote’ or speak with one of our friendly personal client managers on 0121 248 9440.