Flight and train compensation: UK legal rights explained for passengers if journey is delayed or cancelled

It has been a summer of disruption so far for holidaymakers and commuters, with strikes, staff shortages and other issues causing mass delays and cancellations to train services and flights.

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But if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, what are your rights - and how can you ask for a refund from the operator?

Here is everything you need to know.

What are my rights for a delayed flight?

Compensation could be available if your flight or train service is cancelled. Picture: AdobestockCompensation could be available if your flight or train service is cancelled. Picture: Adobestock
Compensation could be available if your flight or train service is cancelled. Picture: Adobestock

If your flight is delayed, you may be entitled to help from your airline.

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The length of the flight you’re meant to be on determines how long the delay has to be before you receive assistance:

Less than 1,500km - a delay of two hours or over requires compensation

Between 1,500km and 3,500km - a delay of three hours

More than 3,500km - a delay of four hours

You can see how far your flight is meant to travel on the WebFlyer website.

According to Citizens Advice, if you hit the length of delay for the type of flight you’re on, you should get:

* food and drink

* access to phone calls and emails

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* accommodation if you’re delayed overnight - and transfers between the airport and the hotel you’re put up in

The airline will deal with you directly at the airport and may give you vouchers to get some of these things for yourself.

If they don’t give you any of the required help, Citizens Advice says you should keep hold of any receipts to claim at a later date any expenses you incurred.

These expenses are only likely to be fully compensated if they are deemed to be reasonable, so you’re unlikely to receive money back for a luxury hotel.

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If the flight arrives more than three hours late and it was the airline’s fault - for example, a technical fault, or they overbooked the flight - you could get compensation under EU regulation 261.

This law, which was copied into UK laws post-Brexit, sets out specific levels of compensation, again depending on how long your flight is.

A delay of more than three hours for a flight going less than 1,500km - £220

A delay of more than three hours for a flight between 1,500km and 3,500km - £350

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A delay of four hours or more for a trip of more than 3,500km - £520

You have to contact the airline to claim this compensation and you'll find more information on doing that below.

Bear in mind that if the delay was as a result of something outside of the airline’s control, such as bad weather, then they don’t have to compensate you.

A delay of five hours or more means the airline legally has to give you:

* a full refund for the flight

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* a full refund for other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, such as a connecting flight or a return flight

If you’re part-way through a journey, they must give you a flight back to the airport you originally departed from.

You have to inform the airline as soon as you can if you won’t be accepting the free flight.

The refunded money should take no more than a week to reach you.

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If you do decide to take the flight, you can claim up to £520 in compensation if the delay was the airline’s fault.

What if the delay was at the airport?

Rather than enduring flight delays, many of the queues currently being seen in UK airports are as a result of staff shortages and IT issues - sometimes both simultaneously.

These have led to delays going through security and passport control - issues that are under the remit of the airport and not the airline.

According to consumer website Which?, if you miss your flight because of airport queues, it’s unlikely you’ll receive compensation or a refund.

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This is because most UK airports do not have policies covering such eventualities.

Which? points out that you could claim frustrated contract and argue the airport is at fault for you missing your flight – but this would be likely to result in you having to take the airline to court.

The check-in desk and bag drop are the airline’s responsibility, so you can claim from them in the event of long queues resulting in you missing your flight - as long as you arrived at the airport when you were told to.

But once again, the claim process is not as simple as it is with the actual flights themselves.

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You may have to claim against the consumer rights act, which could also involve a court date.

The best thing to do if you’re stuck in a queue and time is running out for you to make your flight is to tell airport staff.

They may be able to scoot you through queues to give you a chance of catching your flight.

Some airlines might put you on their next flight to that destination free of charge.

What are my rights for a cancelled flight?

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If your flight is cancelled outright, you have a legal right under the Denied Boarding Regulations to either:

* a full refund - including other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, such as return flights

* a replacement flight to get you to your destination (the airline must book you on a route that’s as close to your original journey timings as possible)

If you’re part-way through a journey and you don’t want a replacement flight, you also have a right to a flight back to the airport you flew out of.

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For refunds or replacement flights, it’s best to ask for them at the airport - if you can.

If that’s not possible, you can claim them from the airline later.

You also have a legal right to:

* help with costs - if the cancellation delays you by more than two hours

* compensation - if you’d be delayed two or more hours by the replacement flight offered and you were given under two weeks’ notice by the airline

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Again, compensation depends on how long your original flight was meant to be and how much of a delay you endure as a result of the cancellation.

It also hinges on how far in advance the flight was cancelled.

For a full breakdown of what compensation you might be due, visit the Citizens Advice website.

Be aware that the airline doesn’t have to compensate you if what are called “extraordinary circumstances” are at play.

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This term covers things that aren’t under the airline’s control - like extreme weather (but it’s up to the airline to prove it).

How can I claim compensation from airlines?

As we’ve discussed, you have to contact the airline to be in with a chance of getting any compensation if your flight is cancelled or delayed.

You have to approach the airline operating the flight, even if you booked it through a different operator.

You’ll need to give the airline’s customer services department details, such as:

* your flight details

* booking reference numbers

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Be sure to keep a record of who you spoke to and what they told you.

If writing to the airline, you’ll have to provide these details, copies of your tickets, any receipts, as well as a description of what went wrong, plus how much you feel you should be compensated.

If the airline is pushing back on your right to compensation or a particular amount of compensation, you can make a Section 75 claim to your card provider (if you spent over £100 on tickets).

This will see your card provider take up the dispute with the airline on your behalf.

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You can also complain to an independent organisation like the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body if the airline is a member of one.

If the airline is not a member of an ADR, you should report your problem to the Passenger Advice and Complaints Team (PACT) run by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) .

Here are the numbers and links for how to get in touch with the UK’s biggest airlines:

British Airways: 0344 493 0787 or visit the ‘manage my booking’ section of the BA websiteEasyJet: 0330 551 5151 or visit the EasyJet Disruption Help HubRyanair: you have to log into your ticket portal to get a number or visit the Submit a Claim section of the Ryanair websiteTUI: 0203 451 2688 or visit TUI’s dedicated webpageJet2: 0333 300 0042 or visit the Jet2 compensation pageYou can also contact contact Citizens Advice’s consumer helpline on: 0808 223 1133

My train was delayed - am I eligible for a refund?

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Whether or not you will be entitled to a full refund depends on how long your train is delayed and whether it was rescheduled or cancelled.

This applies to anyone who has bought an advanced ticket, who has a season ticket or who has just bought a ticket on the day of travel.

Customers are able to apply for a refund through the Delay to Pay scheme if a train is delayed by more than 15 minutes.

This scheme is set up to help people access a partial or full refund, depending on their circumstances.

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To be eligible for a refund, customers must get in touch with the train company they are travelling with and provide details of the delayed train and evidence of their ticket.

If you are claiming for multiple trains, you have to do so with each one individually.

Each train operator has their own individual delay repay website.

Here are the Delay to Pay contact details for various train companies:

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How much of a refund can I receive?

The amount of refund you will receive depends on your ticket type and the length of time delayed.

If you have a single ticket, you can get 25 per cent of the price refunded if your train is delayed by 15 to 29 minutes.

If your train leaves you waiting for 30 to 59 minutes you can get a refund of 50 per cent.

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You are eligible for a full refund if you are left waiting longer than 60 minutes.

If you have a return ticket, the amount you get refunded is calculated by the fare of the journey that was impacted.

According to National Rail, customers can get a full refund if their journey is “delayed or cancelled” and customers choose not to travel.

Can season ticket holders get a refund if they were affected by June’s rail strike?

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Season ticket holders will be able to claim back a full refund if they opt not to travel during the three days of strikes.

The one-off arrangement will see customers eligible to apply through the Delay to Pay scheme.

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained: “I’ve moved to help make that an automatic process”, to “remove the inconvenience for passengers.”