What Are Your Options When Flights Are Delayed Or Cancelled Across The UK?

As further cancellations and strikes disrupt travel, these are your consumer rights.
RoxiRosita via Getty Images

Thousands of air travellers have faced significant delays after Britain’s air traffic control system said it was experiencing a “technical issue” – with problems compounded by the meltdown happening at the the end of a holiday weekend.

Airlines and airports warned that disruption would continue for some time despite the issue being “identified and remedied” by flight control operator National Air Traffic Services (NATS) on Monday afternoon.

On Monday, 3,049 flights were due to depart UK airports and 3,054 were scheduled to arrive, according to analysis by aviation analytics firm Cirium. This equates to more than 540,000 seats on departing planes and 543,000 on arriving planes.

As of 2.30pm yesterday, its data showed that around 8% of all departures have been cancelled and around 9% of all arrivals.

So, what happens if your flight is cancelled before you leave – or while you are abroad? Will you be given an alternative flight and what are you rights around refunds and compensation? Here are your travel questions answered.

What should I bear in mind when booking a flight?

Already booked a flight with an affected airline? You will need to wait for cancellations or strike dates to be announced before you can take action.

If you have a journey that is time-critical, you might want to consider booking an alternative flight, but do bear in mind that you will only be able to get a refund on your flight if it’s grounded.

“We recommend customers book as normal, Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, previously told HuffPost UK about summer strikes. “Airports and airlines are working together to minimise disruption and good travel agents will ensure customers are fully protected in case anything does go wrong.”

It’s generally good practice to pay for flights and holidays on a credit card if you have one and where your transaction is more than £100, according to travel expert Emma Coulthurst.

“You have better consumer protections if you do this,” she previously told HuffPost UK. “As long as you put even a £1 on your credit card (and make sure you pay it off so you don’t incur interest), you will be protected.” She also recommended ensuring you have insurance in place at time of booking.

What should I do if my flight gets cancelled or grounded?

Travellers should give their airline a chance to meet its obligations before booking on to another airline, according to Athina Macpherson, who works for travel comparison sites Travel Supermarket and icelolly.com.

“The cancellation message from an airline normally contains a rebook link – though this will look only at the airline’s own service. If an alternative flight on the cancelling carrier is available on the same day, customers will need to accept it (or claim a full refund),” Macpherson previosly told HuffPost UK.

“Make sure the company who the booking is made with and the airline have [your] up-to-date contact details, so that if the airline is cancelling flights customers can be contacted instantly and plugged into the people who are able to help.”

Will I receive compensation?

Under UK law, an airline is obliged to provide a hotel room, meals and a new flight as soon as possible to customers flying from a UK airport, arriving in the country on an EU or UK airline, or arriving at an EU airport on a UK airline.

Airlines are required to pay compensation if flights arrive more than three hours late – but only when it is their fault, so the air traffic control problems could fall under the definition of “exceptional circumstances”.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website says that in the case of a “significant delay”, the airline must provide a reasonable amount of food and drink, commonly in the form of vouchers, refunds for the cost of calls, and accommodation for passengers stuck overnight and transport to a hotel or their home.

A significant delay is defined as more than two hours for a short-haul flight of under 1,500km, more than three hours for medium haul of up to 3,500km, and more than four hours for long-haul flights.

The CAA adds: “If you have been delayed for more than five hours and no longer wish to travel then you are entitled to a refund.

“If you are a transfer passenger and missed your connection flight because your first flight was delayed, you are also entitled to a flight back to your original departure point.”