EU flight delays: are you owed money by the airlines?
Written by Paul Dodd on January 20, 2015.
Many expats put in a serious amount of air miles in the course of their time abroad. Not only do many of us travel around the region, or wider a field, on business but there is usually at least one trip ‘home’ a year. It’s great for me to go back to England to see family and friends but one of the frustrations is flight delays. I don’t know about you but sitting around airports for hours makes my blood boil. It is such a waste of time but there might now be a silver lining to all those past delays.
In October 2012 a ruling by the European Court of Justice presented delayed travellers with the opportunity to receive compensation for long flight delays. Obviously it is not in the airlines’ interest to shout about the fact, but travellers delayed on EU flights are eligible for compensation on all flights arriving at their destination three hours or more late.
The definition of an EU flight has nothing to do with airline or destination but means any flight which departs from an EU airport as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. In theory, the rules apply to flights dating back as far as 2005, although flights before 2009 will be more difficult to claim due to the statute of limitations in individual countries – for example six years in England.
There are a number of provisos with regard to compensation, the most important of which is that the delay must be the fault of the airline. That means that you cannot claim for any delays which are due to weather conditions, erupting volcanoes, industrial action or political unrest however, if the pilot doesn’t turn up on time or components on the plane cause technical problems which mean a flight is grounded then you can make a claim.
It should be noted that flights must be over three hours late arriving at their final destination. That means that if a flight departs 4 hours late but makes up time in the air and arrives 2 hours and 55 minutes late, you won’t be eligible for compensation. The amount claimable will depend on the length of the delay and the distance travelled and is calculated per person. It starts at £200 for journeys under 1,500km and goes up to £470 for delays of over 4 hours on flights to destinations outside the EU. In addition, for flights delayed for over 5 hours you are entitled to a full refund on your fare, regardless of what caused the delay.
Compensation is due regardless of how much you paid for a flight so if you paid £20 for a budget flight from London to Paris which was delayed for over 3 hours, you could still receive £200 or more from the airline.
If in doubt over whether a claim can be made in specific circumstances, take a look at the list of scenarios on the European Commission’s website although it should be noted that some of these scenarios may now have been overruled by case law.
If your flight is cancelled altogether you have the right to a full refund, or an alternative flight to your destination.
Finally, do bear in mind that some travel insurance policies may pay out if you are delayed for reasons when compensation is not applicable – check your policy documents if you think you might have a case.