Other consumer advice

The advice sheets below have the lastest information on problems with other consumer goods and services. If you need more advice, please call the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Problems with flights

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

Your flight may be delayed or cancelled for a number of reasons, which may include adverse weather conditions, strikes, political or civil unrest and other 'extraordinary circumstances'. You may be downgraded to a class lower than you booked or you may be 'denied boarding', commonly referred to as being 'bumped' from your flight. 

EU Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights sets out the circumstances when you are entitled to a refund, compensation and assistance at the airport. These rights apply to passengers flying from an airport in the European Union (EU) on any airline or arriving at an EU airport on an EU airline.

This guide explains what you are entitled to and how much compensation you can claim.

When a flight is cancelled

If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a refund on any unused part of your flight ticket. As an alternative, you can be 're-routed' on to a different flight as soon as possible, or at a later date if that is more convenient to you (subject to seat availability). If you accept an alternative flight, you are also entitled to care and assistance, such as food, drink, access to communications and accommodation (where relevant).

If your flight is cancelled and the airline gives you between seven and 14 days' notice, in addition to a refund or re-routing you may also be entitled to claim compensation at the following levels:

Length of journeyAlternative flight arrangementsCompensation
short haul (up to 1,500 km)departs more than two hours before booked flight and arrives less than two hours after booked flight€125
short haul (up to 1,500 km)departs more than two hours before booked flight and arrives more than two hours after booked flight€250
short haul (up to 1,500 km)arrives more than four hours after booked flight€250
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)departs more than two hours before booked flight and arrives less than three hours after booked flight€200
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)departs more than two hours before booked flight and arrives three to four hours after booked flight€400

medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)

arrives more than four hours after booked flight€400
long haul (more than 3,500 km)departs more than two hours before booked flight and arrives less than four hours after booked flight€300
long haul (more than 3,500 km)arrives more than four hours after booked flight€600

If your flight is cancelled and the airline gives you less than seven days' notice, in addition to a refund or re-routing you may also be entitled to claim compensation at the following levels:

Length of journeyAlternative flight arrangementsCompensation
short haul (up to 1,500 km)departs more than one hour before booked flight and arrives less than two hours after booked flight€125
short haul (up to 1,500 km)arrives more than two hours after your booked flight€250
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)departs more than one hour before booked flight and arrives less than three hours after booked flight€200

medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)

arrives more than three hours after booked flight€400
long haul (more than 3,500 km)departs more than one hour before booked flight and arrives less than four hours after booked flight€300
long haul (more than 3,500 km)arrives more than four hours after booked flight€600

The airline is not obliged to compensate you if it can prove that the cancellation was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances', which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such extraordinary circumstances might occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of the airline. Technical problems or the failure of a component are not necessarily considered extraordinary circumstances and you may still be entitled to claim compensation.

If you want  to claim compensation from an airline for a cancelled flight, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.

When a flight is delayed

If there is a delay in getting you to your destination that is not due to an 'extraordinary circumstance' (see above), you may be able to claim compensation at the levels set out below. 

Length of journeyDelay to destinationCompensation
short haul (up to 1,500 km)more than three hours€250
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)more than three hours€400
long haul (more than 3,500 km)between three to four hours€300
long haul (more than 3,500 km)more than four hours€600

If you want to claim compensation from an airline for a delayed flight, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.

When your booking is downgraded

If you are upgraded to a higher class of flight, the airline cannot charge you any extra. If you are downgraded to a lower class, the airline must reimburse you on a percentage basis and within seven days.

Length of journeyReimbursement
short haul (up to 1,500 km)30% of the ticket price
medium haul (1,500-3,500 km)50% of the ticket price
long haul (more than 3,500 km)75% of the ticket price

If you want to claim reimbursement for a downgraded booking, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.

Denied boarding

If a flight is overbooked by an airline, it may ask you if you want to volunteer to be 'bumped' - in other words give up your seat - or the airline may deny you a seat without your agreement.

If you volunteer to give up your seat, you can claim a refund or an alternative flight and you can negotiate compensation with the airline.

If the airline denies you a seat without your agreement, you are entitled to claim a refund or an alternative flight and you are also entitled to claim compensation at the levels below. 

Length of journeyDelay to destinationCompensation
short haul (up to 1,500 km)up to two hours€125
short haul (up to 1,500 km)more than two hours€250
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)up to three hours€200
medium haul (1,500 km to 3,500 km)more than three hours€400
long haul (more than 3,500 km)up to four hours€300
long haul (more than 3,500 km)more than four hours€600

If you are denied boarding and want to claim compensation, you can use the template letter in the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide.

Assistance at the airport

If you are delayed by more than two hours, the airline is obliged to provide assistance. You are entitled to:

  • assistance with communication (possibly by refunding your call costs)
  • free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay (this may be in the form of vouchers)
  • free accommodation and transport to and from the accommodation, if an overnight stay is required
  • transport home, if it is practical for you to return there

Airlines must give priority to persons with reduced mobility and to persons / service dogs who accompany them, and also to unaccompanied children.

The airlines must inform you of your right to compensation and assistance. A notice must be displayed at the check-in area and a written notice of your rights must be given to you in the event of a cancellation, delay or re-route. If you want to make a claim contact the airline; it will have a claims procedure that you can use. If your claim does not succeed you can complain to the Civil Aviation Authority.

What if you are stranded & trying to get home?

Some passengers may wish to make alternative arrangements to get home instead of making arrangements with the airline they originally booked the flight with. In such circumstances airlines are not required to refund your additional expenditure. In exceptional circumstances some airlines may reimburse customers but will not pay if they consider the expenditure unreasonable. You should keep receipts for all expenditure to help you justify your claim.

What will your flight insurance cover?

At the time you book your flight, you may wish to take out a flight insurance policy. Check with insurance providers to see what type of cover suits your circumstances and what you can claim for. Make sure you know the difference between what you are legally entitled to claim from the airline and what you can claim for under the terms of the policy.

If you have a problem with a flight, check the terms of the policy again before you make any arrangements over and above what you may be able to claim from the airline so that you are satisfied you are covered by your insurance.

If you want to complain about flight insurance, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.

What if the airline rejects your claim?

If your flight departed from a UK airport, you can complain to the Civil Aviation Authority. Contact the Civil Aviation Authority for details of this free service.

If you paid for the flight using your credit card and it cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, you have rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the airline for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include a cancelled flight. You are entitled to take action against the airline, the card provider or both. If you are unhappy with the card provider's response then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

If you use a debit card to buy the flight or if you use a credit card and the price of the item is less than £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply) you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract, you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.

The flights were part of a holiday package: what are your rights?

You have rights under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018

A 'package' means a combination of at least two different types of travel services for the same trip or holiday if those services are combined by one trader - at your request or after you have selected them - before a single contract for all services is formed.

These services are:

  • purchased from a single point of sale (retail premises, website, online sales facility or telephone service) and selected by you before you agree to pay
  • offered, charged or sold at a total price
  • advertised or sold under the name 'package' or something similar
  • combined after the contract is formed (the trader allows you to chose from a selection of different types of travel services)

Alternatively the services may be:

  • purchased from separate traders through a linked online booking process where both of the following apply:
    - all your details are transmitted from the trader who you make the first travel service contract with to other traders
    - the contract with the other traders is formed no later than 24 hours after confirming the booking of the first travel service

A 'travel service' means:

  • the carriage of passengers
  • the provision of accommodation
  • the rental of cars, motorcycles or other motor vehicles
  • any other tourist service

If a travel organiser cancels your package holiday, you will have several options. You can choose one of the following:

  • accept an alternative holiday of an equivalent or higher quality, if possible
  • accept an alternative holiday of a lower quality or cost and claim an appropriate reduction in the price
  • cancel the holiday and claim a full refund

You may also be able to claim compensation if your holiday is cancelled - for example, to cover any financial loss you have suffered, or the disappointment and inconvenience.

The travel organiser must notify you in writing and before the holiday booking is finalised, the minimum number of people required for the package to take place and the time limit before the start of the holiday for the possible cancellation if that number is not reached. Whilst you are entitled to a full refund, you are not entitled to make a claim for additional compensation if an insufficient number of people have booked on to the package holiday.

You cannot claim additional compensation if your package holiday is cancelled by the travel organiser due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances and if you are notified of the cancellation without undue delay before the start of the holiday.

See the 'Holidays' guide for more information.

Travel outside the EU with a non-EU airline: what can you claim?

You will have a contract with the airline for the provision of a flight so if the flight is cancelled, delayed or if you are denied boarding, you may be able to claim compensation. Check the airline's terms and conditions. If you are claiming out-of-pocket expenses, keep your receipts as evidence of your claim.

Payment surcharges: what are your rights?

Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, which were amended by the Payment Services Regulations 2017, traders are banned from imposing surcharges on consumers for using the following payment methods:

  • credit, debit or charge cards
  • e-payment services such as PayPal
  • Apple Pay, Android Pay or other similar payment methods

Traders can impose a surcharge for other methods of payment, but the amount must not be excessive; it must reflect the actual cost to the trader of processing the payment. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts.   

The Regulations give you rights of redress. Any requirement to pay a banned surcharge, or the part of a surcharge that is excessive, is unenforceable by the trader. This means you do not have to pay. If you have already paid the surcharge, or the excess, you are entitled to a refund.

If you have a complaint about surcharges, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Do you have any other rights?

Most of the Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 do not apply to flights. However, some elements do apply:

  • a trader must obtain your clear agreement to charge you for optional extras before you confirm the contract. They must not use pre-ticked boxes that you then have to un-tick to avoid paying for the additional service. You are entitled to be reimbursed if you make a payment that you did not agree to
  • a trader must not charge you more than the basic rate for calling their telephone helpline to discuss a contract you have with them. You may still see numbers beginning 09, 084, 0870, 0871, 0872, 0873 but the basic rate number should be equally or more prominently displayed

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you the right to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See the guide 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' for more information.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2018

 

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.