DEAN DUNHAM answers your questions on what to do in flights chaos
29th August 2023

Can I pay double to guarantee a seat? Is there any way I could get compensation? Consumer rights lawyer DEAN DUNHAM answers your questions on what to do if you are stranded by flights chaos

  • Passengers on cancelled flights can expect alternatives or a full refund
  • But customers are unlikely to be able to claim compensation for disruption

What are my rights as a passenger?

If your flight is cancelled, you should be offered an alternative flight or mode of transport. If you do not want to accept this or if no alternative can be offered, you will be entitled to a full refund.

If your flight is delayed, you will be entitled to assistance, the extent of which depends on the distance of your flight and how long you’re delayed.

If your flight is short-haul (up to 925 miles – for example UK to Spain) and is delayed for two or more hours, you will be entitled to:

•Two free phone calls, faxes or emails

•Free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay

•Free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.

Thousands of flights have been disrupted following a technical fault at National Air Traffic Services (NATS) on Monday

If your flight is cancelled, you should be offered an alternative flight or mode of transport. If you do not want to accept this or if no alternative can be offered, you will be entitled to a full refund, says consumer rights lawyer DEAN DUNHAM

But passengers caught up in the chaos are unlikely to qualify for compensation given that the cause was outside airlines’ control

For flights between 932 miles and 2,175 miles (for example UK to Greece) you will be entitled to the above assistance if you are delayed for three or more hours and for all other flights if you are delayed for four or more hours.

If your flight is delayed for more than five hours, you will be entitled to choose between being rerouted on a different flight or getting a refund, just as if your flight had been cancelled.

The same rights apply if your flight has been cancelled if you have chosen to accept the airline’s offer of rerouting.

Can I claim for other out of pocket expenses?

It is possible to claim for other expenses, such as a missed night of pre-booked accommodation, a missed event such as a concert or a missed day of car rental, under a law called the Montreal Convention. 

However, many airlines reject these claims meaning you will usually have to take your claim to court or to an alternative dispute resolution provider, if the airline is subscribed to one of the two approved Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes, the CEDR or AviationADR.

What compensation can I expect?

The applicable law (known as EU261, UK261 in the UK) provides that passengers are entitled to compensation for a flight that arrives at its final destination three or more hours late or is cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice prior to the date of departure.

However, when the cause of the delay or cancellation is outside of the airline’s control and there were no steps it could have taken to avoid the delay/cancellation – commonly referred to as ‘extraordinary circumstances’- the law says the airline does not have to pay compensation. This is the situation with this week’s crisis as the cause is clearly outside of the control of the airlines.

Passengers look at information screens at London Stansted Airport

I’m booked on a package holiday, what can I do?

Firstly, if your flight is cancelled, do not reject an offer of rerouting as this could jeopardise any claim you may have in relation to your package holiday. You should contact your holiday provider and ask what it can do for you. You should also investigate your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim for the time you will have lost on your holiday.

What is ‘reasonably priced’ accommodation?

Unfortunately, the applicable law does not define ‘reasonable’. However, it is established that hotel accommodation should be the cheapest most appropriate available, rather than luxury accommodation.

So, even if you have a first-class ticket, you will not be entitled to a book a night at the luxury equivalent of the Savoy hotel if you are delayed overnight; you will instead be expected to book into a budget hotel such as a Premier Inn.

Can I offer to pay double the ticket price to guarantee a seat?

This will be a matter for the individual airlines to determine as the law does not provide this right.

Customers stranded overnight will be expected to book ‘reasonably priced’ accommodation to be reimbursed for it

I cannot get a flight home from France for five days – am I entitled to ask the airline to pay for the train fare home?

When a flight is cancelled, the airline has a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to find you an alternative way home (commonly referred to as rerouting).

This does not mean only exploring other flights it has scheduled but also flights with other airlines and even alternative modes of transport, including rail. However, some airlines will argue they have no obligation to reimburse train costs in these circumstances, which I disagree with, so it is worth trying to agree this before incurring the expense.

My airline will fly me back to the UK but not to the airport where my car is parked – can I claim for transport to pick it up?

Yes airlines have a legal obligation to get you back to the airport you are booked to fly to. If they take you to an alternative airport you will be entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of getting back to the original airport you should have been taken to.

However, word of warning, expenses must always be ‘reasonable’ so you will not be reimbursed for a limousine but will be reimbursed for a taxi.

Also, if the airline organises transport via a bus, it may deny an expenses claim if you decide to take a taxi instead, unless there was good reason for doing this.

Departure screens at Heathrow Terminal 5 showed some cancelled flights on Tuesday

Accommodation for our family until our flight home at the weekend is going to cost a fortune – is there a rule about how quickly the airline has to reimburse a customer?

Reimbursement of expenses should be swift and, in any event, within 7-14 days. However, it is rare that airlines reimburse this quickly and when they don’t there is not a great deal that can done as the regulator (The Civil Aviation Authority) rarely takes any enforcement action in this area.

I’m a key worker – are airlines bound to 

AIRLINES should prioritise vulnerable passengers so it is important to notify the airline if you are vulnerable. There is no requirement to prioritise key workers, although if you inform your airline that you are a key worker it may take a policy decision to prioritise you.

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