If your flight is delayed or cancelled, or if you are denied boarding because your airline has overbooked the flight, the airline is required by European law (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004) to inform you of your rights. The regulations cover many flights to and from EU airports.
The Consumer Council has set out what your rights and responsibilities are when your flight is disrupted:
- You are entitled to free meals and refreshments and two free telephone calls, emails or faxes if you are delayed for two hours for a short-haul flight (e.g. Belfast – London), three hours for medium-haul flight (e.g. Belfast – Faro) and four hours for a long-haul flight (e.g. Belfast – New York).
- If your flight is delayed for five hours or more, you are entitled to a full refund of your ticket if you decide not to travel.
- If your flight is delayed overnight you are entitled to free hotel accommodation and transfers to and from the hotel.
- Assistance must be provided regardless of whether or not the reason for the delay is outside the airline’s control, for example because of bad weather.
- If your flight is delayed and the delay was not caused by an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ you may be entitled to compensation. See The Consumer Council’s Plane Facts Guide for more information.
- If your flight is cancelled for any reason the airline must offer you a choice between a full refund or an alternative flight. If the cancellation is for one leg of the journey (e.g. the return flight), you will only be refunded for this part of the ticket.
- If you choose the option of the next available flight the airline must provide you with the same assistance while you wait as that given to delayed passengers.
- If your flight is cancelled and the cause of the cancellation is within the airline’s control you may also be entitled to compensation. See The Consumer Council’s Plane Facts Guide for more information or telephone 0800 121 6022 to request your free copy.
Denied boarding (when the airline overbooks a flight)
- When an airline has overbooked a flight they must first call for volunteers to give up their seats before they prevent passengers boarding the plane. If you decide to give up your seat willingly you must be offered the opportunity to negotiate benefits from the airline. European law does not specify what these benefits are, except that they must be agreed between the passenger concerned and the airline. These benefits cannot replace your right to a refund for the price of your original ticket or re-routing.
- If there are insufficient volunteers and you are denied boarding, the airline must immediately provide you with compensation, which is set at the same limit as for cancelled flights. You must also be offered a choice between a full refund or an alternative flight. In addition you must be provided with meals and refreshments, telephone calls and where appropriate, hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel.
Air travel for passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility
All airports and airlines in the European Union are required by law to provide assistance to passengers with a disability or reduced mobility. All types of disabilities are covered including hidden disabilities such as learning disabilities, autism and hearing loss. A passenger may have reduced mobility because of their age, an illness or a temporary injury, for example a broken arm or leg.
- You are entitled to assistance at all stages of your journey, from booking your ticket, checking-in and boarding the aircraft, right through to leaving your destination airport at a designated point (e.g. airport car park, train or bus station or a connecting flight).
- The special assistance must be provided free of charge.
- You should request assistance at least 48 hours before you travel, if that is possible, to ensure all assistance needed, including any relevant equipment, is available.
- An airline can only refuse a booking if the size of the plane or its doors prevents a person from boarding, or for safety reasons, for example, if a passenger who intends to travel alone is unable to fasten or unfasten their seatbelt unaided.
For further information see The Consumer Council’s Access to Air Travel guide or telephone 0800 121 6022 to request your free copy.
How to complain
- If you are not satisfied with the service you receive, contact a member of the airline or airport staff. They may be able to resolve the problem at the time of travel.
- If the airport/airline cannot resolve the problem at the time of travel put your complaint to them in a letter or an email detailing what went wrong.
- If you have made a complaint and you are not satisfied with the outcome, contact the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Consumer Council has the power to investigate the complaint on your behalf.
Some airlines may offer an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme to passengers who are not happy with the outcome of their complaint. ADR is a process of resolving complaints without going to court. For more information contact The Consumer Council on 0800 1210 6022 or email email@example.com
If you are not happy with the service you have received at an airport, for example, delays at security or poor customer service, you should make a complaint.
How to complain
You should complain to a staff representative from the airport in the first instance. However, if you are not satisfied with their response, put your complaint in an email or letter, detailing what went wrong, the impact it had, and any costs you incurred as a result. You should also send copies of any receipts in relation to this.
If you remain dissatisfied with the response, and the airport is in Northern Ireland, contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Coronavirus - how will this affect my travel plans?
For further information on travel advice during the COVID-19 pandemic, please see our dedicated travel advice web page www.consumercouncil.org.uk/coronavirus/travel-advice