What are my rights if my flight is cancelled or delayed?

A woman sits on her luggage and looks at her phone in front of an airport departures board
[Getty Images]

Flights at two of Manchester Airport's terminals have been cancelled "until further notice" due to a power cut.

Passengers travelling through Terminals 1 and 2 have been told to stay away after the outage hit in the early hours of Sunday, affecting baggage and security systems.

So what are your rights if your journey is disrupted?

If my flight is cancelled, can I get a refund or another flight?

If your flight is covered by UK law, your airline must let you choose between either getting a refund or being booked on to an alternative flight, regardless of how far in advance the cancellation was made.

You can get your money back for any part of the ticket you have not used.

So if you booked a return flight and the outbound leg is cancelled, you can get the full cost of the return ticket refunded.

If you still want to travel, your airline must find you an alternative flight.

If another airline is flying to your destination significantly sooner, or there are other suitable modes of transport available, then you have a right to be booked onto that alternative transport instead.

Will the airline pay for food and accommodation?

If you are stuck abroad or at the airport because of a flight cancellation, airlines must also provide you with other assistance until you are able to fly to your destination.

This includes:

  • a reasonable amount of food and drink (often in the form of vouchers)

  • a way for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of calls)

  • free accommodation, if you have to stay overnight to fly the next day

  • transport to and from the accommodation

If your airline is unable to arrange assistance, you have the right to organise this yourself and claim back the cost later.

In this case, the Civil Aviation Authority advises people to keep receipts and not spend more than necessary.

What compensation can I get if my flight is delayed?

You are entitled to the same assistance as for a cancellation if your flight is delayed by more than two hours.

You may also be able to claim compensation if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late.

The amount is based on how far you are flying.

If you are delayed by more than five hours and no longer want to travel, you can get a full refund.

Graphic showing what you can do if your flight is cancelled

What are my rights if I have booked a package holiday?

If you booked a package holiday with a company that is an ABTA member and your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a suitable alternative flight or a full refund.

Can I claim extra compensation for other types of disruption?

Disruption caused by things like strikes by airport or air traffic control staff, bad weather or other "extraordinary circumstances" does not entitle you to extra compensation.

However, in other circumstances - when it is considered to be the airline's fault - you have a number of rights under UK law.

These apply as long as you are flying from a UK airport on any airline, arriving at a UK airport on an EU or UK airline, or arriving at an airport in the EU on a UK airline.

Flight board at Manchester Airport
[Getty Images]

What you are entitled to depends on what caused the cancellation and how much notice you are given.

If your flight is cancelled with less than two weeks' notice, you may be able to claim compensation based on the timings of the alternative flight you are offered.

The amount you are entitled to also depends on how far you were travelling:

  • for flights under 1,500km, such as Glasgow to Amsterdam, you can claim up to £220 per person

  • for flights of 1,500km to 3,500km, such as East Midlands to Marrakesh, you can claim up to £350 per person

  • for flights over 3,500km, such as London to New York, you can claim up to £520 per person

What if flight delays mean I am late back to work after my trip?

Airlines will not refund you for loss of earnings. They are only responsible for covering direct costs, such as hotel rooms, meals and alternative flights. They are not obliged to cover consequential losses.

Travel insurance policies will not usually cover loss of earnings either.

If you think you're going to be late back at work because of flight delays, you have a responsibility to contact your employer to let them know you won't be back as planned, legal experts say.

You should agree with your employer how to deal with the absence - for example, by using more annual leave or time banked in lieu. Taking unpaid leave could also be an option.

Employers have no legal obligation to pay employees who are absent in this situation, experts say, unless it is stated in their contract.

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