Family of three sat on the floor at the airport with the father looking at his phone.

How to get money back if your flight is delayed

author: Adele Kitchen

By Adele Kitchen

If you’ve been left out of pocket after a flight delay, you may be entitled to a refund or compensation. 

Read on to find out if you’re eligible, how much you could be due, and how to submit a claim. 

Note: This article focuses on flights covered by UK law. 

1. Check if UK law covers your flight 

You have certain legal rights under UK law, which will apply to your flight if it was: 

  • leaving the UK on any airline to go anywhere in the world. 
  • arriving in the UK on an EU or UK airline, from anywhere in the world. 
  • arriving in an EU airport on a UK airline, from anywhere in the world. 

It’s worth contacting the airline to check your rights, even if these circumstances don’t apply to you. 

2. Claim back expenses 

No matter the cause of the delay, if you’re waiting to board your flight for long enough, the airline must help with the cost of: 

  • food and drink (usually as vouchers). 
  • a means of communication (often by refunding phone calls).
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight. 
  • transport to and from the airport if you need it to reach your accommodation. 

Instead of handing out vouchers, the airline may ask you to pay upfront and then claim back your expenses. In this scenario, it’s important to keep your receipts to prove what you’ve spent. Bear in mind that airlines will only reimburse you for what they consider to be “reasonable” costs. This usually excludes things like alcohol. 

Your right to help with your costs depends on the flight distance and length of the delay. For example, a short-haul flight only needs to be delayed by two hours. Meanwhile, a long-haul flight (over 3,500km) needs to be delayed at least four hours before you're entitled to help.  

We’ve put together a handy table to show you when your rights kick in. 

Flight distance 

Waiting time 

Under 1,500km 

2 hours 

1,500 to 3,500km 

3 hours 

Over 3,500km 

4 hours  

3. Check how much you could be entitled to 

You can get compensation after a 3-hour delay 

You may be entitled to compensation if you arrive at your destination at least three hours behind schedule, and it’s the airline’s fault.  

An issue caused by the airline could be a technical problem or the crew turning up late, for example. You won’t be due a payment if the disruption was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ outside of the airline’s control. For example, extreme weather or security alerts. 

The amount you get depends on the flight distance and arrival delay, as you can see from this table.  

Arrival delay 

Flight distance 

Compensation due per person 

3 hours or more 

Short-haul flight of under 1,500km 


3 hours or more 

Medium-haul flight of 1,500 to 3,500km 


3 to 4 hours 

Long-haul flight of over 3,500km 


4 hours or more 

Long-haul flight of over 3,500km  


Tip: Visit the WebFlyer website to work out the distance in air miles. 

You might be surprised by how far away some popular holiday destinations are and how much compensation you could claim. For example, a flight from Manchester to Palma Mallorca comes in at 1,580km. This makes it a medium-haul flight with potential compensation of £350 per person.

As compensation is worked out per person, it could add up to a large amount if there are a few of you travelling. For example, a family of four on a long-haul flight that’s delayed for more than four hours could claim £2,080 in total. 

You can get a full refund after 5 hours if you don’t fly 

After a delay of five hours or more, you could claim compensation of up to £520 per person, as above. Again, it would have to be the airline’s fault. Or you are legally entitled to pull out of the flight and get: 

  • a full refund for the flight. 
  • a full refund for other flights in the same booking that you won’t use (for example, connections or return flights). 
  • a flight back to the airport you originally departed from, if you’re midway through a journey. 

4. Contact the airline directly 

You need to contact the airline directly to submit a claim if you believe you are eligible for reimbursements, compensation, or a full refund. Follow these tips to maximise your chances of success: 

  • Stick to the airline’s standard claims procedure. You should be able to find this on their website, or you could call the airline to find out what you need to do. 
  • Be clear about what happened and what outcome you expect from your claim. 
  • Include all the relevant information about the flight. E.g., names, addresses, and contact details of passengers. Plus, travel dates, booking reference, flight number, airports you were travelling between, and the length of the delay. 
  • Send copies of supporting documents such as receipts from the airport, emails from the airline, flight tickets, boarding cards, and luggage tags. 
  • Mention that you are claiming compensation under The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Before handing over personal details and documents, make sure that you have the correct contact details for your airline by checking their official website. Don’t reply to an email, letter, or phone call that you receive out of the blue, in case it is part of a scam. 

Read on for more tips on how to spot a flight refund scam

5. Escalate your complaint if necessary 

If the airline rejects your claim or you don’t agree with their response, you may be able to escalate it to a third-party resolution service. 

Check if the airline is a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme first. If not, you could go to the UK Civil Aviation Authority instead to see if they can help back up your claim. You could consider taking legal action as a last resort. 


Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

Author Profile Image: Adele Kitchen

Adele Kitchen

Personal Finance Writer

Adele is a personal finance writer with more than 10 years in the finance industry behind her. She writes clear and engaging guides on all things loans for Ocean, as well as contributing blogs to help people understand their options when it comes to money.

Family of three sat on the floor at the airport with the father looking at his phone. Family of three sat on the floor at the airport with the father looking at his phone.