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How to get money back if your flight is delayed or cancelled

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

Flight cancellations and delays have been hitting headlines in the UK in recent weeks.

If you’ve been left disappointed and out of pocket as a result of the recent chaos, then you may be able to get a refund or compensation. Read on to find out if you could claim, how much, and how to get your money back.

When can you claim money back for delays and cancellations?

By law, airlines must give you compensation or a refund if your flight is delayed for a certain amount of time or is cancelled. UK laws apply if:

  • your flight was leaving the UK to go anywhere in the world, with any airline
  • your flight was coming from somewhere else back to the UK, and was with a UK airline
  • your flight was going from outside the UK to a destination in the EU, but was with a UK airline

 These laws may also protect you if you had connecting flights that you missed because of issues with your UK flight, or vice versa.

Assistance and compensation when your flight is delayed

If your flight is delayed, then the assistance and compensation you’re entitled to depends on how far you were due to travel, and how long the delay was. This handy table can help you work out when your rights to assistance and/or compensation kick in:

Flight distance

Delay time

Less than 1,500km

2 hours

1,500 to 3,500km

3 hours

More than 3,500km

4 hours

If you’re not sure how far your flight was, then you can check it on the WebFlyer website.

If your flight is delayed long enough, then the airline must provide you with:

  • food and drink
  • access to phone calls and emails
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight, as well as transport to and from this accommodation if needed

Some airlines will offer you vouchers to cover these costs while you’re in the airport, and others will ask you to keep your receipts so that you can claim the cost back from them later.

If you’re asked to keep your receipts, it’s worth bearing in mind that airlines will often only reimburse you for what they consider to be “reasonable” costs. This usually excludes alcohol, so a trip to the airport’s champagne bar is probably not something you can claim for!

If your flight is delayed by more than three hours, you may also be able to claim compensation. Again, this depends on how far you were due to travel, and how long you were delayed for:

Delay length

Flight distance

Compensation amount

3 hours or more

1,500 or less


3 hours or more



4 hours or more

3,500km or more


The amount of compensation you can claim is fixed according to this table. So for example, if your short-haul flight from London to Ibiza was delayed by four hours, you’d still only be able to claim £220 in compensation. However, the amount you can claim back is per person. So, if you were taking that flight as a family of four, you’d be able to claim back £880: £220 each.

You may also be able to claim compensation for a delayed flight if your flight was diverted, and you arrive at your final destination more than three hours later than planned. For example, if you’re flying from Ibiza to London and your flight is diverted to Birmingham, you could claim compensation if you arrived back in London more than three hours later than you were supposed to.

The rules about delays also apply if your flight has to return to the UK airport after take off, for example due to a technical issue. If, once you’ve returned to the airport, you’re told that the flight cannot go ahead, then your rights when a flight is cancelled will kick in.

If you’re delayed for five hours or more

If your flight is delayed by five hours or more, then you can decide not to take the flight. If you opt for this, then the airline must give you:

  • 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 mid-way through a journey involving connecting flights.

 As soon as you decide you don’t want to take the original flight, speak to someone from the airline so that they can get the ball rolling for you.

Refunds if your flight is cancelled

If your flight is cancelled, then you have the right to get a full refund or to take an alternative flight to your destination at no extra cost to you. If you’re part-way through a journey, for example if your trip involves a connecting flight, then you also have the right to be flown back to the location you started from, for free.

If the cancellation delays you by two hours or more, you also have the right to help with costs like food or drink at the airport, or accommodation if you’re not able to fly until another day.

Additional compensation if your flight is cancelled

If your flight has been cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation on top of a refund. You can claim compensation if:

  • The replacement flight you’ve been offered means you’ll arrive at least two hours later than planned
  • You were given 14 days or less notice of the cancellation

How much compensation you can get depends on how long your flight is, how badly your journey is affected, and how much notice you had of the cancellation. The most you can claim is £520 per person.

Did you know that if your flight is cancelled once you’re already in the departure lounge, you’ll have to return any duty-free items you’ve bought?

Duty-free allowances only apply if you’re leaving the country. So, if your flight is cancelled at the last minute and you have to leave the airport before your replacement flight, you’ll have to return your purchases for a full refund. This is the case even if you’re rebooked onto a flight later the same day: if you’ll be leaving the airport, you can’t take your duty-free goodies with you.

Compensation if you’re denied boarding

Occasionally, you may find that you arrive at the airport for your flight, or even at the boarding gate, only to be told there isn’t a seat on the plane for you. This can happen for a couple of reasons:

  • the airline has sold more tickets than there are seats on the plane to protect themselves against no-shows, but everyone turned up
  • there’s been a last-minute change to the aircraft that means the flight will now be on a smaller plane

 If this happens to you, then you may be asked to volunteer to stay behind and catch a later flight, or you may be told there simply isn’t a seat for you on the plane.

When you’ve been voluntarily bumped

If you volunteer to be “bumped” from your flight, then the airline must offer you a refund or an alternative flight, the same as if your flight were cancelled. You may also be able to claim compensation, but as you’ve volunteered, it’s up to you to agree on what this should be with the airline.

When it’s not your choice to be bumped

If you’ve been denied boarding for your flight and you didn’t volunteer, then you’re entitled to compensation as long as you checked in on time. As with cancellations, the amount of compensation you can claim depends on the distance you’re due to travel and the amount of time your journey is disrupted for. The most you can claim – for long-haul journeys disrupted by more than four hours – is £520 per person.

Other help when you’ve been denied boarding

If you’ve been bumped from your flight – voluntarily or not – and you accept an alternative flight, then you can choose whether you fly as soon as possible, or at a later date. If you decide to fly as soon as possible, then the airline must also provide you with assistance while you wait for your new flight. This includes:

  • a reasonable amount of food and drink
  • a way for you to communicate, such as by refunding the cost of any calls you need to make
  • accommodation, if you cannot fly until the next day, and transport to and from this accommodation (or your home, if you live close enough to the airport)

Can you get money back if you miss your flight?

One of the main issues plaguing holidaymakers this summer is the amount of time it takes to check in and get through airport security. If you get stuck in hours-long queues and miss your flight, can you get your money back?

Whether you are able to claim for this depends on whether it’s your own fault that you missed your flight. The issues with queues have been widely covered in the media, and many airlines are advising travellers to arrive further ahead of their flight to allow extra time for queues and security.

If the airline can prove that you didn’t allow enough time to check in and pass through security for any reason, then it’s unlikely you’d be successful in getting a refund or compensation. However, if you can prove that you followed all advice, for example by keeping check-in receipts for your bags that show you were there in plenty of time, then you may have more luck. Success isn’t guaranteed, though, so it’s best to arrive as early as possible!

When you won’t be entitled to compensation

You are only able to claim compensation if the delay or cancellation was because of something within the airline’s control. So, if your flight is cancelled because of a crew shortage, then you should be able to claim for this because it’s within the airline’s control.

However, if your flight is delayed because of bad weather, you wouldn’t be able to get compensation for this as it’s outside of the airline’s control.

Even if you aren’t able to claim compensation, you should still be entitled to other help, such as a refund or alternative flight, and assistance while you’re in the airport.

How to claim money back

All airlines have their own policies and processes around refunds and compensation. We’ve included links to information from some popular UK airlines below. If you booked with an airline not listed, then you should be able to find details of their policies and claims process on their website, or by calling their customer service team.

British Airways





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.

two women, one in a checked dress and one in a cream dress, wheel their suitcases through a busy airport terminal two women, one in a checked dress and one in a cream dress, wheel their suitcases through a busy airport terminal