UK flights cancelled: refund requests explained amid disruption - how to contact EasyJet, Ryanair and others

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

Travellers are facing days of chaos at UK airports thanks to a National Air Traffic Services (NATS) computer glitch

The UK is facing days of travel chaos at airports after a technical fault with the country’s air traffic control systems led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and the delay of hundreds more.

An issue was first discovered at the headquarters of the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) on Monday (29 August). It caused the flight planning system to melt down, instantly grounding dozens of flights.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While the glitch has been fixed, thousands of travellers have been forced to spend the night in airports across the UK, Ireland and continental Europe. Others may not be able to fly back to the UK for several days.

It comes just days after a power outage at London Stansted airport led to flightsd taking off with no passengers on board. Passengers have already been hit by yet another summer of strikes and flight disruption.

So, if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, what are your rights - and how can you make a complaint to the different major airlines?

What are my rights for a delayed flight?

In the first instance, you should make sure the contact details you’ve given to your airline or tour operator are up to date.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That way, they can provide you with any last minute updates about flight cancellations so you don’t have to queue or can rebook onto another flight more easily. If your flight is delayed, you may be entitled to help from your airline if it is an EU or UK-based carrier.

Strikes in Spain have led to multiple flight delays and cancellations (image: AFP/Getty Images)Strikes in Spain have led to multiple flight delays and cancellations (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Strikes in Spain have led to multiple flight delays and cancellations (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

This is certainly the case if the flight is delayed by strike action - although the industrial action has to be by the airline’s own employees for you to qualify for a refund. Strikes by airport staff, such as air traffic controllers or baggage handlers, is considered to be beyond the airline’s control and they are therefore not obliged to give you your money back.

However, if the strike action ends and there are still delays the following day because of it, the airline will have to cough up. The length of the flight you’re meant to be on determines how long the delay has to be before you receive assistance:

  • Less than 1,500km - a delay of 2 hours or over requires compensation
  • Between 1,500km and 3,500km - a delay of 3 hours
  • More than 3,500km - a delay of 4 hours

You can see how far your flight is meant to travel on the WebFlyer website. According to Citizens Advice, if you hit the length of delay for the type of flight you’re on, you should get:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
  • food and drink
  • access to phone calls and emails, plus refunds for two calls
  • accommodation if you’re delayed overnight and transfers between the airport and the hotel you’re put up in

The airline will deal with you directly at the airport and may give you vouchers to get some of these things for yourself. If they don’t give you any of the required help (something which may happen because hundreds of passengers are affected), you’re able to make “reasonable” arrangements (i.e. no five-star hotels or boozy meals) for accommodation and transport that will be reimbursed at a later date. If you do this, you must keep hold of any receipts to claim back any expenses.

There are only certain circumstances where an airline doesn’t have to help or compensate you (image: AFP/Getty Images)There are only certain circumstances where an airline doesn’t have to help or compensate you (image: AFP/Getty Images)
There are only certain circumstances where an airline doesn’t have to help or compensate you (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

These expenses are only likely to be fully compensated if they are deemed to be reasonable, so you’re unlikely to receive money back for a luxury hotel.

If the flight arrives more than three hours late and it was the airline’s fault - for example, a technical fault, or they overbooked the flight - you could get compensation under EU regulation 261. This law, which was copied into UK laws post-Brexit, sets out specific levels of compensation, again depending on how long your flight is.

  • A 3 hour-plus delay for a flight going less than 1,500km - £220
  • A delay of more than 3 hours for a flight between 1,500km and 3,500km - £350
  • 4 hours or more for a trip of more than 3,500km - £520

You have to contact the airline to claim this compensation (more on this below). Bear in mind that if the delay was as a result of something outside of the airline’s control - e.g. bad weather - they don’t have to compensate you.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
If the delay was the fault of the airport, you may struggle to get compensation (image: PA)If the delay was the fault of the airport, you may struggle to get compensation (image: PA)
If the delay was the fault of the airport, you may struggle to get compensation (image: PA) | PA

A delay of five hours or more means the airline legally has to give you:

  • a full refund for the flight
  • a full refund for other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, eg a connecting flight or a return flight
  • if you’re part-way through a journey, a flight back to the airport you originally departed from

You have to inform the airline as soon as you can if you won’t be accepting the free flight. The refunded money should take no more than a week to reach you. If you do decide to take the flight, you can claim up to £520 in compensation if the delay was the airline’s fault - but they will not have to provide you with food, drink or accommodation.

If you’re on a package holiday, you should get in touch with the provider to see what their advice is. If you don’t catch your delayed flight, you may lose your entire holiday. So it might be worth remaining as patient as possible. But if you’ve booked everything individually and the delays are such that you’re going to miss out, you may have to make a travel insurance claim to get your money back.

What if the delay was at the airport?

Some of the main causes of flight delays at UK airports over the last 12 months have been as a result of staff shortages or IT issues - sometimes both simultaneously. These have led to delays going through security and passport control - issues that are under the remit of the airport and not the airline.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

According to consumer website Which?, if you miss your flight because of airport queues, it’s unlikely you’ll receive compensation or a refund. This is because most UK airports do not have policies covering such eventualities. But you may be able to get your money back through your travel insurance policy.

Which? points out that you could claim frustrated contract and argue the airport is at fault for you missing your flight – but this would be likely to result in you having to take the airline to court.

The check-in desk and bag drop are the airline’s responsibility, so you can claim from them in the event of long queues resulting in you missing your flight - as long as you arrived at the airport when you were told to. But once again, the claim process is not as simple as it is with the actual flights themselves. You may have to claim against the consumer rights act, which could also involve a court date.

The best thing to do if you’re stuck in a queue and time is running out for you to make your flight is to tell airport staff. They may be able to scoot you through queues to give you a chance of catching your flight. Some airlines might put you on their next flight to that destination free of charge.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Airports are in charge of security, while airlines are in control of check-in and baggage drop areas (image: AFP/Getty Images)Airports are in charge of security, while airlines are in control of check-in and baggage drop areas (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Airports are in charge of security, while airlines are in control of check-in and baggage drop areas (image: AFP/Getty Images) | ANP/AFP via Getty Images

What are my rights for a cancelled flight?

If your flight is cancelled outright, you have a legal right under the Denied Boarding Regulations to either:

  • a full refund - including other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, such as return flights
  • a replacement flight to get you to your destination (the airline must book you on a route that’s as close to your original journey timings as possible)
  • if you’re part-way through a journey and you don’t want a replacement flight, you also have a right to a flight back to the airport you flew out of.

For refunds or replacement flights, it’s best to ask for them at the airport - if you can. If that’s not possible, you can claim them from the airline later either on the website or over the phone. You also have a legal right to:

  • help with costs - if the cancellation delays you by two-plus hours
  • compensation - if you’d be delayed two or more hours by the replacement flight offered and you were given under two weeks’ notice by the airline

Again, compensation depends on how long your original flight was meant to be and how much of a delay you endure as a result of the cancellation. It also hinges on how far in advance the flight was cancelled. For a full breakdown of what compensation you might be due, visit the Citizens Advice website.

Delays of more than two hours for short haul flights can mean you’re entitled to assistance and compensation (image: Getty Images)Delays of more than two hours for short haul flights can mean you’re entitled to assistance and compensation (image: Getty Images)
Delays of more than two hours for short haul flights can mean you’re entitled to assistance and compensation (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

It’s vital to be aware that the airline doesn’t have to compensate you if what are called “extraordinary circumstances” are at play. This term covers things that aren’t under the airline’s control - like extreme weather or air traffic control glitches (but it’s up to the airline to prove it).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Again, cancellations caused by strike action can be compensated, so long as the airline didn’t give you two weeks’ warning of the cancellation and the industrial action was by the airline’s staff.

How can I claim compensation from airlines?

You have to contact the airline to be in with a chance of getting any compensation if your flight is cancelled or delayed. You must approach the airline operating the flight, even if you booked it through a different operator. You’ll need to give the airline’s customer services department details, such as:

  • your flight details
  • booking reference numbers.

Be sure to keep a record of who you spoke to and what they told you. If writing to the airline, you’ll have to provide these details, copies of your tickets, any receipts, as well as a description of what went wrong, plus how much you feel you should be compensated.

If the airline is pushing back on your right to compensation or a particular amount of compensation, you can make a Section 75 claim to your card provider (if you spent over £100 on tickets). This will see your card provider take up the dispute with the airline on your behalf.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

You can also complain to an independent organisation like the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body (if the airline’s a member of one). If the airline’s not a member of an ADR, you should report your problem to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)’s Passenger Advice and Complaints Team (PACT).

Here are the numbers and links for how to get in touch with the UK’s biggest airlines:

You can also contact contact Citizens Advice’s consumer helpline on: 0808 223 1133

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.