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What to Do When Your Flight Is Delayed or Cancelled in the UK

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Travelling by air can be a breeze, but sometimes things go wrong. Flight delays and cancellations can be frustrating when you're unsure of your rights and next steps.  However, knowing what to do can make the situation less stressful and more manageable.

In the UK, there are specific rules and regulations in place to protect passenger rights when their flights are disrupted. If you find yourself stranded due to a disrupted flight, fear not! 

In this article, we'll guide you through what to do when your flight is delayed or cancelled. Read on to discover:

  • Your rights in the UK for delayed and cancelled flights

  • The airline's legal obligations and your right to assistance, compensation, reimbursement or re-routing

  • Step-by-step guide on how to deal with flight delays

  • Eligibility and how to claim compensation for disrupted flights 

  • How popular UK airlines handle cancelled flights

  • What to do if the airline isn’t forthcoming with assistance

  • Top tips to be prepared for flight delays when travelling with children

What to Do When Your Flight Is Delayed or Cancelled in the UK

Delayed and Cancelled Flights: Know Your Rights in the UK

In the United Kingdom, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has established regulations to safeguard passengers in cases of flight delays and cancellations. 

These regulations apply to UK citizens departing on any airline from the UK.  They also apply to any UK airline flights departing from or arriving at any UK or EU airports.

The regulations are covered under the EU Regulation 261/200 and are still applicable in the UK despite Brexit.  They outline the airlines' obligations during delays and cancellations.

The Airline's Legal Obligations When Your Flight Is Delayed or Cancelled

When your flight is delayed or cancelled, it's essential to understand the legal obligations that airlines have towards passengers. These regulations ensure that you, as a traveller, have certain rights and entitlements, providing a safety net during unexpected disruptions to your travel plans. These rights are:

Right to Assistance

For delays exceeding two hours, airlines must provide meals, refreshments, and communication (emails and phone calls). For overnight delays, they must provide hotel accommodation and transportation.  

Here’s how the airline will usually offer these expenses:

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

  • A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls or internet access)

  • Accommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel)

  • Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you can return there)

The airline must provide you with these items until it can fly you to your destination, no matter how long the delay lasts or what has caused it.

Right to Compensation

If your flight is delayed by more than three hours or cancelled within 14 days of the departure date, you may also be entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation depends on the distance of the flight, the length of the delay and the reason for the delay.

Right to Reimbursement or Rerouting

If a flight is cancelled altogether, passengers have the option to choose between a full refund of their ticket or an alternative flight to their final destination.


It's important to note that certain circumstances, such as extraordinary events or situations beyond the airline's control such as extreme weather, may exempt them from providing compensation.

Dealing with Flight Delays and Cancellations: A Step-by-Step Guide

Knowing how to navigate delay or cancellation will help make the experience less stressful. Here are the steps on what to do when your flight is delayed or cancelled in the UK.

1. Stay Informed:

One of the first steps you should take is to stay well-informed about the status of your flight. Airlines are obligated to provide passengers with timely updates regarding delays and cancellations. Here's how to do it:

  • Download the Airline's App: Many airlines have dedicated apps that provide real-time flight information. Download the app and enable notifications for updates.

  • Airport Information Boards: Keep an eye on the airport's information boards for announcements and changes to your flight's status.

  • Enquire with Airline Staff: Don't hesitate to approach airline staff at the airport for the latest developments. They can provide you with valuable information.

2. Contact the Airline:

If your flight is affected, it's crucial to get in touch with the airline's customer service immediately. Here's why:

  • Information on Your Rights: The airline's customer service can provide you with details about your rights and the options available to you. They can guide you through the process.

3. Document Everything:

Effective communication is key when dealing with flight disruptions. To ensure you have a record of your interactions, remember to:

  • Keep Records: Make sure to keep records of all communication with the airline. Note down the names of staff members you speak to and any reference numbers provided. This documentation can be invaluable later.

4. Claim Compensation:

If you believe you're entitled to compensation due to a significant delay or cancellation, consider filing a claim with the airline. Here's how:

  • Check Airline's Claims Process: Visit the airline's website to understand their claims procedure. For instance, Ryanair, EasyJet, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways all have a dedicated claims process on their website.

  • File a Claim with a Third Party: Or, to simplify the compensation process and reduce the hassle, consider using third-party services like AirHelp. This service assesses your eligibility for compensation and provides assistance in navigating the claims process. It can streamline the entire procedure, making it more efficient for you.

5. Keep Receipts:

If the airline isn't forthcoming with assistance, you may need to cover some expenses yourself.  Find more detail on this later in the article, but to ensure you can potentially reclaim them later, remember to:

  • Save Receipts: Keep receipts for any necessary expenses incurred due to the delay or cancellation. These expenses can include meals, accommodation, and transportation costs.

6. Be Patient and Polite:

While it's entirely understandable to feel frustrated during flight disruptions, maintaining a calm and polite demeanour can be advantageous. Here's why:

  • Positive Outcome: Being patient and courteous when dealing with airline staff and representatives increases your chances of receiving a positive resolution to the situation.

By following these steps, you can navigate flight delays and cancellations more effectively and ensure that your rights as a passenger are upheld.

Claiming Compensation for Flight Disruption: Your Options

When you find yourself facing the inconvenience of a delayed or cancelled flight and believe you're eligible for compensation, it's essential to understand the paths available to you. Here, we delve deeper into these options, offering insights into how to navigate the compensation process effectively.

Filing an Airline Claim Directly

One approach is to initiate the compensation claim directly with the operating airline. This method involves following the airline's specified procedure, usually outlined on their website or through their customer service. 

Airlines typically have a dedicated section on their website that provides information on how to file a compensation claim. You'll find step-by-step instructions and the necessary forms to complete.

While filing a claim directly with the airline is entirely feasible, it often requires persistence and attention to detail. Keeping meticulous records of all communication, including emails, phone calls, and reference numbers, is crucial. This documentation will be essential in supporting your claim.

Exploring the No-Win, No-Fee Option

If you find yourself short on time, unsure of your rights, or encountering difficulties while attempting to claim compensation yourself, there's another avenue worth considering. Some companies offer a no-win, no-fee compensation process, simplifying the entire ordeal for you.

One such platform is AirHelp, an online service that streamlines the compensation claim process by providing a range of valuable services.

They first help you assess your eligibility for compensation based on the specific circumstances of your flight disruption. This initial step ensures that you have a legitimate claim to pursue. 

If you have a potential claim, they will take on the responsibility of communicating with the airline on your behalf. This includes filing the necessary paperwork, presenting your case, and negotiating for compensation. You'll only be charged a fee if your compensation claim is successful. This provides peace of mind, knowing that you won't incur any costs if your claim doesn't yield results.

As an example, let's consider a delayed Ryanair flight. If you've faced a delay with Ryanair and have been struggling to make a successful claim independently, a company such as AirHelp can step in and process your Ryanair delay compensation claim on your behalf. This expert assistance can make the difference in securing the compensation you're entitled to.

How Popular UK Airlines Handle Delays and Cancellations

Although subject to the regulations, each airline will have its own specific policies and procedures for handling flight disruptions. It’s important to note that the rights apply to the operating airline, even if you booked through a third party.

Here's a breakdown of how some popular UK airlines handle disrupted flights:

Ryanair: Known for its budget-friendly approach, Ryanair might not actively inform you about your rights. They offer compensation for significant delays, but the process can be complex. Check their website for detailed information and utilise their complaint form if needed.

British Airways: BA provides clearer communication and a dedicated page outlining passenger rights and their assistance measures for disruptions. They offer compensation for eligible delays and cancellations based on EU Regulations.

EasyJet: Similar to Ryanair, EasyJet operates on a low-cost model and might require proactive action from passengers seeking EasyJet compensation. Their website details their policies and includes a claim form.

Virgin Atlantic: This airline offers more comprehensive customer service and clearer information about passenger rights during disruptions. They have a dedicated page outlining their policies and compensation eligibility.


  • Always check the airline's website for the latest policies and procedures.

  • Download the airline's app to stay updated on your flight status.

  • Keep all receipts for any expenses incurred due to the disruption.

  • Be persistent and polite when seeking assistance or claiming compensation.

  • Consider using AirHelp as a platform to simplify the claim process, especially for Ryanair or EasyJet.

What To Do if the Airline Isn’t Forthcoming with Assistance

When faced with a delayed or cancelled flight and the airline doesn't provide immediate assistance at the airport, passengers should keep receipts for expenses incurred during the delay. These receipts serve as evidence when submitting a claim to the airline.

However, it's important to be mindful of what expenses are considered "reasonable" by the airline. Here are some key points to remember when claiming expenses:

  • Airlines typically reimburse passengers for expenses that are considered reasonable and directly related to the delay. This includes meals, snacks, and essential items.

  • However, expenses such as alcohol, extravagant meals, or luxury hotels are less likely to be covered.

  • To increase the likelihood of getting reimbursed, choose reasonably priced dining options and accommodations. Airlines may scrutinise claims for excessive spending.

  • If the airline doesn't provide immediate assistance or if you incur expenses beyond what they offer, you can submit a claim to the airline later. Most airlines have a dedicated claims process on their website or through customer service.

  • Remember that compensation for delays or cancellations is separate from reimbursement for expenses. Compensation is based on factors like the length of the delay and the circumstances. Be sure to check if you're eligible for both.

While airlines aim to provide assistance, passengers have the right to seek reimbursement for reasonable expenses when airlines fall short of their obligations.

Flying with Little Ones: Be Prepared for Flight Delays

Travelling by air with children can be both exciting and challenging. While you're looking forward to your destination, flight delays can be a significant source of stress, especially when you have little ones in tow. But fear not, with some careful preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make these unexpected delays a bit more manageable for your family.

Here are some valuable tips and strategies on how to handle flight delays when flying with children. Whether you have a toddler who's constantly on the move or a more patient older child, these suggestions will help you keep your kids entertained, well-fed, and comfortable during those unexpected airport waits.

ALWAYS Pack Extra Snacks: Bring more snacks than you think you'll need, as delays can be unpredictable. It's better to have too many than not enough, especially when travelling with hungry children.

Have Enough Cash for Food and Drinks: Since you can't take liquids through security, be prepared to purchase drinks at the airport. If you have a baby, you can bring bottled milk, but be ready to prove it's not something else. Have enough money for food and drinks, especially if delays are substantial.

Entertainment for Kids: Fill your kids' cabin bags with entertainment options. Tablets with games, colouring books, pencils, small toys, and books can keep them occupied during delays.

Pack a Change of Clothes and Wipes: Be prepared for unexpected accidents or illnesses. Pack spare clothes, underwear, and plenty of wipes in case your child needs them.

Check for Children's Entertainment: Some airports offer children's play areas or interactive screens. Check for these amenities to keep your kids entertained during lengthy delays.

Stay Calm and Patient: When travelling with restless children, it can be stressful. Try to remain calm and patient. Engage with your kids, and if possible, take turns with another adult to supervise them.

By following these tips, you can better prepare for flight delays when flying with children, making the experience more manageable for both you and your little ones.

Final thoughts

Flight delays and cancellations are never pleasant, but understanding your rights and following the correct procedures can make the experience less stressful. 

Whether you're flying with Ryanair, British Airways or another airline in the UK, remember that you have rights, and services like AirHelp and Citizen’s Advice are there to assist you in getting the compensation you deserve.

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines. Specific details and entitlements may vary depending on your unique circumstances.