With over 1,100 flights cancelled already this year in Northern Ireland, it is important for consumers to be aware of their rights if their flight is affected.
Richard Williams, Head of Transport at the Consumer Council, explains what consumers are entitled to if their flights are delayed or cancelled.
What your airline should do if things go wrong
All airlines must clearly inform their customers about their rights as air passengers. They must inform you by means of warnings at the time of invoicing, written notices in case of delay, and updated information on their own website.
Airlines also have a legal obligation to provide you with a range of things depending on the circumstance surrounding the disruption.
These include care and assistance, such as refreshments if you are delayed at the airport; a refund or alternative transport if your flight is cancelled; and overnight accommodation, if required.
If your flight is significantly delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to a fixed amount of compensation if it was the fault of the airline.
The airline should also explain to you the reason for the delay or cancellation and if it means you are entitled to compensation.
However, we have heard from consumers who have not received the support they should have, with poor communication, and the airline not making it clear if they are entitled to compensation.
If the airline’s explanation doesn’t seem right to you, or doesn’t reflect your own experience, you should make a claim for compensation.
In a case that was in the news recently, an airline cancelled flights, claiming this was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
This is where delays or cancellations have been caused by things that are not the responsibility of the airline, and so compensation is not payable.
In this case, the airline claimed the cancellation was due to air traffic control restrictions, which are out of its control.
However, a passenger suspected this was not the case, took the airline to court, and received compensation.
You must make a claim for compensation
If you are entitled to compensation, it will not be paid automatically, so you must make a claim using the online form on the airline’s website.
The Consumer Council wants to see better consumer protection provided by airlines. There is currently no legal requirement for the airline to inform all passengers when they are eligible for compensation.
We have called on the UK government to require airlines to make delay compensation payments automatically, rather than customers having to apply themselves.
What are you entitled to if your flight is delayed or cancelled:
For details on exactly what you are entitled to, view the information on our website. In summary:
Care and Assistance
If there is a long delay (at least two hours for short flights, or three hours for longer flights), the airline must provide you with care and support, such as meals and refreshments.
If a cancellation or delay means an overnight stay, you are entitled to hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and accommodation.
You should keep copies of receipts for any purchases you have to make.
If your flight arrives at your final destination more than three hours late, and the delay has been caused by the airline, you are entitled to compensation.
The amount you are entitled to depends on the length of the flight and the length of the delay.
If you are delayed by more than five hours and decide not to travel, you are entitled to a refund. Refunds should be paid by the airline within seven days.
If your flight is cancelled by the airline, you are entitled to a refund within seven days; or alternative transport to your final destination.
If your flight was cancelled within 14 days of your scheduled departure time, you may also be entitled to compensation.
This depends on the amount of notice you were given of the cancellation, and the options available for an alternative flight.
The Consumer Council’s Plane Facts Guide also outlines passengers’ rights and steps for compensation.
If you’re unhappy with the response from your airline, or they haven’t responded to you within their agreed time limit, the Consumer Council can help.
We can investigate the issue on your behalf and help you get a resolution.
In the past five years, we have returned £1.3 million to consumers’ pockets through the investigation of airline enquiries and complaints.