We’ve all felt dread in the airport terminal when the fearful ‘Delayed’ – or even worse, the nightmarish ‘Cancellation’ – sign pops up on the info board next to your flight number. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been caught out by airport delays, and usually, you won’t even know until you’re all checked in, you’ve passed security, and you’re waiting in the departure lounge.

So what do you do when your flight is delayed? I’ve had enough delays to now know that there’s a step-by-step list to follow when your flight is delayed or cancelled. Stay updated, speak to the airline and importantly, it always helps to know exactly what you’re entitled to. Based on my experience, I’ve put together this guide to help you understand your rights when you’re delayed.

Flight delays: A step-by-step guide

From staying updated in the airport to claiming compensation for flight delays when you finally make it to your destination, here’s how to cope:

1. Stay updated

The first step is to keep yourself updated. This sounds easy, but in a hectic, unfamiliar airport, I know from experience that it can be surprisingly challenging to keep up with events on the ground. 

I once spent hours waiting in a stuffy, humid airport with no air conditioning in Kathmandu. I was waiting on sparse updates from the airline, who, unfortunately, were being absolutely useless. No one seemed to know why the flight was delayed, let alone when it would take off. No one seemed interested in updating the passengers, either.

In these situations, it’s important to be proactive. Keep yourself updated by checking the information boards and asking the check-in staff questions. Ask fellow passengers on the same flight if they know what’s going on, and if you’ve got the internet, check the airline’s website, use their app or visit flight tracking websites like Flight Radar for potential updates. If none of those options are working, I find it useful to tweet the airline directly, explaining the situation and asking for assistance. 

Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash.

2. Know your rights

In the event of significant delays, you have certain rights as a passenger that airlines must adhere to. Each region has different rules, but if you’re flying within the European Union, for example, then you’re covered by EC 261 regulations. This entitles you to compensation and assistance in the event of delays over three hours. 

The United Kingdom has a similar regulation rolled out after Brexit that’s known as ‘UK 261’. This regulation is based on EC 261 and ensures that legally, airlines have to provide assistance in the form of food and drink vouchers when you’re delayed for two or more hours. If you’re delayed overnight – as I was once when taking a flight from London Stansted to Istanbul – then ask the airline to put you up in a hotel until the morning. 

Airlines also have to provide compensation when you’re delayed for more than three hours if your flight originates from the UK (regardless of the airline). If you’re flying into the UK, you’re covered by the regulation when flying on a UK or EU-based airline. 

Figuring out how much compensation you could be owed, and how to claim it, is always tricky, so I’d recommend speaking to a specialist like AirHelp, who can help you claim flight delay compensation. You’ll need to sort this out later, so don’t worry about compensation until you’ve reached your destination.

Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash.

3. Consider rebooking options

If the delay is significant enough to disrupt your onward travel plans, you may need to consider your rebooking options. The first step is to ask the airline staff themselves, as they may be able to rebook you onto a new flight for no extra cost, if there’s availability. 

If you’ve booked your flight through a travel agency, you may need to contact the agency directly. They can often rebook you onto a new flight – again, for no extra cost – if the delay is the fault of the airline. 

It’s important to note that rebooking depends on availability. If the flight is only delayed, you may have no option other than to wait. In this case, travel insurance may help you recover the cost of booking a new flight with a new airline (which at the last minute, will be expensive!). If the flight is cancelled, however, then the airline must get you to your destination in as timely a manner as possible. They may even fly you with partner airlines or competitors. 

When I was stranded in Bergen, Norway, for example, the carrier I’d booked with didn’t have space on their flight the following day to London. Instead, they flew me via Oslo with a rival carrier. Not exactly a great advert for the airline, but at least they got me home!

Photo by Tomas Williams on Unsplash.

4. Keep your receipts and documentation

In the event of a delay, it’s important to keep all of your receipts and documentation. The airline may only compensate you later, for example, when you need to buy food or drink because of a flight cancellation. Your travel insurance may require receipts proving that you were out of pocket because of a delay, or evidence that you were indeed disrupted by cancellations. 

When claiming compensation later, the airline may also ask for documents showing that you were on the flight in the first place and that you were affected by delays. It’s better to be prepared, so I’d recommend keeping a timeline of delays, recording how the customer service staff treated you, what you were offered at the airport, and anything else that may support later claims. 

Photo by Safwan Mahmud on Unsplash.

5. Claim your compensation!

The final step when faced with delays is to claim your compensation. This is something I always forget to do, particularly when you’re swept up in the sights and sounds of the destination when you finally arrive!

Luckily, under UK and EU law, you can claim compensation for flight delays that happened up to three years ago, so long as you have the required documentation proving you were on the delayed flight. 

I always find it easier to approach a specialist flight delay compensation company, which can make claims with the airlines directly on your behalf. They only take a small fee when they’re successful, and they really do take the hassle out of the bureaucracy!

The amount of compensation you’re owed by the airline depends on the length of the delay and how far you were supposed to be flying. In the United Kingdom, the following guidelines apply under ‘UK 261 regulations’:

  • Flights under 1,500km: £220 compensation for a delay of more than 3 hours.
  • Flights between 1,500km and 3,500km: £350 compensation for delays of more than 3 hours.
  • Flights over 3,500km: £520 compensation for delays between 3 and 4 hours; and £520 for delays over 4 hours.

Importantly, airlines aren’t obligated to provide compensation if the delay is the result of extraordinary circumstances outside of their control. This can include extreme weather or security risks. If the airline rejects your application, you can escalate the matter to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) or similar bodies in other countries. 

There you go! A step-by-step guide to battling flight delays! Save this for later.