Q&A Can airlines refuse to pay compensation for recent flight delays?

Q:        My wife and I were hit by the recent air traffic control glitch which, frankly, ruined our holiday. It left us traumatized and out of pocket, which I want compensation for. I always believed an airline had to compensate you if you couldn’t fly because a flight was cancelled, yet some media reports suggest this is not the case. What exactly is the legal stance?

A:        Passengers are only entitled to claim compensation if the delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control. Disruption to air traffic control counts as an “extraordinary circumstance”, outside the control of the airlines, and therefore does not require them to pay passengers compensation.

Under UK law, if a short-haul flight is delayed by two hours or more, the airline is legally obliged to offer “assistance”. For longer flights up to 2,175 miles, the delay must be more than three hours to qualify, and for long-haul flights the delay must be four or more hours. “Assistance”, however, is very different to “compensation”, and is defined as: two free phone calls, faxes or emails; free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay; and free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.

In 2005 the European Commission introduced EU Regulation 261/2004, to protect passengers from poor treatment by airlines when flights are delayed, cancelled, or denied boarding. This included provision for flight delay compensation, covering the loss of time and inconvenience suffered by passengers who have experienced significant disruption to their travel arrangements. After the Brexit transition period in December 2020, UK passengers continued to be covered, either by UK or EU legislation depending on where their journeys started and ended, within the UK or EU. However, this still only applies if the flight delay is the fault of the airline, and not if it’s due to “Extraordinary circumstance”.

If you are in any doubt as to your position you should contact a solicitor who deals with this kind of matter.

This question has been answered by James Denton, a Solicitor with GHP Legal.  If you would like to speak to someone about this or any other legal matter, please visit our website www.ghplegal.com and use the contact us form, or call us on: Wrexham 01978 291456, Llangollen 01978 860313, Oswestry 01691 659194 

James Denton

James Denton


Solicitor in our Civil Litigation team in the Oswestry and Wrexham offices.