Air traffic control chaos: How to get compensation for delayed flights, and whether airlines owe you a refund

28 August 2023, 18:37 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 06:35

Passengers have faced enormous delays and cancellations
Passengers have faced enormous delays and cancellations. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Thousands of passengers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed by air traffic control chaos will be asking if they can get compensation.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

At least 500 flights were scrapped on Monday after a fault meant flight plans needed to be processed manually.

The problem has been identified and "remedied", according to National Air Traffic Services, but disruption is expected to last for at least the rest of Monday.

No definitive time frame has been put on when service will resume as normal.

Passengers will now be hoping they can get some kind of payback after their holiday plans were left in tatters, or they faced hours long delays before finally departing.

Read more: Air traffic control fault forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled 'identified & remedied' as passengers stranded

What are the rules on holiday compensation from airlines?

In terms of refunds for flights, airlines need to pay if flights are later than three hours but only if it is their fault.

This air traffic control problem could be defined as out of their hands and instead be considered "exceptional circumstances", so they may not need to pay out customers.

Passengers have been left stranded after air traffic control problems caused cancellations
Passengers have been left stranded after air traffic control problems caused cancellations. Picture: Alamy

Can I get any help from airlines after a long delay?

Airlines have to provide support for passengers if they face a "significant delay".

This is defined as more than two hours for flights under 1,500km, more than three hours for flights up to 3,500km, and more than four hours for flights further than that.

They must help with a reasonable amount of food and drink, which is usually given through vouchers.

Companies must refund the cost of calls, provide accommodation if travellers are left stuck overnight and offer transport there or back home.

However, if a passenger accepts an offer to travel later than the first available flight, or accepts a refund, they are no longer entitled to the food, drink or accommodation.

Delayed passengers could get help
Delayed passengers could get help. Picture: Alamy

The Civil Aviation Authority warned tourists on package holidays may lose their whole holiday if they decided not to go on their delayed outbound flight and should speak to their airline and tourism organiser.

"If you still want to travel then your airline must get you to your destination. You might have to be patient while they rearrange transport and rebook passengers, but the law says they must get you there," the Civil Aviation Authority said.

How can I claim compensation?

Passengers will need to go to their airline directly.

Travellers hoping to claim will be able to use their airlines' website to find a form to attempt to win compensation.

You will usually need to fill in the form and wait for a response. Whether the claim is successful will depend on whether airlines can say this problem was exceptional circumstances.

Passengers should need to input details of their flight, including how long their delay was and when they were due to depart.

Travel insurance may also provide another way to get some help. Some policies offer limited cover for delays.