‘You won’t get any compensation’: Thousands of passengers warned they won’t be refunded after air traffic control chaos

29 August 2023, 15:55

Passengers won't receive compensation amid the travel chaos.
Passengers won't receive compensation amid the travel chaos. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Passengers whose flights have been affected by the air traffic control chaos have been warned they won’t receive compensation despite delays and cancellations.

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A quarter of a million people saw their flights get cancelled on bank holiday Monday after an air traffic control system fault.

Some 1,200 flights were scrapped yesterday as Brits were left at airports in the UK and abroad for hours.

But there is hope the disruption will start to ease up on Wednesday.

Asked whether those affected could expect to receive compensation, Travel journalist Simon Calder told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: “You won’t get any cash compensation from the airlines because it’s clearly not their fault.

“You will get recompense if you’re having to pay for your own hotel and meals, just send in your recents to the airline and they are legally obliged to refund them.

“At the moment just have a look at your travel insurance, it might say ‘yeah every 12 hours you’re late, that’s 25 quid we’ll pay you’ but it’s not going to make up for the immense distress that so many people are finding.”

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) said a technical fault caused problems processing flight plans.

They had to be sorted manually, which could not be done at the same speed as the automatic system on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Read more: No10 says 'wait for investigation' after suggestions French airline's error led to UK air traffic control chaos

Read more: Air traffic control chaos cancels 250,000 passengers' flights but disruption set to ease on Wednesday

Some 1,200 flights were scrapped yesterday.
Some 1,200 flights were scrapped yesterday. Picture: Getty

Juliet Kennedy, NATS' operations director, apologised to passengers but warned "it will take some time for flights to return to normal".

"We will continue to work with the airlines and the airports to recover the situation. Our absolute priority is safety, and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.

"Again, I would like to apologise for the impact on the travelling public and to tell you our teams will continue to work to get you on your way as soon as we can."

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 warned they may not receive compensation.
Passengers have been warned they may not receive compensation. 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.

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.