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Dealing with flight disruption

Dealing with flight disruption

What to do if your flight's delayed, cancelled or overbooked

Don’t let disruption get you down

If you’ve ever had to deal with a flight cancellation or delay, you’ll know just how stressful it can be. But if you’re prepared, it can be a much easier situation to manage. And, did you know you might be able to claim compensation?

Here’s all you need to know about dealing with cancelled or delayed flights.

Know your rights

Knowing your passenger rights means you can be sure you’re being treated and compensated fairly.

If your flight departs from the UK or Europe, you’re covered under EU flight regulations. This means you might be entitled to financial compensation if your flight is delayed or cancelled. Although we’re no longer part of the EU, the Government has protected this legislation by making it part of UK law.

Flying back into the UK or Europe on an international flight? As long as you’re flying with a UK or EU airline, you’ll still be covered.

If you’re flying to and from an international destination, what compensation you’re entitled to if your flight is cancelled or delayed will depend on the airline’s terms and conditions. Most airlines follow recommendations from the International Air Transport Association meaning they’ll usually offer a later flight or refund.

We’ve broken down the basics below, but for more information about your legal rights see the Civil Aviation Authority’s guide to dealing with flight disruption.

European flight disruption

Delayed flights

If your flight is delayed for more than three hours, you’re legally entitled to the following care and assistance from your airline:

  • Two free phone calls or emails
  • Refreshments
  • Meals

If you’re delayed overnight, you’ll also be entitled to hotel accommodation and transport to and from that accommodation.

And if you’re delayed for more than five hours but decide not to continue with your planned travel, you’ll be entitled to a refund from your airline.

You can find out more about what to do when your flight’s delayed in our practical guide to dealing with flight delays.

Flight delay compensation

If your airline is at fault for the delay and it isn’t down to extraordinary circumstances, you may be entitled to flight delay compensation.

The amount you can claim depends on the length of your flight and the amount of time you’re delayed. This can range from £220 for a three-hour delay on a short-haul flight to £520 for a four-hour delay on a long-haul flight.

The Civil Aviation Authority has more information about compensation for flight delays.

Flight cancellations

You’re legally entitled to help and assistance from your airline if your flight is cancelled.

As well as care and assistance such as meals and refreshments, your airline must give you two options:

  • A full refund if you decide not to travel
  • Alternative transport to your destination

Flight cancellation compensation

If your flight is cancelled less than 14 days before your planned departure, you may also be able to claim financial compensation – as long as it isn’t cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances.

Compensation for cancelled flights is based on the timings of the alternative flight offered by your airline – and can range from up to €600.

The Civil Aviation Authority offers detailed guidance on what you can claim for.

What counts as an extraordinary circumstance?

Under UK law and EU regulations, you’re only entitled to financial compensation if the airline is at fault for the flight delay or cancellation. For example, if there’s a technical fault or poor turnaround times.

If the airline can prove that a flight delay or cancellation was caused by an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, you won’t be entitled to any compensation. Extraordinary circumstances could include:

  • Airport strikes
  • Air traffic management decisions
  • Bird strikes
  • Extreme weather
  • Natural disasters

In these cases, you’d still be eligible for alternative travel arrangements and assistance from your airline, but you won’t be able to claim any compensation.


Overbooked flights

Often airlines overbook flights by selling more tickets than the seats they have available. This is common practice in the industry because they know people don’t always turn up for their flight.

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will first ask for volunteers to give up their seats. If you’re happy to give up your seat, you’ll be offered a refund for your ticket, or the option to be rerouted. You may also be able to agree on additional benefits with the airline.

If you want to continue your journey, you’re entitled to an alternative flight. Either to the same airport, or another in the region agreed by you with ongoing transport provided.

When a flight is overbooked but there aren’t enough volunteers to give up their seats, the airline will deny boarding to some passengers. In this case you’ll be entitled to overbooked flight compensation.

If you’re ‘bumped’ without volunteering, you’ll be offered an alternative flight or refund plus immediate financial compensation. Like with cancellations, flight compensation is based on the timings of the alternative flight offered by your airline.

Missed flights

The rules around missed flights and compensation depends on how you’ve booked your flights.

More than one flight on a single ticket?

Your airline is responsible for organising a replacement connecting flight if the issue is caused by a delay. This applies to codeshare tickets too.

Purchased separate tickets?

You aren’t eligible for compensation or replacement flights from the airline if you miss your connection (even if your tickets are with the same airline).

If you’re booking flights separately, some travel insurance providers may offer some protection against missing a connecting flight in certain circumstances.


Airline insolvency

A number of high-profile airlines have gone into insolvency in recent years, including Thomas Cook in September 2019. It’s important to think about what would happen if your travel provider goes out of business and you’re left stranded abroad.

As well as having travel insurance in place, one of the main ways to ensure you’re protected is through ATOL – a financial protection scheme that protects most package holidays and some flight bookings sold in the UK.

When you book the following with an ATOL-protected travel company, you’ll be protected if any of the following goes wrong:

  • Flight-inclusive packages with a tour operator, either directly or through a travel agent
  • Flights, accommodation and car hire booked at the same time or on the next day with a travel company
  • Flights booked with a travel company where you don’t get your tickets immediately

If your trip is ATOL-protected, make sure you get an ATOL certificate and that you take this with you on your trip.

Sainsbury’s Bank Travel Insurance

Flexible policies for UK and worldwide destinations. Underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance UK Limited.


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Any questions?

Check out our most frequently asked questions about travel insurance. If you still need to talk to us, our friendly team will be happy to help.

Call 0345 305 2621.

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This guide aims to be informative and engaging. Though it may include tips and information, it does not constitute advice and should not be used as a basis for any decision, financial or otherwise. Sainsbury's Bank accepts no responsibility for the opinions and views of external contributors and the content of external websites included within this guide. All information correct at date of publication

Sainsbury’s Bank Travel Insurance is underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance UK Limited. Great Lakes Insurance UK Limited is a company incorporated in England and Wales with company number 13436330 and whose registered office address is 10 Fenchurch Avenue, London, United Kingdom, EC3M 5BN. Great Lakes Insurance UK Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 955859. You can check this on the Financial Services Register by visiting;

Sainsbury’s Bank Travel Insurance is sold and administered by Hood Travel Limited, registered at Companies House 08318836. Hood Travel is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority under registration number 597211. Hood Travel Limited’s registered address is at 2nd Floor, Decora Court, Tylers Avenue, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS1 2BB.