Advice: What are my rights if my holiday plans go wrong?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.
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By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

Q: There seem to be so many things that could potentially affect my holiday this summer - whether it be airline strikes or freak weather conditions. What are my rights if my flight gets delayed or cancelled?

A: If you’re travelling within the European Union...

If your flight has been cancelled or delayed for more than two hours, your airline must look after you. You are entitled to this help in all circumstances, regardless of the cause of the delay.

There is no time limit on this right and your airline must look after you until flights start again. Airlines will only pay for reasonable expenses.

The help an airline must give you includes: two phone calls or emails; refreshments; meals; accommodation if the delay is overnight; transport to and from overnight accommodation.

If you are delayed for more than five hours you can decide not to take the flight. You can also get the money back on your ticket and be flown back to where you originally started your journey.

If you have a delay of more than three hours to get to your final destination, you can claim compensation of between 250 to 600 euros, depending on the flight distance.

• Claiming compensation

There has been a case called Jet2 v Huzar in the England and Wales Court of Appeal that means that someone in England and Wales can claim compensation if a flight is delayed due to technical faults such as component failure and general wear and tear. A court in Scotland or Northern Ireland may take this decision into account if a case is taken to court. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has stated that it will apply the judgment in its work.

You won’t be able to claim compensation if the flight is delayed in extraordinary circumstances, outside the airline’s control such as extreme weather conditions or strikes.

Even if there are extraordinary circumstances leading to a cancellation, you are still entitled to care and assistance including food, drinks and hotel accommodation where appropriate.

If you have a new claim about a technical fault, or your airline previously declined your claim due to a technical fault, you can contact your airline in the first instance, saying that following the judgment in the Jet2 v Huzar case you would like to make a claim for compensation.

If you have an existing claim and you’re waiting to hear from the airline, you can contact the airline again, saying that following the judgment in the Jet2 v Huzar case, you would like to pursue your claim for compensation.

If there is major disruption airlines may be unable to or refuse to look after all passengers. If this happens, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) advises you to organise your own refreshments and accommodation if necessary, so that you can make a claim from the airline at a later date. It will help your claim if: you get the airline to agree to this in writing if possible. If not, keep a note of people you speak to; you keep your costs to a minimum; you keep receipts.

• If you’re flying outside the European Union...

Your rights when your flight is delayed or cancelled outside the European Union (EU) vary depending on the terms and conditions of your contract with the airline. Most airlines will offer passengers a choice between a later flight or a refund. Some airlines may provide refreshments and accommodation and you may have to claim for this later. You should keep receipts and keep your costs to a minimum.

If the flight is part of a package holiday, the package holiday organiser should provide information on what help they will offer if a flight is delayed. You should be able to find out what this will be in the holiday information when you book.

If you don’t get the level of help that the package holiday organiser promised to provide, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of contract.

• How to claim compensation

If you want to claim compensation, write to the customer services department of the airline or package holiday organiser. Enclose copies of your tickets and receipts for extra costs you’ve had to pay to prove how much money you want refunded.

Don’t send the original tickets or receipts. It’s best to get the airline or travel company to agree a refund before you send them. Make sure you keep copies of all correspondence in case you need to take your complaint further.

If you can’t sort out the problem with an airline, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) may be able to help you. If you complain to the CAA but you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can consider making a claim for compensation in court.

If you booked your flight with a tour operator or travel agent, find out if they are a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO). Both associations offer dispute resolution services to help you find a solution if you can’t sort out your problem directly.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau, log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk or call at Newtownabbey Citizens Advice Bureau, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole. Telephone advice is available 9am - 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (lunch 1pm - 1:30pm). Email advice is available by contacting enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk