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What should I do if my flight is cancelled? Compensation and rebooking explained

Expert Nicky Kelvin from The Points Guy UK shares his tips for what to do if your flight is cancelled by the airline

Travel chaos is all around, and 2022 was one that will be remembered for cancelled flights and travel delays. Now, as we head toward summer 2023, those planning to travel – either back home or on holiday elsewhere – might see disruption to their plans due to IT failures, strikes, airline collapses, plus walkouts that affect Channel immigration offices and border ports.

The most recent travel malfunction occurred following a technical issue impacting British Airways. Following the IT glitch, the airline had to cancel dozens of flights on Thursday 25 May, which was set to be the busiest day for UK air travel since 2019. The chaos spilt into Friday morning, with flights cancelled or delayed due to the IT disruption. Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent calculated that at least 156 flights were cancelled. With a summer of chaos seeming more likely than ever, we’ve asked Nicky Kelvin, head of The Points Guy UK, to share his top tips on what to do if your flight is cancelled and what to know about the compensation you’ll be entitled to.

What is British Airways' cancellation policy?

British Airways does compensate for cancelled and delayed flights, but with a few caveats. You can receive compensation if you are informed of a cancellation less than fourteen days before your departure date due to causes within the carrier's control. However, you are not eligible for a refund if you are offered a reroute that does not leave more than two hours before your departure time or arrive more than four hours later than your original arrival time. British Airways will also provide compensation if your flight is delayed more than three hours, should that delay be within the carrier's control. If you think you're entitled to a refund, you can find more information on BA's website to determine if you can claim compensation and how to submit it.

What happens if my flight is cancelled?

“If the airline you are flying is based in the UK or EU, or if you’re flying out of a UK or EU airport, there are two main resolutions that you are entitled to and you can select which one you want,” explains Nicky. “The airline either has to find a new re-routed flight or provide you with a full refund. If you opt for a refund, the airline has to pay within seven days. If you decide to take a new re-routed flight, you can ask for the next available one, or you can reschedule to a convenient date in the future.”

If you’re already at the airport when the flight is cancelled there may be someone available to talk to you about your options. If not, it’s important to get in touch with your airline as soon as possible.

Should my airline find me a new flight if my original one is cancelled?

“Once your flight has been cancelled, the airline should find you a new flight, if you elect for that option,” Nicky says. “You can also request that the airline gives you a flight on a rival provider, so you don’t have to travel with the same airline.

“It is the airline's obligation to find you a new flight that arrives at a similar time to the one you had originally booked.”

Am I entitled to compensation if my flight is delayed?

Even if your flight is not cancelled, you may experience delays when travelling – and this could mean you're entitled to compensation from your airline.

“Airlines offer different levels of compensation depending on how long you are delayed,” explains Nicky. "If you’re delayed for more than two hours on a short-haul flight, airlines will provide you with vouchers to use around the airport. If you’re delayed overnight, they should give you accommodation. If you arrive at your destination more than three hours late, unless it was due to extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather or security issues, then you are entitled to compensation.

“For short-haul flights (under 1,500km), if your flight is delayed by more than three hours, you are entitled to £220 per passenger. For medium-haul (between 1,500km and 3,500km), it’s £350 and for long-haul (over 3,500km) it’s £520, and you have up to six years to claim that back.”

We strongly suggest ensuring you have travel insurance before you book to help ease the stress of travelling during a busy time.

What happens if my airline collapses?

If the airline you've booked with goes into administration before your scheduled departure date, you still have rights and should be able to get your money back. Those who have paid more than £100 on a credit card will be covered under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Anyone whose purchase was less than £100, or who paid on a visa debit card, can contact their debit card issuer to ask for a refund. Those who booked through a travel agent should contact the relevant company to enquire about getting their money back, or you might be covered for airline failure on your travel insurance.

In some instances, when an airline collapses, lots of flights will be cancelled at the last minute. This was the case when budget British carrier Flybe went into administration in January 2023 – many flights were cancelled with very little notice. If your airline collapses and you booked through an ATOL travel agent, they will rearrange your journey. If you booked flights independently, it is your responsibility to find an alternative way home. In January 2023, British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair stepped in to provide cheaper-than-usual flights on cancelled routes for would-be Flybe travellers while the train line LNER offered travellers who would have been on domestic flights free travel on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 January.