Your holiday is finally here – all your hard work is about to pay off, you’ll soon be relaxing on a comfy beach bed donned in the softest towels and wearing the perfect straw hat… but then you see it. The flight schedule board gets to you before the dull and muffled airport tannoy…

Your flight has been delayed.

Many Brits are preparing to go off on holiday to beat those January blues, but with unpredictable weather, technical issues and overcrowded airports – holidaymakers in search of warmer weather should also be wary of flight delays. Over 40.3 million* flights are estimated to depart worldwide in 2020, but with air traffic control strikes, severe weather conditions and climate change – travel disruptions are inevitable.

To help make sure you’re prepared in the unfortunate event of a delay, we have compiled a list of the most common reasons for flight disruptions and what you can do if you find yourself in these situations:

Situation 1 – Air Traffic control (ATC) restrictions/strikes

ATC restrictions generally include runways being too busy resulting in scheduled flights being delayed. This will normally have a knock-on effect on other flights and cause further delays which could be the reason that you’re standing in the airport a few hours longer than you should have been. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, national aviation system delays were responsible for 5.65% of travel disruptions in 2019**

In addition, there have been a record number of ATC strikes which tend to be incredibly inconvenient for airport passengers. If there is an ATC strike on the day you are due to depart, you should contact your airline or tour operator who will normally offer to rebook you on another flight if yours has been cancelled or delayed.

Situation 2 – Air Carrier (something goes wrong with the airline):

Sometimes airlines make mistakes and passengers have to bear the brunt of it. Maintenance issues are a common reason for delays and usually could have been prevented by the airline. Typical maintenance issues include operational circumstances and technical problems. If you do find yourself waiting for hours on end because of your airline – and they are solely to blame, it is likely you will receive compensation.

Situation 3 – Climate change/Adverse Weather Conditions:

Severe weather conditions are incredibly inconvenient but due to them being unpredictable they are considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ by the Civil Aviation Authority. This means that your airline is not required to pay compensation if your flight has been delayed. In this instance, your travel insurance will prove invaluable if your policy offers cover for departure delay or Force Majeure.

Situation 4 – Reactionary Delays 

According to Eurocontrol, reactionary delays contributed 8.1 minutes to the average delay per flight in July 2019. Reactionary delays are generally caused by the late arrival of the aircraft or crew – who were delayed by previous journeys. If this happens, then your airline should pay compensation.

Situation 5 – Bird Strikes:

With the amount of birds flying in the skies, there’s bound to be a collision every now and then and although bird strikes are not considered dangerous, they are still seen as a security threat in the world of aviation. In the event of a bird strike, the plane will be subjected to a number of checks which is likely to effect scheduled take-off time and create flight delays.

Although a bird strike is usually considered to be an extraordinary circumstance, your airline cannot refuse a claim unless it proves it did everything in its power to avoid the circumstance.

Situation 1 – Can I claim compensation if my flight has been delayed by a strike?

Air Traffic Control strikes are referred to as ‘third party’ which means that airlines are not obligated to pay compensation if flights are delayed. That being said, airlines have a duty of care and must provide passengers with food, drink and accommodation where necessary. Your airline should also offer to rebook your flight either with themselves or with an alternative carrier as soon as possible.

If you bought your policy before the strike was announced your travel insurance may offer a small amount of compensation for food and refreshments – providing you have already checked in. Find out more about cover for industrial action.  

It’s also worth noting you will not receive compensation from the airline for strikes by baggage handlers, airport security staff and strikes caused by political unrest either.

Situation 2 – Can I claim compensation if my flight is delayed because of the airline?

If the delay is caused by the airline, you can claim compensation – as long as you are travelling on a European airline and your flight is covered under EU law (EC 261). According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) you can also claim compensation for any unused parts of your booking i.e. return flights and a flight back to your departure airport if you have already completed part of your journey.

What is EC 261?

EC 261, which is also known as Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, is the European law that states compensation should be provided if your flight is delayed.

To be eligible for compensation, your flight must be either be departing from an EU airport and operated by any airline or arriving at an EU airport and operated on an EU airline.

EU law also states that passengers are entitled to compensation of up to £510 if their flight has been delayed for 24- hours or more.

According to EC 261, in order to claim compensation for a flight delay you must arrive at your destination more than three hours later than planned and ensure that you have checked for your flight on time (generally less than 45 minutes before departure).

 Situation 3 – Can I claim compensation if my flight is delayed by adverse weather conditions?

Adverse weather is classed as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and therefore your airline is not obligated to pay compensation for a delay – provided they have done everything they can to prevent disruptions.

Your travel insurance may be able to offer you compensation if it covers <departure delay>, cancellation will usually only be offered if you have  Force Majeure

If you are delayed for longer than 24 hours and decide you no longer want to travel, trip abandonment  will cover you for any pre-paid costs including flights, accommodation and excursions –  providing you could not recover the cost from any other sources.

Situation 4 – What should your airline do if they are responsible for the delay?

Providing your flights are covered by EU laws, airlines have a duty of care towards customers in the event of a delay. If you are not eligible for compensation you are still entitled to care and assistance. This usually includes the cost of food, drink, phone calls and accommodation where necessary.

You may also be able to claim expenses back from your credit card company if your airline does not provide compensation.

Situation 5 – What is an ‘extraordinary circumstance’

An ‘extraordinary circumstance’ is something that is beyond the airline’s control – drone disruptions, for instance, cause hundreds of delays and cancellations. This being said airlines are not responsible for providing compensation as the incident is outside of their control. Natural disasters also fall under extraordinary circumstances. An extraordinary circumstance can be any of the following; strikes, political unrest, severe weather conditions and security risks. ß You can link them to the CAA info here if you want.

What if I no longer want to fly because of a delay?

If your flight has been delayed for longer than 5-hours, and your airline is responsible – you are entitled to a refund if you no longer want to travel. According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), you can claim compensation if you have been delayed for more than three hours and will be entitled to a claim of £214 (€250). However, you will not be covered for anything under three-hours.

In the unlikely event that your airline does not offer you any alternatives and you have been delayed for longer than 24-hours, your travel insurance may look to cover you if your policy offers travel abandonment. Compensation varies from policy to policy so make sure to read your policy wording carefully before purchasing it – as you may be covered for any prepaid expenses that are related to your trip.

How will Brexit affect my flights?

Whilst the UK is still part of the EU, the rules for compensation remain the same. The country is due to leave Europe on 31st January 2020 and the continuing talks may have you thinking about your travel plans after Brexit. According to the European Commission; in the event of a no-deal Brexit a flight booked after the withdrawal date should still be valid but you are advised to check the airline’s Terms and Conditions prior to booking a flight. That being said, nothing has yet been agreed and the situation is being monitored and will be updated when a decision is finalised.

* The Express