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Seven things to do if your flight home gets delayed or cancelled

5 minutes

Your flight’s been cancelled, delayed or grounded completely – what can you do? And what are you covered for? We ask the experts for some tips on how to deal with flight delays while you’re abroad.

  • Check what you’re entitled to in compensation or assistance
  • Your insurer may help you make arrangements at home
  • Try to enjoy the extra time spent on holiday

1. Find out how to rebook and change your flight

If your flight home is delayed, don’t panic – in Europe, depending on the length of the delay, you may be entitled to two free phone calls and access to emails under the EU Denied Boarding Regulations. You may also be provided with free meals and refreshments appropriate to the flight delay, and free hotel accommodation and transfers to and from the hotel in the event that an overnight stay is required.

Need to get home sooner than the flight offered by the airline? You might have to book your own. If that is more expensive than the original flight, your airline may not pay the full difference – but your travel insurance might, so check your policy before you travel.

In some cases, though, you won’t be covered. 

‘There will be circumstances when your flight is delayed or cancelled when you’ll be due compensation from the airline,’ said a spokesman from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). ‘Exceptions to this will be if a flight is cancelled more than 14 days prior to a departure date or if a flight is delayed or cancelled for reasons beyond the airline’s control, such as bad weather or strikes by people other than the airline.’ 

2. You may need to book your own overnight hotel, but don’t go mad

If your flight is delayed overnight and there is a major disruption, you might have to book your own accommodation – but it’s best not to break the bank when booking a new hotel. 

Don’t book somewhere expensive when there are alternatives available, as the airline is unlikely to refund you if you do – and, whatever you do, keep all your receipts.

3. Make sure arrangements at home are covered

Once you’ve made arrangements at your holiday destination, it’s time to make sure that everything back home is covered. That includes phoning into work if need be, arranging with anyone taking care of your garden, home or pets while you are away and, if your dog is in kennels, informing the kennel management that you’ve been delayed. If you have pet insurance with LV=, you’ll be covered for extra pet boarding costs if you get delayed on your return home from holiday. 

4. Check your travel insurance

While the airline should cover your overnight accommodation and a new flight, they won’t cover you for a missed connecting flight, or if your plans included an overnight stay or excursion that’s lost as a result of the delay. You also won’t be refunded if your baggage goes missing or is sent on when you are ‘bumped off’ a flight due to overcrowding.

Your travel insurance, however, may cover such losses.

‘For customers who have an LV= Premier policy, we would cover loss of cost for things such as excursions, shows, and unused accommodation costs up to £10,000,’ says LV='s Travel and Pet Product Manager. Read more about what you’re covered for in our article on cancelled flights

5. Find out if you can claim compensation

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) has useful advice on how much compensation you will be entitled to, between €250 and €600. The amount depends on the distance of the flight, the length of the delay and whether you’re flying within the EU or further afield.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also offers plenty of information on resolving travel problems, including your rights in the event of a delay or cancellation, whether your flight is scheduled or chartered, and if you have booked through a holiday company.

6. Keep all evidence and documentation

As well as hotels, you will get money back for ‘reasonable’ expenses, but that doesn’t mean you can pop out for a big night and expect the airline to pay. You won’t get money for alcohol or similar unnecessary expenditure.

‘If you do experience a flight delay, keep as much evidence as possible such as boarding cards and other documents,’ advises ABTA. ‘If you expect to claim back expenses, keep any receipts you obtain for purchases. If any of the airline’s staff advises you to make your own arrangements, make a note of their name, when they told you and where you were when advised. If possible, request that they put a note on your booking that records their advice.’

ABTA also has a standard letter, which you can use as your basis to claim with an airline.

The amount you might be able to claim, and the rules, differs depending on whether you are within the EU or somewhere else in the world, and whether the airline you are using is based in the UK, EU or abroad. While the rebooking procedure could go smoothly with British Airways, it might not be so easy with a small airline in Asia or Africa, or some parts of the Caribbean. Keep your cool and consult the CAA or CAB. 

7. Finally, try to enjoy the journey

‘Once you’ve done everything you can to resolve the situation, it’s time to relax,’ says Mark Hodson, experienced travel writer and editor of 101holidays.com (@101holidays). ‘If there’s nothing you can do to change the situation, why stress about it? Instead, think of this extra time as an unplanned extension to your holiday.

That might mean topping up your tan in a cafe outside the airport, or leaving your bags at left luggage and taking a taxi into town for a meal out. Just make sure you keep your phone battery topped up so you can be contacted at any time.’

If you’re stuck on holiday for an extra day or two, first sort out alternative travel arrangements, and then try to make the most of the extra time you have abroad.