Delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights

Millions of passengers travel through Northern Ireland’s airports every year. While most journeys are problem free, it’s important to know your rights if your flight is delayed, cancelled or overbooked. You may be entitled to compensation.

What the law says

The airline must look after you if your flight is delayed, cancelled or if you are denied boarding on an overbooked flight.

If your journey is disrupted you may also be entitled to compensation.

These rules apply when you travel on charter and scheduled flights within European Union countries, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

When you check-in at the airline desk, look for information about the airline's help policy for passengers on a delayed flight. If the information is not on display, ask the airline check-in clerk.

Passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are legally entitled to help from the airport and airline.

Delayed flight

A flight is delayed if it is late departing by:

  • at least two hours on short haul flights, for example Belfast – London,
  • at least three hours on medium haul flights, for example Belfast – Faro
  • at least four hours on long haul flights, for example Belfast – New York

If your flight is delayed, the airline must provide you with:

  • meals
  • refreshments
  • two free telephone calls or emails

If your flight is delayed until the following day the airline must provide you with overnight accommodation.

Compensation for a delayed flight

If your flight is delayed, you may be entitled to compensation. The amount depends on the the length of the flight and the length of the delay.

Airlines pay the following compensation rates for delayed flights:

Flight distance

Delay in reaching destination airport

Compensation

Less than 1,500km More than three hours €250.00
1,500km to 3,500km More than three hours €400.00
More than 3,500km

More than three hours, less than four hours

More than four hours

€300.00

€600.00

Cancelled flight

If your flight is cancelled, you can choose either of the following:

  • a full refund which must be paid within seven days
  • an alternative flight to your final destination

If you choose the next flight, you are also entitled to the same help as a delayed passenger.

If your flight is cancelled you may also be entitled to compensation. You should note the new flight number and the length of time you were delayed in arriving at your destination airport. 

Compensation for a cancelled flight

Airlines pay the following compensation rates for cancelled flights:

Flight distance Impact on arrival time at destination airport Compensation
1,500km or less

Less than two hours

More than two hours

€125.00

€250.00

1,500km to 3,500km

Less than three hours

More than three hours

€200.00

€400.00

More than 3,500km

Less than four hours

More than four hours

€300.00

€600.00

You are not entitled to compensation if you are told of the cancellation:

  • at least two weeks before the departure date
  • between seven days and two weeks before the departure date and are offered alternative travel arrangements
  • less than seven days before the departure date and are offered alternative travel arrangements

If your flight is cancelled between seven days and two weeks before the departure date, the alternative flight must depart no more than two hours before your original departure time and get to your final destination less than four hours after your original arrival time.

If your flight is cancelled less than seven days before the departure date, the alternative flight must depart no more than one hour before your original departure time and arrive at your final destination less than two hours after your original arrival time

Passengers will not be entitled to compensation if the flight is cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances. However, they are still entitled to a full refund or alternative travel arrangements plus assistance.

No compensation in extraordinary circumstances

An airline doesn't pay compensation for a cancelled or delayed flight due to extraordinary circumstance such as:

  • bad weather
  • civil unrest
  • strike action
  • technical problems

Technical problems don't always amount to extraordinary circumstances. Ask the airline for more information about the technical problem. If you aren't satisfied with the airline's response, contact the Consumer Council.

The Consumer Council can investigate complaints on behalf of passengers travelling to or from a Northern Ireland airport. 

Find out more about making a complaint about air services and flights.

Denied boarding on an overbooked flight

Sometimes an airline overbooks a flight. Before passengers are denied boarding against their will, the airline must call for volunteers to give up their booked seats.

If you volunteer to give up your seat, the airline must offer you either a refund of your ticket or an alternative flight. You can also negotiate compensation with the airline.

If you do not volunteer and are denied boarding against your will, you must be offered a refund of your ticket or alternative flights to your destination. You are also entitled to immediate compensation from the airline.

Compensation when you're denied boarding on an overbooked flight

Airlines must pay compensation at the following rates:

Flight distance Impact on arrival time at destination airport Compensation
1,500km or less

Less than two hours

More than two hours

€125.00

€250.00

1,500km to 3,500km

Less than three hours

More than three hours

€200.00

€400.00

Over 3,500km

Less than four hours

More than four hours

€300.00

€600.00

Claiming compensation

Whether your flight has been delayed, cancelled or overbooked the airline should give you written information about the rules for compensation and assistance.

If you think that you are entitled to compensation you should contact your airline directly by letter or in an email telling them what went wrong and the amount of compensation you expect to receive.  

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint you can contact the Consumer Council.

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