Planes, trains and auto refunds

As summer holiday travel hit its peak this month, train strikes and air traffic control issues left thousands of stranded travellers seeking compensation

This week, hundreds of thousands of passenger flights from UK airports were delayed or cancelled after a problem with air traffic control systems. At the same time, the rail network largely shut down as another strike action was held, affecting most rail operators.

So much for a relaxing bank holiday.

For consumers, the costs were high. Additional bills, lots of stress and lost plans. But consumer protections mean that you may be able to claim compensation for flights and train journeys that were cancelled at short notice.

What are my rights if my flight is cancelled?

For airline customers, the general rule is that you can claim between £220 and £520 in compensation if your flight is delayed by more than three hours or cancelled – the length of your flight will determine how much you can claim. Your airline must also offer you the option of another flight, which it must find for you, so that you can make your journey as soon as possible after the cancelled flight.

Unfortunately, for those affected by the air traffic control issue last weekend, this rule doesn’t apply. The disruption counts as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, and travellers are not eligible for compensation if it wasn’t their airline’s fault.

Airlines have a responsibility to get you home and look after you while you wait. If you end up paying for a hotel, meals or a replacement flight you can claim the cost of this back from the airline.

Some will find that their travel insurance will cover the cost of replacement flights, but this varies from policy to policy – check with your provider. In most circumstances, travel insurance won’t pay out for things the airline is legally required to cover, such as hotel rooms and refreshments, and most charge an excess.

However, for passengers that rebook onto later flights that are also cancelled or delayed, there may be a chance of claiming compensation from the airline, especially if other carriers seem to be operating as normal. It’s worth putting in a claim in these circumstances.

What happens if my train is delayed?

For train travellers, getting money back after the strike weekend is more straightforward. If your train is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund from the company you bought your ticket from.

You may also be entitled to a full refund or compensation if you arrive late to your destination due to delayed or cancelled trains.

Most companies operate a ‘Delay Repay’ scheme to make it easier to claim compensation for delays caused by late or cancelled trains. You can use Delay Repay for all ticket types – including season tickets – and whatever the cause of the delay. But you won’t be able to claim using Delay Repay if you were told about the delay before buying your ticket. 

Train companies who do not follow the Delay Repay scheme will still offer compensation. But they don’t need to offer compensation if the delay was not caused by the rail industry – for example, due to bad weather or trespassing on the line.

Always remember to make your claim, whether through Delay Repay or direct to the train operator – within 28 days of your delay.

And remember: the impact of a train that arrives late by 10 minutes could result in you being delayed for much longer if you miss a connecting train. It is the delay in reaching your destination that counts when claiming.

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