Tens of thousands of British Airways passengers have been caught up in the latest round of disruption involving the airline’s IT systems. More than 100 short-haul flights to and from the carrier’s main base have been canceled or diverted, while thousands of long-haul passengers endured overnight waits.
Fortunately, the law makes it clear that BA must get people where they need to be as soon as possible, provide hotels and meals as appropriate, and pay compensation to any passenger who arrives three hours or more behind schedule.
These are the key obligations for any airline that cancels a flight at short notice or suffers long delays.
My flight has been cancelled. When can I expect to get to my destination?
You are entitled to travel on the original day of departure, if there is any commercial way of getting you to your destination. You should give the canceling airline the opportunity to arrange a new flight (or, for destinations such as Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam, a Eurostar train).
For British Airways, the general number to call to request this is 0344 493 0787.
I have been offered an alternative in two days’ time. Can’t I get there any sooner?
And it is. Airlines understandably want to keep passengers on their own services, but there are clear limits. The Civil Aviation Authority says that if the canceling airline has another flight on the same day, it can rebook you on that (and provide meals while you wait).
This extends to sister airlines (in the case of British Airways, for example, that could include Aer Lingus, Iberia or Qatar Airways). But if none is available, then the canceling airline must buy you a ticket on another airline.
Some passengers say they have been told by British Airways staff that this is only possible with “partner” airlines. This is nonsense: all carriers must be considered.
If the canceling airline cannot or will not meet its obligation, you should buy a ticket and then claim it back.
What if the replacement flight is from or to a different airport?
In addition to buying you a ticket, the canceling airline must also provide or pay for any additional ground transportation. For example, if your flight to Naples is canceled from Heathrow and the only alternative departure that day is on easyJet from Gatwick, then the airline should provide transport (probably the National Express bus).
If you are not given help, again you can pay and reclaim – but do all you can to keep the cost down. A taxi would not be reasonable and appropriate unless, say, you are in a group of four.
I am delayed overnight and need hotel accommodation
Again, the canceling airline must provide this – plus transport to and from the airport. If it does not do so, you should make your own arrangements, seeking to minimize the cost as much as possible. Some airlines impose arbitrary caps on the cost of a room, eg £200 for two people. This is unenforceable. For example, if the only room at a mid-range airport hotel is £250, the airline must pay.
What about meals?
Oddly, the time at which an airline’s obligation to provide you with “a reasonable amount of food and drink” kicks in depends on the length of the journey.
- Under 1,500km: two hours
- 1,500km-3,500km: three hours
- Over 3,500km: four hours.
Typically passengers are given a voucher for a certain spend. If this is clearly inadequate (eg just enough for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps for a six-hour delay) then you can claim for reasonable additional expenditure – but not alcohol.
Am I entitled to compensation?
That depends on the cause of the delay, and applies only if you arrive (and an aircraft door is opened) at least three hours after the original arrival time.
In the case of an IT meltdown at British Airways, or any kind of technical problem on any airline, you are due cash compensation.
Again, there is a sliding scale.
- Under 1,500km: £220
- 1,500km-3,500km: £350
- Over 3,500km: £520 (unless the delay was between three and four hours, in which case it is £260).
Airlines generally have a portal on their website for these claims, though often it is not easy to find. In the case of British Airways, this is the correct link.