Flight delayed or cancelled due to UK air traffic control issue? Your compensation rights explained

Passengers queue inside the departures terminal of Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London in July 2023.
Passengers queue inside the departures terminal of Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London in July 2023. Copyright REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
By Charlotte EltonRita Palfi
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Hundreds of flights have been cancelled or delayed due to a UK air traffic control issue, but knowing your rights could help you secure a refund, compensation or alternative flight.


Passengers flying to and from the UK faced major disruption on Monday due to a technical issue with aircraft control.

The UK's national air traffic services (Nats) apologised for the interruption caused and said it has "identified and remedied" the technical issue affecting its planning system.

“We are now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible” it said in a statement.

However, thousands of passengers are still facing delays.

It’s the busiest time of the year for air travel as many summer holidays wrap up and it’s a UK bank holiday.

If you’ve been affected, what are you entitled to?

What should I do if my flight is cancelled because of the UK air traffic issue?

If your flight is cancelled you have the right to choose between a refund, rerouting or return. If you choose any of these three options you no longer have rights to the other two.

The airline is required to try and get you to your destination as soon as possible even if this involves travelling with a different carrier. 

The airline might not be able to offer to reroute you or provide you with a return under comparable transport conditions at the earliest opportunity. In this case, it has to reimburse your flight cost.

If the airline does not give you the choice to rebook your ticket but you buy another ticket to get home under comparable transport conditions, they have to give you the price difference between your original ticket and the costs of the new ticket.

You are still entitled to the choice if the cancellation happens after the aircraft took off but was forced to return to the airport of departure.

If you accept rerouting it is no longer considered a cancellation, but a delay. Don’t forget that you can choose the date; you do not have to take the earliest possible journey. 

Airlines are also required to give you a choice when reimbursing you between cash or a voucher.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File
Travellers queue at security at Heathrow Airport in London, Wednesday, June 22, 2022.AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File

What happens if my flight is delayed?

You have slightly different rights if your flight is delayed and some of them depend on the duration of the delay and the distance of your trip. 

You have the right to assistance when the delay is at least two hours at departure, and to reimbursement and a return flight when the delay is at least five hours.

If your flight is delayed at departure by two hours for journeys of less than 1,500km long, three hours for flights between 1,500 and 3,000km or four hours on any other flight, then you have the right to additional assistance. 

The airline must offer you meals, refreshments, accommodation and transfers to accommodation if needed. You also have the right to free telephone calls, emails or, yes, faxes.

If you have to pay for any of these, the airline should reimburse you - just remember to keep the receipts and not to spend more than reasonable. It is unlikely that you''ll be refunded for luxury hotels or alcohol.


Are all cancelled flights entitled to compensation?

The UK Civil Aviation Authority says "if it wasn’t the airline’s fault, don’t expect to receive any compensation. 

"Disruptions caused by things like extreme weather, airport or air traffic control employee strikes or other ‘extraordinary circumstances’ are not eligible for compensation."

However in other circumstances that are the airline's fault and your flight is cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date you could be entitled to compensation.

This amounts to €250 per person for flights of 1,500km or less, and €400 for flights between 1,500 and 3,500km. For all flights longer than 3,500km, it’s €600.

It also means that if two weeks prior to your trip you do not get a notification to say it has been cancelled, the chances that your flight will take off are higher. 


You could also be entitled to compensation if you arrive at your destination with more than a three hour delay. Like with cancellations, the amount depends on the flight distance. 

A flight information board shows cancelled flights due to a strike on June 20, 2022 at Brussels International Airport.FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP

Which flights can I get compensation for?

Whether you are protected by EU regulations depends on a number of factors but it might not be as clear-cut as you think.

EU Regulations apply when:

  • Your flight is within the EU, no matter what airline operates it
  • Your flight arrives in the EU from outside and is operated by an EU airline
  • Your flight departs from the EU, no matter what airline operates it

For any kind of complaint or claim to be successful, it's essential that it wasn’t your fault that you couldn’t get on the flight. Make sure you arrive at at the airport at least two hours before the departure time and have a valid ticket and confirmed reservation. 

Flight-free alternatives this winter

If you haven’t already booked a flight, why not consider other options?


With a rail network stretching more than 200,000 km, Europe is a paradise for train travellers.

So why not check out Italy or Spain through a train window instead?

It’s better for the planet, too - according to the European Environment Agency, rail travel accounts for 14 grams of CO2 emissions per passenger mile. Air travel generates 285 grams over the same distance.

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