Each year millions of passengers fly to and from Northern Ireland’s airports. The Consumer Council works closely with airlines and our airports to ensure each passenger receives high standards of service at all stages of their journey. We believe it is essential that consumers can easily compare prices between airlines to get the best deal when booking their flights and we work with government to ensure airlines are clear with regards to the fares they charge. The Consumer Council believes it is important that passengers are aware of their rights and responsibilities when flying and we work to inform them of their entitlements if their flights are disrupted by delays or cancellations. Click on the links below for more information.
When booking flights online, consumers often end up paying more at the checkout page than they expected. The cost of flying can increase significantly once additional charges are added to the “low” fares advertised.
Template letters for making a complaint
The Consumer Council has produced a series of template letters to help consumers with their air travel complaints. Click on the links below to download the letters. If you would like further help or advice, call the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or download a copy of Plane Facts, the essential guide to air travel below.
Air passengers are legally entitled to assistance if their flight is delayed, cancelled or if they are denied boarding to their flight (passenger rights are protected by European Regulation 261/2004)
If your flight is delayed you are entitled to the following depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight:
Free meals and refreshments (relative to length of delay) and two free telephone calls, emails or faxes if you are delayed for:
- Two hours or more for flights up to 1500km in distance (e.g. Belfast City – London Heathrow)
- Three hours or more for flights 1500-3500km in distance (e.g. Belfast International – Faro)
- Four hours or more for flights over 3500km (e.g. Belfast International – New York)
- If your flight is delayed for five hours or more, you are entitled to reimbursement of the price of your ticket if you decide not to travel.
- If your flight is delayed overnight you are entitled to free hotel accommodation and transfers to and from the hotel.
- Assistance must be provided regardless of whether or not the reason for the delay is outside the airline’s control, for example because of bad weather.
If your flight is delayed you may also be entitled to financial compensation as set out below:
|Length of flight||Delay in reaching your destination||Compensation|
|Less than 1,500km||More than three hours||£200 (€250)|
|1,500km to 3,500km||More than three hours||£320 (€400)|
|More than 3,500km||More than three hours but less than four hours||£240 (€300)|
|More than 3,500km||More than four hours||£480 (€600)|
However, you have no right to financial compensation if the airline can prove the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances such as severe weather conditions, strike action, security alerts or civil unrest which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
If your flight is cancelled for any reason the airline must offer you a choice between a full refund and an alternative flight. If the cancellation is for one leg of the journey (e.g. the return flight), you will only be refunded for this part of the ticket.
If you choose the option of an alternative flight the airline must provide you with meals and refreshments (relative to length of delay), telephone calls, emails etc and where appropriate, hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel. This assistance must be provided regardless of the reason for the cancellation.
If your flight is cancelled you may also be entitled to financial compensation as set out below:
|Distance of flight||Impact on arrival time to final destination||Compensation|
|1500km or less||Less than 2 hours||£100 (€125)|
|More than 2 hours||£200 (€250)|
|1500km – 3,500km||Less than 3 hours||£160 (€200)|
|More than 3 hours||£320 (€400)|
|More than 3,500km||Less than 4 hours||£240 (€300)|
|More than 4 hours||£480 (€600)|
However, you have no right to financial compensation if the airline can prove the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances such as severe weather conditions, strike action, security alerts or civil unrest which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
The airline is also not required to pay financial compensation if it has informed you of the cancellation:
- At least 2 weeks before the scheduled time of departure;
- Between 2 weeks and 7 days before the scheduled departure time and you have been offered an alternative flight which departs no more than 2 hours before the original departure time and allows you to reach your final destination less than 4 hours after the original arrival time;
- Less than 7 days before the scheduled departure time and you are offered an alternative flight departing no more than 1 hour before your original scheduled departure time and which allows you to reach your final destination less than 2 hours after the original scheduled arrival time.
Denied boarding (when the airline overbooks a flight)
When an airline has overbooked a flight they must first call for volunteers to give up their seats before they prevent passengers boarding the plane. If you decide to give up your seat willingly you must be offered the opportunity to negotiate benefits from the airline. European law does not specify what these benefits are, except that they must be agreed between the passenger concerned and the airline. These benefits cannot replace your right to a refund for the price of your original ticket or re-routing.
If there are insufficient volunteers and you are denied boarding, the airline must immediately provide you with compensation which is set at the same limit as for cancelled flights (see above). You must also be offered a choice between a full refund and an alternative flight. In addition you must be provided with meals and refreshments, telephone calls and where appropriate, hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel.
In all cases of denied boarding, cancelled or delayed flights:
- You should be fully informed of your rights at check-in.
- You should receive a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and the contact details of the enforcement body responsible for enforcing the regulation (in the UK the enforcement body is the Civil Aviation Authority, Telephone - 020 7379 7311, website - www.caa.co.uk).
- Refunds should be paid within 7 days.
- Visually impaired passengers should be given the information in an alternative format.
Plane facts - click here to download your free copy
Financially protecting your holiday
If you are booking your holiday through a travel agent or a tour operator (a company specialising in package holidays) always check they have an ATOL licence (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing). This scheme means you will not lose your money if the tour operator goes out of business before you fly and protects you from being stranded abroad if the company goes bust when you are on holiday.
If you are uncertain whether your holiday is protected under the ATOL scheme, check with the Civil Aviation Authority on 020 7453 6700 or visit the ATOL website www.atol.org.uk.
If you book a flight directly from an airline and the airline goes out of business, you may not be able to fly, could lose your money and may have to pay for another flight. Always make sure you have adequate travel insurance that offers you compensation if this happens.
Shop around for the best deal - you can now get travel insurance from a range of places including supermarkets, the Post Office and on various websites. Make sure the policy covers cancellations, changes to your booking and if the tour operator or airline goes out of business.
Click here to download the Consumer Council's travel insurance checklist.
A credit card offers further protection
If you use a credit card to pay for a holiday or flight costing more than £100, you have added protection and can claim from the credit card company if the tour operator, travel agent or airline goes out of business. Remember that a debit card does not offer the same protection as a credit card, although some such as Visa Debit do provide some protection. For more information contact your credit or debit card provider.
Where you stand when an airline goes bust
If the airline you are due to travel with has gone into administration your level of financial protection will depend on how you booked your flight.
If you booked your flight through a tour operator as part of a package you will be ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected which means you will get a refund if you haven’t already flown. If you are already on holiday you should be able to complete your holiday and your tour operator should make arrangements for your return home.
If you booked your flight directly with the airline you are not ATOL protected so your money will not be protected and the airline does not have to provide a refund or make arrangements for your return home if already on holiday.
If you have travel insurance, check the terms and conditions of the policy to see if it covers airline bankruptcy / failure.
If you have booked by credit card you should have some protection as the liability is shared between the airline and the credit card company. Protection is available if the price of your flight is £100 or more. Each flight purchased on a credit card is considered under law as an individual purchase, for example, if you purchase 4 flights costing £30 on your credit card, you will not be protected.