Travel chaos: All you need to know if your flight is cancelled or delayed

Would-be travellers at Heathrow as the airport attempts to process passengers in time for their flights. Credit: PA

Holiday disruption is set to continue over the summer, with staff shortages and strike action keeping many flights grounded across UK airports.

There are fears that the severe disruption seen at airports in the run-up to Easter and the Jubilee bank holiday will return during the peak summer holiday period.

Gatwick Airport has already announced it is reducing the number of daily flights during its busy summer period to help tackle staffing issues.

The airport is planning to limit its number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August compared to a reported 900 daily flights during the same time period in previous years.

Meanwhile, passengers at Heathrow - the UK's largest airport - complained of queues and "total chaos" after the airport asked airlines to remove 30 flights from the schedule at the end of June.

Some passengers did not find out their flights were cancelled until they arrived as the airport ordered flights to be cancelled because it could not handle them.

Passengers queue to check-in for a Qatar Airways flight in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Credit: PA

The ongoing disruption comes as the aviation industry struggles to attract new workers after thousands were axed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here's what you need to know if you're one of the thousands affected:

I'm due to fly from or to Gatwick this summer, will the airport let me know my flight has been cancelled?

No, it's up to individual airlines to notify you if your flight has been cancelled or moved.

Affected customers should be notified in the next week or two.

If your flight is delayed what are you entitled to from the airline?

You may be able to claim compensation if your flight left from the UK, no matter which airline it was with.

Compensation could also be granted if your flight is arriving in the UK from a UK or EU airline, or if your flight should be arriving in the EU and was with a UK airline.

If your flight’s delayed for long enough, your airline has to give you:

  • Food and drink

  • Access to phone calls and emails

  • Accommodation if you’re delayed overnight - and journeys between the airport and the hotel

How long the delay has to be depends on the distance of the flight and the countries it's flying between.According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, journeys of less than 1,500km must be delayed by two hours, between 1,500km and 3,500km must be delayed by three hours, and journeys of more than 3,500km must be delayed by more than four hours.

The airline may provide vouchers to get these things at the airport.

If there is no help provided at the airport it is a good idea to keep receipts for expenses and try to claim from the airline later.

Airlines however will only pay for "reasonable" expenses - you are unlikely to get money back for alcohol, expensive meals or luxury hotels.

You're also entitled to compensation if your flight is delayed by three hours or more - an amount that will be dictated by the amount of time it was delayed and the distance you were scheduled to travel.

However, you're unlikely to receive compensation if the delay was due to something out of the provider's control, such as bad weather.

Queues to enter security at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday. Credit: PA/Diego Garcia Rodriguez

What if your flight is cancelled?

If your flight is cancelled you have the legal right to either a full refund or a replacement flight to get you to your destination.

If you're part-way through your journey, you also have the right to fly back to the airport you originally flew from.

The Citizens Advice Bureau advises asking for a refund or replacement at the airport if you can. If not, you can claim from the airline later.

An ABTA spokesperson said: “While the vast majority of people have been able to go on holiday in recent weeks, it can be disappointing and frustrating if you have been caught up in delays or cancellations but you do have rights.

"If your flight is cancelled with little notice then you have the right to an alternative flight with either your airline or a different airline, or you can ask for a refund and you then make your own arrangements.

"If you can’t fly back on the same day the airline should provide accommodation and food and drink, alternatively if your airline us unable to provide this you can make your own arrangements and then claim the money back from your airline up to a reasonable amount, so keep receipts.

"Depending on the reason for the cancellation you may be entitled to compensation which will be £220/€250 or more if your flight is longer.

"You may also be able to make a claim on your travel insurance for any delays or cancellations.”

Airlines are, however, being urged to review their summer timetables to ensure they are “deliverable."

To avoid a repeat of school holiday travel chaos, earlier cancellations are “better” than axing flights on the day of departure, the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority said in mid-June.

What rights do I have with my employer if I'm unable to make it back in time for work?

If an employee cannot get to work or is going to arrive late because of bad weather or transport problems, employment advisory body ACAS advises that they should tell their employer as soon as possible.

"Employees don’t have a legal right to be paid for working time they’ve missed due to travel disruption," Gary Wedderburn, Senior Advisor at ACAS explained. "It is a good idea for employers and employees to discuss and agree how any missing time will be treated. For example, taking extra days as holiday, unpaid leave or paid special leave. He added: “Different workplaces will have different policies, so it is always a good idea to check at the earliest opportunity.”

Angela Carter, legal director for employment consultant WorkNest advised:

  • If an employee is stuck in a different location due to flight delays or cancellations and they are unable to work they won’t be entitled to be paid, unless for some reason their employment contracts contain provision to be paid.

  • If they are unable to attend work due to circumstances outside their control, but this is very rare.

  • If the employer and employee agree, and assuming the employee has not exhausted their holiday entitlement for the year, this could be taken as holiday in order to be paid.

  • If the employee didn’t have any holiday to take or didn’t want to use holiday to cover the absence, then it would be treated as unpaid leave. 

  • If an employee is able to – and has the equipment to – work productively remotely then this is something which could be agreed with the employer and they would then be paid as normal.

  • However, it would be for the employer to take a view as to whether the employee is properly equipped and able to work remotely from abroad.

What happens if my children miss an exam because we were unable to get home?

As flights being cancelled leave families stuck abroad, some parents may worry that their children may miss exams.

David Game College Liverpool Principal Tom Davis said: "With regard to the joint Council for Qualifications guidance, it’s important to bear in mind that the approach being taken this year is a bit different to the last two years now that normal exams have resumed.

"In previous years there may have been an opportunity to resit examinations in the autumn but this year there is no such opportunity."

Limited cases of students may be able to apply for "special consideration" if they miss their exams, but holidays are specifically excluded from this process.

Mr Davis added: "Sadly the only option available for students will be to take the exams at the next available opportunity, which will be January 2023.

"Our advice is that students look at it this way: rather than being thrown into examinations immediately after the travel disruption when they will be stressed, they will now have time between now and January to really prepare and get themselves in the best position to achieve the highest possible grades."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know