UK Air Traffic Control Issue: Your Rights Explained

On Monday 28th August 2023, one of the busiest travel days of the year, hundreds of flights into and out of the UK were delayed or cancelled due to an air traffic control issue.

Here’s a quick rundown of the current situation and some helpful links to what your rights are if you have been affected by this.

uk air traffic control issue your rights explained

What is Causing UK Flight Delays?

A glitch in the UK air traffic control system has resulted in extensive flight delays, leaving numerous travellers stranded both on aircraft and within airport terminals. The operations of every airline within the UK have been impacted, resulting in more than a quarter of all UK flights being axed on Monday 28th August.

Has The Air Traffic Control Issue Been Fixed?

The National Air Traffic Services has said the fault has now been fixed, however, flights are still being affected. In addition, there are now thousands of customers who still need to reach their destination, and so we can expect disruption across the next few days.

What Airports Have Been Affected by the Air Traffic Control Issue?

Several UK airports have been experiencing delays and cancellations. According to data firm Cirium, on Monday 28th August, Heathrow had the highest number of cancellations, followed by Gatwick and Manchester.

Airports affected have advised that passengers check with their airline before travelling.

We advise you keep across updates by checking on any information that both your airport and airline are releasing, on both their website and social media. Please try not to call your airline helplines unless it is completely necessary – they will be very busy and you may have to wait a long time to get through to someone.

What Airlines Have Been Affected by The Air Traffic Control Issue?

Many airlines, including  Loganair, TUI, British Airways, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have reported delays and cancellations. You’re best to check your airline’s website and social media channels for updates on the issue.

How Long Will Flights be Affected by the Air Traffic Control Issue?

It’s expected that flights will be affected throughout this week and so we recommend keeping updated by keeping across the news – BBC and Sky News have been doing great summaries – and also checking your airline and airport’s social media and website.

Here's the baggage allowance and luggage limits for flight bookings with Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air, British Airways, Jet2 and TUI in 2023.

Explaining Your Rights

It’s important to recognise that there are 2 separate areas where your rights could kick when it comes to a delayed or cancelled flight:

  1. What the airline is legally bound to do when your flight is delayed or cancelled, no matter what the cause is.
  2. What compensation you are entitled to if your airline is at fault.
Often, people assume that if an issue is not the airline’s fault then they do not have any rights – this is not true! And whilst airlines should tell you what you have a right to, many are sharing incorrect information or simply omitting some of the options that they legally have to provide to their customers.
Therefore, the most important thing you can do in this situation is to know your rights.

What UK Laws Are There for Cancelled or Delayed Flights?

You have legal rights on many flights to, from and within the UK. As stated by CAA, the UK  aviation regulartor, your flight must be one of the following to be covered by UK law:

  • departing from an airport in the UK on any airline, or
  • arriving at an airport in the UK on an EU or UK airline; or
  • arriving at an airport in the EU on a UK airline.

If your flight does not fit into one of those categories, you will need to contact your airline. What you’ll be entitled to will depend on the airline, the terms of your ticket and the country you departed or arrived in.

The following rights are on the basis that your flight does fit into one of the above categories.

What Are My Rights if My Flight Has Been Cancelled?

If your flight has been cancelled, you legally have the right to choose between two options:

  1. Receive a refund
  2. Choose an alternative flight

For the latter, it’s important to know that it does not need to be a flight with the airline that you booked. In addition, it could be that you can take an alternative form of transport – such as a train – if that proves more suitable.

The airline should arrange this new travel for you. Check your emails for instructions – if given an option to rebook online, that may be the swiftest option for you to take. However, you may need to speak to a human being via your airline’s helpline, especially if they have not offered to book you on a flight that isn’t one of theirs.

You can find more information about both of these options on CAA‘s website.

What Right Do I Have to Food and Accommodation?

In addition to the above, airlines should provide the following whilst you wait for your flight:

  • A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers)
  • A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)
  • Accommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel)
  • Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there)

You can find out more information on the CAA website.

Chelsea checking in at nhow Hotel Rotterdam

What Are My Rights if My Flight Has Been Delayed?

Your rights will depend on your flight’s distance and how long you’ve been waiting for but in general, you must be provided with the following whilst you wait:

  • A reasonable amount of food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers)
  • A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)
  • Accommodation, if you are re-routed the next day (usually in a nearby hotel)
  • Transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there)

You can find more information about the distance and timings on the CAA website.

How Do I Claim Back the Costs I’ve Paid for Myself?

Frustratingly, many customers experiencing cancelled or delayed flights are unable to access their rights.

This may be because you cannot get in touch with your airline or aren’t offered what you have a right to. 

If this happens to you, I would try and get as much evidence as possible to show that you attempted to contact them – be that call logs, emails or otherwise.

Then, if you decide to make your own arrangements, be sure to get receipts of everything that you spend – try your best to get VAT receipts where you can – which you will then be able to claim back from your airline.

Do not buy anything that you do not have a right to (check above) and make sure your costs are reasonable. You will likely find yourself out of pocket if you splurge on a 5 star luxury hotel, or pay for alcohol as part of your meals.

However, if there are no reasonable options available, make sure you record/screenshot evidence of this. The more evidence you have, the more likely you will be to get your money back.

When you’re ready to make your claim, google your airline name followed by ‘cancellation claim’ – it is likely that they have an online form set up for you to submit your claim.

Do not go through the general customer service team, it will slow down your claim and may even get lost amidst more general airline complaints.

You can find out more information on the CAA website.

My Airline Have Rejected My Claim

If you don’t agree with your airline’s assessment of your claim, you can escalate your complaint via a third party.

You can find out more information about disputing rejected claims on the CAA website.

A couple were recently charged £55 after they had checked in for the wrong flight - but should they have been charged? And how do you avoid Ryanair charges like this?

Will I Be Able to Claim Compensation?

In addition to the above, there are circumstances where you can claim additional compensation if your flight has been delayed or cancelled.

However, this only kicks in when it’s the fault of the airline. Unfortunately, as this was an Air Traffic Control issue, it’s unlikely you will be able to claim this as the disruption is due to ‘exceptional circumstances out of the control of the airline’. 

We will keep you in the loop if this changes, so make sure you’re following over on Instagram or Twitter.

You can find out more information about claiming compensation on the CAA website.

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flight delayed or cancelled? your rights explained

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