Air traffic control flight cancellations: What are my rights for Scotland? Can I claim a refund for cancelled flights? Can I book alternative flights?

Edinburgh Airport - Scotland's busiest - had one third of its 321 flights cancelled on Monday by the air traffic control problems, around 20 on Tuesday, but none confirmed cancelled for that reason on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/TheScotsman)
Edinburgh Airport - Scotland's busiest - had one third of its 321 flights cancelled on Monday by the air traffic control problems, around 20 on Tuesday, but none confirmed cancelled for that reason on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/TheScotsman)

Tens of thousands of air passengers in Scotland have been disrupted by this week’s major UK air traffic control fault which grounded up to one in three flights at the country’s major airports – but what rights do travellers who have been caught up have?

The bad news is that, according to consumer group Which?, they are not entitled to compensation because the problem is classed as “extraordinary circumstances”.

However, the good news is that airlines still have a responsibility to look after their passengers while they are delayed, according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which regulates the industry.

What do I have a right to expect from my airline if my flight is disrupted or I’m stranded?

The CAA said they should provide you with meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation. “If airlines cannot do this, you can organise your own meals and accommodation then claim costs back,” its joint interim chief executive Rob Bishton said.

The regulator’s website said that covered anyone whose flight has been delayed or cancelled from a UK airport, arriving in the country on an EU or UK airline, or arriving at an EU airport on a UK airline.

It stated: ”Passengers are eligible for support if they are affected by a ‘significant delay’ - more than two hours for a short-haul flight of under 1,500km, more than three hours for medium-haul of up to 3,500km, and more than four hours for long-haul flights.

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Airlines must provide a reasonable amount of food and drink (normally in the form of vouchers), refunds for the cost of calls and accommodation for passengers stuck overnight and transport to a hotel or their home. This must be provided until you are able to fly, no matter how long the delay lasts.

Which? said airlines had a duty of care to passengers who are delayed or face cancellation, regardless of the reason. It also stressed that even if there were no airline staff on hand or contactable by phone to ask about accommodation, “that doesn't change your right."

It advised passengers in that situation who are stranded overnight to book their own accommodation and claim it back, as long as that was “reasonable" rather than a luxury stay.

Can I book an alternative flights and claim it back?

The CAA said: “We are engaging with airlines and know that more flights are being provided, but in circumstances where this has not been possible due to the volume of passengers, consumers can book their own alternative air travel and claim the cost back from their airline.

“If you end up paying for things yourself or booking your own replacement flight or hotel, keep every receipt and make sure your claim is not excessive.”

Can I claim a refund for a cancelled flight?

Which? said passengers had the right to choose between a refund to your ticket or be re-routed "at the earliest opportunity".

It said: "That can mean on the same airline if that's possible, but it can also mean with a rival airline, or via different routes if they can fly you via a hub to where you're going.”

But the consumer group warned that airlines “routinely” ignored that rule and passengers “had to be very insistent to get them to act on it." It said airlines booking stranded travellers on flights a week later was “not on”.

It said: “You should go back and challenge the airline about that. If you find an alternate airline can get you home earlier, you should go to your airline, tell them, and if they refuse to rebook, you should do it yourself if you have the money and claim it back from them."

Should I consider paying for an airport lounge if delayed?

Which? warned passengers that lounges may be very busy during disruption, so it’s worth checking before paying if you’re looking for a “bastion of peace and quiet”.

It also advised travellers to check whether their credit card or insurance providers offered free lounge access. It said O2 customers whose flight was delayed by at least one hour could get complimentary access to 1,200 airport lounges at more than 500 airports through its SmartDelay scheme.

How should I make a claim?

Which? said claims should be made through the airline you booked with, but warned it could take a long time because they often “drag their heels".

It advised passengers who did not receive a response or had their claim refused to consider alternative dispute resolution (ADR): "All of the airlines are required and signed up to these third-party ADR bodies. You supply your information, the airline supplies their information and they decide whether your expenses or compensation should be paid out."

Financial advice publication Forbes Advisor said some travel insurance covered delayed and cancelled flights, but certain policies only paid out after a minimum period, such as 24 hours.