How Far Back Can You Go Claiming Flight Delay Compensation

Under EU legislation (specifically EU Rule 261/2004), if you suffer from a delayed flight you are likely to be eligible for compensation.

However, airlines do not like to advertise this fact and they certainly don’t want to make it easy to claim. One area that is often shrouded in mystery is the length of time anyone unfortunate enough to be delayed has in which to make a claim.

What is the reality, what does legislation say, how long do you have to make a claim for flight delay compensation?

To answer this question, we will focus on the UK. It is also worth noting that whatever form Brexit takes, this regulation will not be affected as things stand.

The simple answer here is that you have six years to claim within England and Wales and five in Scotland (this because of differences in the statute of limitations in Scotland as opposed to England / Wales).

This period is from the date of the flight and should relate to when you start your claim although this will partly depend on how you start your claim. 

If you use a professional company who specialise in flight delay compensation, they will know how to start the case and get it registered, thus freezing the clock. 

If, however, a claimant were to go it alone they might fall foul of airline delaying tactics, these extending the period between delayed flight and resolution – potentially in court. This will be pushing the distance from flight to claim beyond six years, thus automatically seeing it thrown out.

Don’t Fall Foul Of Airline Tactics

As mentioned, airlines typically try to avoid paying compensation for delayed flights – flights are so often delayed that their compensation payouts would be huge if always honoured.

To avoid paying what passengers are rightfully owed, they use a few common tactics.

One is to suggest that the time limit is less than six years. In many cases, passengers will contact an airline to enquire about compensation only to be told that the flight occurred more than two years ago and so is not subject to compensation.

This is simply an untruth, yet it works in many cases. We all have a natural tendency to believe authority, experts and what we are told.

A second tactic is to attempt to greatly reduce the payout, often by encouraging people to act quickly. In many cases, this will happen at the airport itself, in a scenario that goes like:

  • A family suffer from a delayed flight. They approach the desk to ask about the delay.
  • The delay grows, it is now several hours
  • The family ask for further updates and also now enquire about compensation, a fairly vague enquiry, maybe just knowing that they are due something
  • At this stage, the airline representative might be able to make an offer, this likely to be in the form of vouchers off future flights, or a small cash amount in no way in keeping with the actual figure that should be available.

Why would the airline do this, why make compensation easy?

The answer is that they are limiting their exposure. Anyone agreeing to compensation at this stage forgoes any right they have to further compensation. 

A family of four might have a claim for close to £2,000 if they followed the correct procedure; instead the airline might have got away with giving them just a small amount if flight vouchers

How To Claim for Flight Delay Compensation

Sourcing compensation at the airport itself might be the wrong approach, but what is the correct way to do it?

With airlines keen to fight claims and make them as difficult as possible to pursue, how can any delayed passenger get the money to which they are entitled?

A key question here is to ascertain whether the type of delay is one that is eligible to compensation. As a general rule, airlines have to pay compensation for matters that are under their control and not for things that might be termed exceptional circumstances.

A non-exhaustive list would look like:

Flight compensation applicable

  • Flight delayed because of staffing issues at that airline – for example cabin crew late, lack of check-in staff that leads to a delay
  • A technical issue grounding the plane
  • Passengers who are bumped because of overcrowding would be eligible to compensation
  • The flight missing its departure slot for a reason that is the airline’s fault or under their control

Flight delay compensation non applicable

  • Staffing issues not related to the airline – for example a baggage handler strike
  • extreme weather conditions 
  • Security incidents at the airport

The length of the delay is also a factor and this, coupled with the flight distance will determine not only if compensation is applicable, but also the amount. 

We have written on this topic before and also produced the handy table below:

Delay to your arrival Flight distance Compensation
3 hours or more Less than 1,500km €250

Between 1,500km and 3,500km €400

More than 1,500km and within the EU €400
3-4 hours More than 3,500km, between an EU and non-EU airport €300
4 hours or more More than 3,500km, between an EU and non-EU airport €600

Assuming your flight was delayed because of a factor related to that airline, and the delay was of at least three hours, you then have the battle to actually get paid.

Options For Claiming Flight Delay Compensation

There are three options here, but one can be ruled out immediately. That is to hire a lawyer to fight the case.

This option is expensive and can even lead to a loss as you might hire someone’s services and yet end up without compensation. You will still have to pay them.

It is also worth noting that they cannot win you extra compensation, the top figures are set by EU law. The compensation cannot rise to a figure that justifies their expense.

The second option is to go it alone. This method can work, but the airline will fight at every step and make the process laborious and time consuming. They might also take steps to see it enters court, with the paperwork required to fight and stress.

For the airlines, it is a numbers game, by making the process as difficult as possible, they work the numbers in their favour, leading to the majority of claimants quietly dropping out. That is not to say you cannot get compensation this way, much will depend on the airline itself and your willingness to dedicate many, many hours to the cause.

The third option is to use a professional specialist such as our services at FlightReclaim.

At Flight Reclaim, helping passengers file complaints and get compensation for delays (and other issues) is what we do.

We know how to make the complaints and we have an overwhelming success rate, with compensation received in 98% of cases – this equating to more than £20 million in compensation spread across some 50,000 passengers.

On the independent TrustPilot, we have superb reviews from hundreds of passengers we have helped.

Unlike using a lawyer, we operate on a fully no win, no fee basis and also have a far greater likelihood of achieving a quick result. The airlines know we will follow the correct procedure, know that we know their tricks and so know that they are best served simply paying out quickly rather than wasting their own and time and money in blocking.

Next steps

If you have suffered from a flight that has been delayed and would like to see if you are eligible for compensation, please simply fill in a few simple details – this is on an obligation-free basis.

You can also get more information on this site about whether your flight is likely to qualify for compensation and also compensation available for other disruptions – for example if you are ever bumped from an over-booked flight.

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