How to get Compensation from an Airline

It’s that time of year when people are booking holidays abroad and looking forward to some sunshine in a country that is warmer and drier than the United Kingdom! For most of us, everything goes to plan and we enjoy a week (or more) of fun and relaxation.

But on occasions things do go wrong, as I discovered myself a few years ago when flying to Venice from Manchester Airport, and we were not allowed onto the flight because of a problem at the check-in desk. (It’s a long story which I’ll save for another article!)

So if things go wrong and you’re not able to fly, then what can you do to get your money back? Obviously, I’m talking about instances where this is the airline’s fault. If you are simply late for your flight, then you might be able to claim the money back off your insurance company, but that would depend on the reasons for missing the flight - and most insurance companies are quite strict regarding what they consider to be a 'legitimate reason' for being late.


What to do when it’s the airline’s fault

What can you do to get compensation when you’re unable to fly, and the problem is clearly the fault of the airline? Here is a handy guide to the actions you can take to get your money back.

1) Firstly, complain to the airline directly. You might need to log into your online account with them to use the airline’s online chat service to start the complaint process, because often the airline will only reveals its contact details once you do so.

2) You can use free complaints tool Resolver to help you submit an official complaint if you're struggling to reach the airline’s customer services team immediately.

3) If the airline won't help you, you can complain to AviationADR. In this scenario you will need to have already complained to the airline and given it at least eight weeks to respond. AviationADR is an alternative dispute resolution scheme (ADR) that helps resolve complaints between airlines and passengers.

4) You could also try complaining to the industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority but it's unlikely to consider complaints where the airline already has an ADR scheme in place.

5) You could try a Chargeback if you paid on a debit card, or credit card if your flight was less than £100, but the airline might dispute it, so a Section 75 claim (see point 6 below) is likely to be a better option. Chargeback is not a legal right and you only have 120 days from when your flight was due to make a claim. In addition, with Chargeback the card provider claims the money back from the airline’s bank, and this means the airline can dispute it. In the past, some airlines - for example Ryanair - have been known to allow Chargeback claims but then barred some customers from boarding new flights unless they return the money.

6) If you paid by credit card then you can use Section 75, which is a legal right if your flight was more than £100. Here, your credit card provider is jointly liable with the retailer if something goes wrong and it's your card provider that pays out any refunds (it doesn't need to request the money from the bank of the airline involved).

7) If all else fails, you could take the airline to Money Claims Online. You can take your claim to court if it's within six years of the flight (five years in Scotland). Often, simply letting the airline know that you intend to take them to court is enough to get your money back, without actually doing so.

8) If you do end up having to take them to court, then the process is simply a matter of filling out an online form, and paying a fee (between £35 - £455 depending on the size of your claim). If you win, then you will get this fee back. If your case goes through the ‘small claims track’ in civil court (which is likely), then you don’t need a solicitor, and you can do it all yourself quite easily.

If you lose the case then you don’t get your fee back and you might need to pay expenses. But you would not incur any legal costs. (NB: there is a rare chance that your case could be moved to a more senior court where you could also be charged legal fees if you lose. But in this unlikely scenario, you would be told in advance before it happened, giving you the opportunity to pull out before the case goes to court).

© 2023 Darren Bugg LLB (Hons) MA

PLEASE NOTE: although I have an honours degree in Law, and once worked in legal publishing, the advice given above is purely for information purposes. If in doubt, then consult a qualified practising solicitor before taking any legal action against an airline.

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