AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Problems with holiday flights



All manner of things can go wrong with arrangements people make. In the case of a holiday, the problem is that consumers have often paid a large sum of money before they have enjoyed the holiday. If something happens which will prevent them from having a holiday at all or will reduce their enjoyment of the holiday, they must have a means of mitigating their losses or receiving compensation where appropriate.

What you can do

Since there are many people taking flights every day, some of them are bound to encounter problems. If you have cause to complain, you should proceed as follows in order to be sure that you are heard:

  • Speak to someone immediately.
  • If they cannot help you, try to establish who is responsible for whatever caused the problem.
  • Take a note of the time, location and names of people you are dealing with.
  • If possible, note the names and addresses of other holidaymakers who witnessed the incident.
  • Set down your complaint in writing. Stick to the point, be factual and don't include irrelevant comments. Explain what went wrong and say what you would like to be done about it. Set a deadline by which time the matter should be resolved.
  • Send the letter to the customer services department of the airline or tour operator. Sending the letter to the chief executive will only delay matters.
  • Keep a copy of all receipts and other evidence as well as a full chronology.
  • Consider whether your holiday insurance policy covers what you're complaining about. If so, consider whether you can claim and be aware of any deadlines that apply to such claims.

If the airline or relevant company does not deal with the matter to your satisfaction, consider whether you should complain to any of the following bodies:

ATOL - The Air Traffic Organisers' Licensing

ABTA - The Association of British Travel Agents

AITO - The Association of Independent Tour Operators.

For more information, see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.

Flight problems

If the tour operator alters some significant aspects of your holiday after you have booked, by either moving you to a different hotel, or drastically altering the times of the flights, they are likely to be in breach of contract. You should either be given a full refund or an option to cancel if you wish. If it is possible to change the booking with the same operator, you should let the operator know that, although this is far from satisfactory, you will try to see how the holiday provided compares with the one you had originally booked. If it turns out to be unsatisfactory, you can complain and seek compensation on your return.

If you experience problems with air travel, where you should address your complaint will depend on whether you have chosen to travel by a charter flight or a scheduled one. With charter flights, the contract is with the tour operator, while in scheduled flights, it is with the airline itself. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, the airline must either offer you an alternative flight or your money back. If you accept the alternative arrangement and are delayed because of this, you are entitled to compensation.

If you are simply not allowed to go on the correct flight because of overbooking, you may be entitled to compensation under the Denied Boarding Compensation EC regulations. The amount awarded will depend on the period of delay and the length of flight. For example, under the regulations, a sum of some £200 may be awarded for a delay of over 4 hours for a flight of over 3,500 km. In addition, you should be compensated for the expense of getting the message to your destination, for any meals and refreshments and any hotel accommodation if there is an overnight delay.