Gatwick Airport drone chaos: Can I get compensation?

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter

  • Published
Sleeping at GatwickImage source, EPA

Passengers whose travel plans continue to be disrupted at Gatwick after the runway was closed for 36 hours are facing extra costs from rearranged flights, car parking and hotels.

Although the circumstances that caused the disruption - drones flown around the runway - are unusual, there are still specific rights for air travellers.

Will I get any extra compensation?

It is important to note that extra compensation, which is normally paid under EU rules if the delay is the fault of the airline, will not be paid in this case, as the closure of Gatwick was beyond the airlines' control.

The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed this incident is "an extraordinary circumstance", so no extra compensation should be paid.

To be clear, that does not mean that passengers should be completely left out of pocket. It is the airline's responsibility to get anyone with a ticket to their destination, unless the passenger accepts a refund instead.

What are my rights if my flight is cancelled?

The airline has a duty of care to passengers in this situation. That means they must look after their customers until they can get them on an alternative flight to their destination.

That might be a re-routed flight, perhaps including a stopover, or the soonest possible flight now Gatwick has reopened. They can put customers on a flight with a different airline.

If the alternative flight leaves or arrives at a different airport, the airline must transport passengers to the original departure or arrival point without charge.

Some passengers will choose to take a refund instead, but Adam French, of consumer group Which?, says that the airline's duty of care ends at that moment. That means someone who takes the refund and books their own - more expensive - alternative flight is unlikely to have the difference reimbursed.

Is it the same if my flight is delayed?

If a flight is still expected to depart, but late, then passengers will initially have to wait rather than be put on an alternative flight.

However, for delays of more than five hours, passengers get the same rights as they would if the flight was cancelled. So, after five hours, they could be offered a refund or an alternative flight. That will be true of many passengers now.

How does my travel insurance come into play?

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC that he hoped insurers would take "an enlightened view" about payouts.

"This is something that should be covered under travel insurance policies. We will talk to the insurance industry today to make sure they treat claims reasonably," he said.

However, not all policies cover disruption or so-called travel abandonment. Sometimes this requires the customer to tick a box when applying for a travel policy.

Policies may cover the extra costs that airlines do not pick up - such as a hotel stay or car hire overseas - and insurers have said they want to honour that, despite the unusual circumstances.

Travel insurance claims should be a last resort. Any claims for extra costs should first be made to the airline.

Image source, PA

How can I check if my flight is affected?

Gatwick says that passengers should not travel to the airport without checking the status of the flight with the airline first. Many airlines send out automatic alerts.

There is also searchable live flight information published on the Gatwick Airport website.

What happens if I miss a connecting flight?

The airline must get you from A to B, so they must put you on the next possible flight to your intended destination.

Travel organisation Abta says a "through" ticket is legally treated as one contract, so your initial carrier will be obliged to get you a replacement onward-bound flight.

However, if you purchased the two tickets separately you should contact the second airline for assistance, but they would have no legal obligation to replace your original booking for free or give you a refund.

Will I and my family be fed and put up in a hotel?

After two hours, the airline should hand out food and drink vouchers to those in the airport waiting for their flights.

For those stranded, the airline should provide hotel accommodation overnight.

Some holidaymakers may have to end up staying an extra night before flying home. Mr French says that that cost should also be covered by the airline, but it is important to keep the airline informed, in case they have a (cheaper) alternative.

This cost may have to be claimed back afterwards. Sally Gethin, editor of Gethin's Inflight News, says that travellers should keep a record and receipts of all their extra spending.

Abta says this obligation only applies if you are stranded within the EU or are travelling with an EU-based airline. So if you are stuck in New York with an America-based airline they would not have to cover these extra expenses.

Someone who has booked a package holiday can get a refund for the whole holiday, if their flight is cancelled.

Image source, AFP

What about other consequential losses - like an extra dinner on holiday?

This starts to become more difficult, but customers can still try to make a claim with their airline.

Another option is to try to make a claim on their travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers says that policies will vary, so customers should look at the small print or contact their insurer to check.

What alternative forms of transport are available if my flight is diverted?

Airlines will be required to transport you to the airports you were booked to and from. So, if an inbound flight is diverted to, say Manchester, then the airline should make travel arrangements to take you to Gatwick.

Some train companies are offering to take passengers free of charge.

What happens if I get in a taxi?

You are taking a risk. It is unlikely that an airline will cover the cost of a taxi where other more cost-effective options, such as trains or coaches, are available.

Always discuss this with the airline first. You can try to make a claim but, even if successful, this would only cover the cost to the airport, not any extra journey to get you all the way home.

Those who are unsuccessful could try claiming via their travel insurance.

If my car is parked at Gatwick, will I have to pay more in parking charges?

Again this is relevant if an inbound flight is delayed or diverted.

Car parking providers may waive any extra costs, the airline may cover it, or drivers could try claiming on their travel insurance if the policy covers this type of consequential loss.