There's nothing worse than getting ready to jet off on your summer holiday only to be trapped on the tarmac or in departures for hours because your flight has been delayed. Until recently, there was little you could do to seek financial redress. But now your rights have been steadily beefed up.

Your Rights

Under European Regulation EU261/2004, you can claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights, once you have been waiting for three hours or more. You can recover €250, around £200, for a three-hour delay on flights up to 1,500 km. Compensation rises to a maximum of €600, around £480, for a delay of more than four hours on flights over 3,500km. You can lodge claims going back up to six years.

After just two hours delay, you are also entitled you to care and assistance from your airline, including meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation where necessary, and two telephone calls, text messages or emails.

These are EU rules

Which means they apply to all departures from EU airports. So if you are flying from Heathrow to New York, you are covered. You will only be covered on your return journey, however, if you fly with an EU carrier. So you would be covered if you flew from New York to London with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, but not with, say, American Airlines.

Astonishingly, many European airlines have simply ignored the new ruling, rejecting thousands of valid claims.

The Rules for claiming

Under EU261, airlines don't have to pay claims in "extraordinary circumstances" out of their control, such as snow, volcanic ash, and strikes. Sneaky carriers applied this to technical faults with the aircraft. But following a test case in June, the Court of Appeal ruled that airlines must pay claims arising from mechanical faults. Despite this, you may still face headwinds trying to get your money.

Keep your flight documents, boarding passes and receipts for any money you had to spend as a result of your delay, then contact your airline direct to see if it will pay up. You can find more about how to claim from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Rufusal to Pay

If your airline refuses what you think is a valid claim, consider going to the small claims court or taking legal action from a solicitor that specialises in seeking compensation for flight delays. Bott & Co, which was involved in recent Court of Appeal cases, has an online flight delay checker. Just submit your flight number and the date of travel to find out whether you can claim.

For added protection, take out travel insurance before you travel. This also covers delayed or cancelled trains, coaches and ferries, as well as injury or illness in the family. And it will cover the cost of any prepaid hotels or excursions you miss out on if your plans go wrong.

Hopefully, your holiday will go without a hitch. If it doesn't, don't just get mad, get compensation.

Read more articles by Harvey Jones here

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