Hassle-free flights

Consumer Council research shows that 70 per cent of passengers don't know their rights when travelling by air ...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012
  • transport
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Here is the Consumer Council's guide on how to make your flight hassle-free:

Booking flights

When comparing the price of flights, it is important to add up all additional charges, such as baggage fees and payment method fees. Before confirming a booking you should double check all your details including; passenger name/s, route, flight time and date of travel, as airlines often charge expensive administration fees to make changes after a booking has been confirmed.

For further information concerning the various charges levied by airlines operating from Northern Ireland, please see the Consumer Council's Airline Charges table.

Booking connecting flights

If you plan to arrange connecting flights with different airlines and the flights are purchased separately, make sure to leave plenty of time between the flights.

If you miss your connection because your first flight is delayed or cancelled, neither airline is obliged to reimburse you for your missed flight. However if you book connecting flights on a single ticket and flight disruption causes you to miss your connection, the airline is responsible for rearranging your flight to the final destination.

Weigh your luggage

Before you travel, weigh your bag to ensure it is within the airline's luggage weight limit. Airlines often charge high fees if you exceed this limit. If you plan to take hand luggage, contact your airline or airport for the rules about carrying liquids onboard.

Travel Documents

Check with your airline to ensure you have the appropriate form of identification for your flight. If you check-in online, print your boarding pass and bring it with you. If your flight is international, make sure your passport is in good condition and valid for six months after your return date.

Travel Insurance

Buying travel insurance will help protect you from losing out if your holiday plans are affected by flight disruption, if you have an accident or are a victim of crime when abroad. Shop around and buy travel insurance which provides adequate cover for your needs.

Protect your holiday

With a number tour operators going out of business recently, it is more important than ever to protect your holiday against your airline or tour operator going bust.

When booking a package holiday or charter flight with a tour operator or travel agent, always make sure the booking is ATOL protected. Under ATOL, if your charter airline or tour operator goes out of business before you go on holiday you will get your money back. If the operator goes bust when you are abroad you will be able to continue your holiday and alternative arrangements will be made to get you home.

Until recently, if you chose to create your own holiday by booking the various components separately, you would not have been ATOL protected. However, since 30 April 2012, flights sold in conjunction with overseas accommodation and/or car hire have been protected by ATOL. These types of bookings are called Flight-Plus. Flight-Plus will be protected when sold through any channel, for example via the internet, on the high street or by phone.

To qualify as a Flight-Plus, the flight and accommodation or car hire have to be requested on the same day or within one day either side - but it does not matter which is requested first. Also, the trip must depart from the UK.

If you arrange your own bookings for flights and accommodation or car hire as separate purchases from different companies, you will not be protected by Flight-Plus.

Flight-Plus protection does not apply to flights booked along with accommodation or car hire directly from an airline website. However the protection does apply to bookings purchased from an airline's holiday company website. If you are in doubt regarding whether your holiday is ATOL protected, check with the seller before you book.

Delayed or cancelled flights

By law, your airline must inform you of your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled, or if you are denied boarding because the flight is overbooked.

If your flight is delayed by two hours or more for a short-haul flight (less than 1,500 km), by three hour of more for a medium-haul flight (between 1,500 and 3,500km), or four hours or more for a long haul flight (more than 3,500 km), you are entitled to free meals, refreshments and telephone calls or emails, plus hotel accommodation if you have to wait overnight.

If you are delayed by more than five hours, you are entitled to a refund if you decide not to continue your journey.

If your flight is cancelled, your airline must offer you a choice between a full refund or an alternative flight plus free meals, accommodation and telephone calls or emails while you wait. You may also be entitled to compensation, the level of which depends on the length of your flight. However, if the reason for the cancellation is beyond the control of the airline you will not be entitled to compensation. You are also entitled to the same assistance provided to delayed passengers as outlined above.

If your airline denies you boarding because the flight has been overbooked: you are entitled to compensation. The airline must also provide you with the choice between a refund of your ticket or an alternative flight plus meals and accommodation while you wait.

The Consumer Council has produced Plane Facts, a guide for passengers on their rights and responsibilities when travelling by air. To get your free copy call the Consumer council on 0800 121 6022 or download a copy.

The Consumer Council has a statutory duty to represent passengers and handle complaints about flights to and from Northern Ireland. If you have an unresolved air travel complaint contact the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or We have the power to investigate the complaint on your behalf.