/ Travel & Leisure

How the Dreamliner delayed my dream holiday

Man sleeping in airport

I’m just back from Nice in the south of France. It was a great getaway, but the closure of Heathrow airport brought me back down to earth… over an hour later than I should have been.

Dragging heels, screaming babies, dusty airports and the obligatory struggle to stuff as many boxes of Turkish delight and vacuum-packed olives into your hold luggage as humanly possible. What am I talking about? Flying home from your summer holidays.

And the last thing anyone needs is to hear the following announcement mid-air: ‘I’m afraid we’ve got an announcement to make…’

Flight delays and diversions

My friend and I were two of the thousands of travellers affected by Friday’s temporary closure of Heathrow airport. A fire in an Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner forced Heathrow airport to close for about 90 minutes, causing delays and cancellations.

We were due to land in Gatwick but, in order to allow for the diversion of Heathrow-bound long-haul flights to other London airports, our short-haul flight was forced to land in Paris.

With foresight almost prophetic, we’d caught the food trolley before the announcement and had spent our remaining euros on plastic bottles of wine and mini tubs of Pringles. We were pretty well equipped for a Friday night sat on the runway at Charles de Gaulle. Which is more than can be said for the poor family across the aisle with three small children.

To the airline’s credit, we were kept up-to-date and we were back in the air within the hour. However, the knock-on effect meant longer queues at Gatwick’s passport control and missed trains. And for those unfortunate long-haul passengers who had missed connecting flights? Well, they had long night to look forward to.

Your flight rights to compensation

If your flight is departing from an EU airport and you’re delayed, you may be entitled to some assistance (food, accommodation etc) under the Denied Boarding Regulations, depending on the length of the flight and the length of delay.

Unfortunately for me, my flight was delayed by less than two hours, meaning that I’m not entitled to compensation. You can read the ins and outs of when you’re entitled to compensation for flights delays in our guide. And if think you’re entitled to compensation for a delayed flight, you can use this letter template to seek redress from an airline.

Have you been hit by a flight delay? Did you successfully claim compensation and assistance?


Two hours late! Oh my! And no compensation. Do I detect misplaced sense of entitlement here? Sh*t happens, get over it.

Two hours’ delay, when the scheduled flight time is less than two hours, is unacceptable. You have to put this into perspective. If my 15-minute train journey is delayed by 15 minutes, then this 100% delay is equally unacceptable. In this case, two hours is disproportionately long compared to the scheduled flight time.

It was clear that rerouting was mismanaged. Rather than allowing some flights to be delayed by 100% or more but other flights (e.g. long haul) to be delayed by only 5% or 10%, air traffic control (or whoever was responsible), should have ensured that most flights were delayed by only 20% of their scheduled flight time. To achieve this, long haul flights should have been diverted to further afield and short haul flights should have been given priority at other London airports.

The logic for equating percentage time delay as a decider to who lands first seems rather dubious and I wonder if NFH is having a joke.

My supposition is that long-haul flights are probably shorter of fuel whereas short-haul tend to do many quick flights and fuel more rarely as a ratio to landings. Also not all airports can necessarily take all airliners so without going into advanced research I think we can assume that the landing priority is based on safety aswell as practicality.

From Paris Miss Brunwin had three other methods to return to the UK so if the incident had escalated and closed Heathrow returning would not have been impossible.

Fuel doesn’t come into it. They could have landed many incoming long haul flights in Manchester and Birmingham so that short haul flights could land at other London airports. To land a LHR-bound short haul flight in Paris is absurd. Again using percentages, allowing all flights to fly 95% of the distance to their destination would have been preferable to allowing some (e.g. NCE-LHR) to reach only 65% and others (e.g. JFK-LHR) to reach 99%.

I’m not sure of the gist of this conversation. Is it to remind people of their rights when flights are significantly delayed? I hope it is not to whinge about a 2 hour delay. There was an unforseen problem at Heathrow, so an effect on incoming flights. What should have happened differently? We get delays on trains, on the roads because of accidents, it’s all part of life. Why do we always expect to be compensated for relatively minor inconvenience? Just remember that your compensation comes out of other peoples fares.

” It was a great getaway”

We were just treated to a BBC news item on the importance of a third runway at Heathrow for business travellers coming to the UK so perhaps putting tourists to Stanstead and/or a third Gatwick might solve the problem. However given peak oil perhaps flying will start to become more expensive and reduce demand.

Not that I am picking on Which? staff particularly just there seems to be a divine right feeling about flying and pollution by noise not in some way being important.

I notice from the Accounts on the Which? website that six of the upper echelons earn in the 1% of the populations top earning range and someone earns £300,000 which[?] seems wrong.

Perhaps there is a problem of presentation. Straight news on claiming for delayed flight is interesting and could be tied to the Heathrow problem with a flight from Nice as an example.

Lifestyle information does not necessarily help and may possibly antagonise readers.

That’s a fair point Diesel, however, we’re using recent personal experiences to open up a debate about consumer issues. I think debating whether compensation is needed is a relevant debate.

Personally, I think it’s reasonable to expect some form of compensation or assistance if connecting flights are missed etc. But maybe that’s just me.

Surely there is a difference between compensation where it is an airlines fault and buying travel insurance to cover costs for unseen emergencies. Seems to me that somehow we are getting to the point where an incident that closes an airport is the fault of the airlines en masse.

A missed connection where an individual ariline is responsible for your missed or delayed flight then it seems logical they should compensate. A force majeure incident surely is an insurable item. Or am I misunderstanding the way the EU covers this?

My concern is that we should not over-develop a compensation culture – I don’t think it is healthy to expect to be paid whenever something goes wrong. Often it seems easier, and possibly cheaper, for companies to follow this path than to do what I think is a better action – to provide help. Isn’t that what we should be encouraging? It is what most people – particularly less savvy or inexperienced travellers – would want, I would have thought.
Things go wrong, so you miss your connection – the best solution is surely to help sort out a new connection or an alternative way home. You can’t get home – so help with finding accommodation and food. You are a bit late home – 2 hours after a 2 week holiday really isn’t the end of the world. You get in your car at the airport and then get held up by roadworks – compensation from the Dept for Transport? Where does it stop. I agree with dieseltaylor – isn’t this what insurance you can take out is for? Compensation is paid for by all of us, insurance just by those who want to share the risk.

flightontime.info give some statistics.
2012 – average delay Heathrow 13.3 mins (BA 24th at 13.4 min, Aer Lingus 1st at 6.9 min). Heathrow just worst of the London airports – City 6.8min, Stansted 9.3, Luton 11.85 and Gatwick 12.6 mins.
2013 1st qtr: Av. delay LHR 15mins , BA now 27th in the lateness league.
Between 3 and 6% of flights were over 1 hour late at main UK airports.
It seems like it’s a lottery. Maybe look at smaller airports – Bournemouth or Southampton for example if the destinations suit you. My son travelled from there to Spain – cheapish flight, easy cheap car parking, quick check in and immigration. If you count all the incidental travelling, parking, formalities as delays then this may be a good option. Alternatively it’s 9 hours to Nice from St Pancras by train.

Trev of Hucknall says:
17 August 2013

I recently had a flight delayed for less than 2 hours but it caused me to miss my train home and had to but more tickets. I have been waiting for about a month for BA to repond to the online e-amail for about a month. All I want is a letter to say that the plane was late so I can send it to my insurers for compensaton.