Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 15:27 UK

T5: A guide to compensation

By Kevin Peachey
Consumer affairs reporter, BBC News

Heathrow's Terminal 5
BA has now delayed the move of long-haul flights to T5

Visit the Colosseum in Rome, the site where slaves once had their spirits crushed by a powerful and unwieldy beast.

Or, like me, you can have much the same experience before leaving London's airports.

My short break in Italy was made shorter owing, in part, to the troubles at Heathrow's Terminal 5. Will my claim for compensation prove to be a gladiatorial feat?

April showers

One thing British Airways is unable to influence is the British weather. Sunday's snowfall meant my flight, the 1400 from Gatwick, was one of many to be cancelled.

I stood in the queue to rebook for four-and-a-half hours, in front of a jovial woman with a tendency to talk to complete strangers about her husband's health problems.

I was booked on a flight the following day - BA flight 556 at 1415 from T5. I returned home and crammed my belongings into hand luggage.

It was my first visit to the sparkling new terminal building but there was a sense of deja vu as I joined another customer services queue.

The flight had been cancelled. A letter told me it was "the unfortunate result of a number of issues we have experienced during the opening of Terminal 5".

The groundmats and blankets piled behind a pillar were evidence that others had suffered more inconvenience than me. A mother in the queue was desperate to get home to her children in the Cayman Islands.

I eventually reached Rome, via Paris, on Air France and Alitalia flights. My arrival, at 2215 on Monday night was nearly 29 hours later than I had planned.

But I still had my luggage.

Homeward bound

Returning home was a breeze in comparison - but a little more farcical.

Queue at Heathrow T5
Cancelled flights dominated the opening of T5

BA 559 was delayed by an hour. A member of the cabin crew had tripped over a bag in the aisle on the outward journey and was sent to a hospital in Rome.

There was no meal on the flight, as staff realised the food that had been loaded was out of date.

On arrival at T5, passengers eager to get off and go home then watched the walkway system break down and we all waited 15 minutes for some steps to arrive.

Still, I had my luggage.

So what should happen now?

The staff I spoke to were always helpful, polite and impeccably turned out. They handed me meal vouchers as the waits extended.

The airline could do nothing about the snow cancelling a flight, but the fact remains that my second flight cancellation was avoidable and that merits compensation.

The rules on claiming can be confusing, and the Air Transport Users Council runs a telephone advice service on Mondays to Thursdays for passengers.

BA did hand out a two-sided A4 letter explaining passengers' rights, but here is a translation for those finding themselves in a similar position to me.

The key points are:

  • The flight was cancelled less than seven days before departure
  • The distance of the flight was less than 1,500km
  • The alternative flight arrived more than two hours later than the original

Given those details, using the table below, the compensation level should be 173 (250 euros).

Anyone offered the earliest alternative flight which requires an overnight stay should be offered a hotel room, as well as refreshments and transfer from and to the airport.

Those who lost a day's holiday and booked it as a package deal including a hotel could also claim from their travel agent, under the package travel regulations, although it has yet to be tested in court whether a claim can be made in addition to the compensation from the airline.

For those who have lost luggage, they should keep all receipts and claim the cost of essential items.

After 21 days, the baggage is considered lost and a claim can be made for the loss of contents up to about 800.

COMPENSATION: OVERBOOKING AND CANCELLATIONS
Length of journey Delay to destination Compensation
Up to 1,500km More than 2 hours 250 euros (173.04)
1,500km to 3,500km Up to 3 hours 200 euros (138.40)
1,500km to 3,500km More than 3 hours 400 euros (276.83)
More than 3,500km More than 4 hours 600 euros (415.26)
Source: Air Transport Users' Council



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