The legalities of travelling with families

Between checking everybody’s passport is in date, stocking up on suncream, arranging airport transfers and washing and ironing countless pairs of shorts and t-shirts, there is little time when planning a family holiday to consider what may happen should something go wrong, either before the trip or during.

What happens if your youngest falls ill the morning of the flight and no-one can travel? If you arrive at your hotel and it is totally different to the one in the brochure, or doesn’t have the family facilities you need, do you have any legal options for recourse?

The traditional family unit of mum, dad and children is also less common that in previous decades, which brings with it a whole other list of considerations, such as travelling with stepchildren with different surnames.

There are a variety of regulations setting out what airlines or tour operators must do in the event of flight delays, unsuitable accommodation and injuries on holiday, as well as general guidelines for parents travelling with a family – knowledge of both the law, as well as best practice for travelling with blended families, is the best defence against an issue.


Family issues which are not to do with the tour operator or airline

If you missed a flight and it was not the airline’s fault, you are not entitled to compensation – in cases such as this you need to check the specific terms and conditions of the booking and contract you have with an airline, as you may be entitled to a refund or transfer to another flight. This is purely at the discretion of the airline, however, so cannot be relied upon.

In some cases, there will be a prior notification clause. This means that if you know ahead of time that you will not be able to make a flight, you can contact the airline to let them know, giving them the chance to potentially make alternative arrangements and re-sell seats. In this case, you might be able to claim a full refund. Keep in mind that you lose the right to any kind of cashback if you only notify the airline after the outbound flight has departed, and that in cases of missing a flight due to illness you will be expected to provide a doctor’s certificate.

Some travel insurance policies cover missing a flight due to illness within the family, but expect to pay more for this kind of flexibility.

Delays or cancellations down to an airline

Being delayed at the airport is frustrating enough for anyone, but add young children or babies into the mix, and the delay can become a real test of nerves and get a holiday off to an incredibly irritating start.

There are a number of EU regulations in place which protect people flying within the European Union, irrespective of the airline they are using. Compensation must be paid to those impacted by cancelled or heavily delayed flights, but the amount depends on the length of delay or the distance the flight is travelling. People flying on non-EU airlines are protected if they are departing from within the EU.

The lowest threshold for compensation is a delay of more than three hours on a flight up to 932 miles – in cases such as this, 250 Euros compensation can be offered. If a flight is delayed for less than three hours up to 932 miles, assistance may be offered, but no compensation.

To receive the highest level of compensation on these terms, which is 600 Euros, travellers will have to have been delayed for more than four hours, and their flight distance must be more than 2,175 miles.

Assistance can be defined as anything from free hotels, to meals and drinks, and access to free phone calls or emails.


The right to compensation is dependent on the reason for delay. If the airline or tour operators can prove that the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, usually situations beyond the control of the airline, then no compensation is payable. Situations including a ground staff strike, adverse weather or a pilot falling ill just before a flight are all defined as extraordinary circumstances. In cases such as these, the airline or tour operator would still be obliged to provide meals, refreshments, accommodation and hotel transfers.

If you are travelling outside the EU with a non-EU airline, your rights depend upon the terms and conditions of your contract and booking with the airline. Many airlines will provide refreshments and accommodation as a matter of courtesy, but if they do not you can seek to recover your expenses under the Montreal Convention.

Unsuitable accommodation, not as advertised

In situations where families arrive at a hotel and it is different than advertised, or isn’t suitable for their needs – for instance, a family books a family suite as they have three children but arrive to find there are not enough bed spaces for children to safely sleep – it can be argued the the hotel or tour operator has breached their contract by providing an unsuitable space.


If you arrive at your destination and find your accommodation to be unsuitable, you must complain right away to give them the chance to move you to a more suitable room. Take photographs or video evidence of the issues, and if you incur any expenses as a result of the room issues, you must keep receipts and details.

Do not accept any financial offer made to you whilst on holiday unless you are totally happy that it is completely fair – if you accept a compensation deal on holiday you will be unable to further to pursue the issue once you return home.

Travelling with a child with a different surname

Issues with different surnames are unfortunately quite common at passport control, particularly overseas where it can be difficult to explain the reasons and be understood. If you are travelling with a stepchild or child with a different surname, it is wise to pre-plan and take all the precautions possible to avoid a problem.

To lessen the chance of an awkward passport control moment, you should:

■ Check what you need to do with your airline
■ Check what the embassy of the country you are visiting expects from you
■ Bring a letter of consent signed by the parent or guardian who is not travelling with the child

In more contentious situations where there may be ongoing issues between separated parents, an ex-spouse can actually refuse permission for a child to travel abroad. For instance if one spouse has legal parental responsibility and there is no residence order in place, neither parent can take a child abroad without written permission from the other.

In situations where a spouse is withholding permission unreasonably, consent from the court can be sought. In order for consent orders to be processed quickly, ensure that you can provide as much detail about the trip as possible, including details of the hotel, flight details, and contact details during the trip.


Injuries in a hotel or during tours and excursions

If the hotel was booked as part of a package holiday a claim can be pursued against the tour operator if the accident was caused by the negligence of the hotel – negligence could be something such as hotel workers leaving floors or staircases wet after cleaning, causing a fall, or an accident caused by a faulty piece of equipment or some broken furniture in a room.

It is important to report the accident to both your hotel and tour operator, to take photographs of what caused the accident and take the names and addresses of any other guests who saw the accident and would be prepared to give a statement in support. Such claims can be complicated as the safety standards that apply will be local safety standards, which may be lower than that in the UK. Furthermore, evidence will be required as to whether the hotel has breached local safety standards.

safety conscious holidaymakers

If a member of your family suffers an injury on an independently booked excursion, perhaps a boat trip or coach tour, it may be possible to sue under the local legal system, to claim under a travel insurance policy, or, if the excursion was paid for with a credit card, to claim from the credit card company. However this is a complicated area of law, and it is best to seek legal advice on your return from a break.

Copies of the agreement, any consent forms signed, any literature given by the provider of the excursion and any details of any witnesses who may be prepared to give a statement should all be kept safe to use as evidence.

Written by Sucheet Amin, managing partner at Aequitas Legal.

Manchester-based Aequitas Legal specialises in claims for accidents overseas, including incidents on cruise ships and aircraft. To find out more about the firm’s services, visit

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