What to do if strikes disrupt your holiday

You’ve found your ideal holiday, bought travel insurance, picked up your currency, and perhaps even started packing your luggage in anticipation of your long-awaited break. Then, you hear news of strike action that could affect your flight. Now what?

First, try not to panic. Strike action can be called by individual airlines, groups of airports, air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, airport firefighters… the list goes on and the chances are that you and your travelling companions might not even notice any action.  

Cancelled Flights

And that’s if the proposed action even goes ahead – strikes can be called off, often at the last minute, so it's important to stay abreast of the situation in the lead up to your trip. This is not, however, always the case. Sometimes these walkouts can leave travellers facing long delays and the misery of cancelled flights.

Whether you sympathise with the workers or not, if a strike is going to disrupt, or is disrupting, your holiday, it helps to know your rights. Here we guide you through this potentially difficult situation.

What should I do if I think a strike will affect my holiday?

Get in touch with your travel agent, tour operator or airline to check whether you are likely to be affected by the proposed industrial action (or check their websites as there’s likely to be information for passengers there). If you have booked your package holiday with a tour operator, they have a responsibility to find alternative travel for you. If you are unable to travel because of the strike, you will be offered a full refund or the option to transfer your holiday to a later date.

If you have booked your flight and hotel separately, there are a few extra steps involved. If your flight is cancelled because of strike action, you are entitled to a full refund of the cost of your flight under regulations set by the European Union. Some airlines might offer to move the booking to a later date or attempt to get you to your destination via an airport that is unaffected by the industrial action.

For hotels and car hire bookings – or any other travel extras already booked – you will need to contact the provider you booked with to check where you stand. Providers have a contract directly with you – they are not obliged to refund or rebook and you might even face cancellation fees. When you contact them, be polite and try to negotiate something that works for you both.

Some travel insurance policies might cover such consequential losses, so check yours carefully. If in doubt, call your insurance provider.

Can I change my travel plans to avoid the strike?

Airlines might allow you to rebook at no extra cost before any planned strike action takes place (BA did this during the strikes of 2010, for example), though if the airline cancels your flight because of industrial action you are entitled to a full refund or the chance to rebook anyway. If you choose to book more flights with another airline, the original airline is under no obligation to refund your money if your original flight goes ahead as planned.

Tour operators will find alternative travel or offer a full refund, as mentioned above, if a flight is cancelled. However, they probably won’t be willing to simply postpone your holiday “just in case” a strike causes travel disruption. They will probably sit tight and see how the situation pans out, which is what you might have to do too.

What happens if I am delayed by strikes?

Strikes Disrupt Holidays

You get to the airport and find out that your flight is going ahead – but it’s taking off later than planned. Even though this is as a result of a strike – and therefore labelled “extraordinary circumstances” by the airline (more of that below in the compensation section) – you are still entitled to assistance. This assistance can run to food, drink, phone calls, and overnight accommodation. The delay must be for at least two hours before any entitlement kicks in, though – this will depend on the length of your flight. Find out more here.

What happens if I am stranded abroad?

Though many travellers joke about the potential joy of being stranded in Orlando or on the sunny Spanish coast, the reality can be a nightmare.

In this situation, the rules are once again different for travellers who have booked DIY trips and those who have booked a package holiday.

If your airline cannot get you home because of a strike, they should provide you with accommodation and reasonable costs for food and drink. It is highly unlikely that they will pay for you to dine on lobster and Champagne, so find out what they are offering and, if they want you to make your own arrangements, eat and drink sensibly and keep all receipts.

Travellers on package holidays will be offered the same or similar accommodation and provided with food and drink, according to the terms and conditions of their booking.

In both events, every effort will be made to get you home as quickly as possible.

Can I claim compensation?

Strikes are often considered to be “beyond reasonable control” and subsequent delays and cancellations therefore fall under the get-out clause of “extraordinary circumstances”.

However, there are certain circumstances where you may be entitled to compensation as a result of strikes, according to the Civil Aviation Autority (CAA).

The two main criteria are as follows:

So, for example, if your flight is cancelled due to air traffic control strikes, you cannot claim for compensation, as the staff are employed by the airport, not the airline.
If your travel is disrupted by striking airline staff (for example, you're flying with British Airways, and the cabin crew call a strike), and you are not told about it until you get to the airport, you can claim for compensation under EU regulations.
You may also be able to claim if a sudden strike - also known as 'wildcat' strikes - affects your travel, as long as the strike action is called by the airline's staff. Who is doing the striking is central to whether you can claim or not.


Will my travel insurance pay out?

This will depend on when you bought your flight and what type of policy you have. If a ballot to strike had not been called when you booked your flight and your policy covers against strike action, you will be reimbursed accordingly (for the delay and other additional costs). If industrial action was already in the offing and you booked flights, the insurer might argue that you would have been aware of a strike and are therefore unlikely to cough up. Always check the small print and get in touch with your insurance provider if it’s not clear.


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