TravelHow to Deal With Flight Cancellations Due to Strikes
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Flight cancellations are a constant specter looming over any trip. And they can be even more of a bummer when they're due to a sweeping, multi-day airline or airport strike that might strand you in a foreign country without a departing flight in sight.
On Monday morning, British Airways cancelled almost all of its flights through Tuesday as its pilots began a long-anticipatedfor better wages. The strike, organized by the British Airline Pilots Association, is the first-ever pilot strike in the history of the airline, and it has prompted the carrier to tell travelers booked on flights for Monday and Tuesday not to even go at all. Nearly 200,000 passengers are booked to travel on British Airways flights through Monday and Tuesday, according to .
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Although the strike is a first for British Airways, in general it is a common scenario, especially in Europe, where airport and airline employees often stage demonstrations to demand higher pay and better work conditions. The difference with strikes, as opposed to other flight disruptions like weather, is that there's often a fair amount of lead time for affected travelers to make alternate plans. Here are some strategies for the next time your air travel is tangled in a strike snafu.
Go to your airline for information
When a strike is announced—either among airport staff or employees with the airline—the key is to be proactive. This means going to your airline for information first to see if your flight will be affected. The airline's travel alerts page on its website should have information like when the strike is taking place and which airports and flights are affected. This page will also have information on whether the carrier is issuing, so you can rebook your travel for a day with no staff walkout, or it might offer a full refund so you can cancel and book with another airline or airport with normal operations.
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Ask to be booked on a partner airline
What if you show up for your flight and you suddenly get canceled? Try getting on a flight with another carrier.
All airlines flying in and out of the European Uniona refund on any unused parts of your ticket or book you to your destination as soon as possible. So if you're cancelled in the E.U., and your airline has no other departing flights to put you on, you could ask to be rebooked on an alliance partner of your original carrier (and a different, nearby airport if it's airport staff that are striking). This option is best for international flights, as most airline alliance partners are based in different countries.
Airlines don't like booking customers to other carriers (even alliance partners), but in dire circumstances, they will. The Skyteam alliance even introduced alast year for all of its partner airlines (like Delta and Air France) to rebook each other's customers.
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If you are flying domestically, ask about a flight with the airline's. They are less inclined to rebook on this option because it's a looser partnership agreement, but some carriers still do it. (Poring over the airline's contract of carriage under the delays and cancellations section can also help.)
If you have elite status with your airline or alliance or you're flying in a premium cabin, you have a pretty good shot of getting these options to work for you. For instance, American Airlines changed its rebooking rules in 2018 to say that first-class passengers and those with the highest elite status whose flights are canceled are to be rebooked on any flight that gets them there the fastest—that includes partner airlines, codeshares, and even flights with a competing airline, USA Today. Delta and United have similar policies. Unfortunately, American Airlines passengers with no frequent flier status or economy fliers are not afforded the luxury of being booked on a competitor carrier except in rare travel circumstances, like a funeral or wedding.
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Check if you're eligible for compensation
If you are flying on an E.U. airline out of an E.U. airport, and you're canceled with no hope of another flight for the night, then your airline is responsible for putting you up in a hotel, giving you transportation, and paying for your food. Some traditionalpolicies will also cover the additional costs incurred by aviation strikes, so double check with your provider if you've bought one.
In 2018, the E.U. also ruled that airlines must pay extra compensation to customers under itsif the walkout is a so-called "wildcat" strike, meaning it wasn't officially organized by its employees' union. If your delay or cancellation falls under that rule, you could be eligible for up to $700 in extra compensation.
Additional reporting by Louis Cheslaw
This article was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated with new information.
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