Are You Entitled to Compensation If Your Flight Is Canceled Due to a Strike?

Apr 20, 2018

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Associate Editor Brendan Dorsey.

In Europe, labor strikes occur with some regularity, causing major disruptions to transportation companies, including airlines and train operators. Lufthansa recently canceled half of its flights on one day and Air France is known for constant changes to its schedule as a result of labor issues. TPG reader Joanna writes to ask if she’s entitled to compensation in the event of a strike…

Does Air France have to pay compensation when they cancel flights due to a strike?

TPG Reader Joanna

This question obviously applies to other carriers beyond Air France — in fact, any carrier that flies in and out of the European Union (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) is required to reimburse affected travelers for certain out-of-pocket expenses if their flight is canceled or delayed due to a strike. In particular, European Union regulations specify that travelers are entitled to one of the following:

  1. The airline must offer a full refund for the unused parts of your tickets, or;
  2. The airline must re-route you to your destination as soon as possible and pay for incidentals like a hotel and food until a replacement flight is provided.

But what about compensation beyond the reimbursement of your expenses? European Regulation 261/2004 was created to protect the rights of air passengers in the European Union and forces airlines to provide compensation, up to 600 Euros, for covered events like an extended mechanical delay. However, the rule does carve out exceptions when airlines are not required to pay passengers, particularly in the case of “extraordinary circumstances.” According to UK law firm Bott and Co., this includes:

  • Political Instability
  • Meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned
  • Security risks
  • Unexpected flight safety shortcomings
  • Strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier [emphasis added]

According to the list, a strike is an “extraordinary circumstance” and not covered, right? Well, it depends on the nature of the strike. The EU’s top court just ruled that airlines are now required to compensate for wildcat strikes, or strikes not initiated by a union. But other strikes fall into the category of extraordinary circumstances, so you won’t be covered.

So to break it down, if your flight is delayed or canceled due to a wildcat strike, you’re entitled to compensation under European Regulation 261/2004. If your flight is delayed or canceled due to a non-covered strike, then you won’t be able to receive any extra cash for your troubles, but the airline has to reimburse you for incidentals and lodging, and must rebook you or refund the cost of your ticket. Some airlines will also attempt to preempt the damage from scheduled strikes by offering a travel waiver that allows passengers to rebook flights in advance for a different date at no extra cost.

Fortunately, many credit cards do include labor strikes in their trip delay and trip cancellation insurance policies. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Citi Prestige offer solid benefits when it comes to travel plans going awry. Independent trip insurance can also come in handy in these situations, and you can use services like AirHelp to help you fight for compensation under European Regulation 261/2004.

Thanks for the question, Joanna, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images.

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