Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Thu November 12 2015

What Are Passengers’ Rights in the Event of an Airline Strike?

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 12, 2015

What Are Passengers’ Rights in the Event of an Airline Strike?

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

The airline you booked your flight with is on strike.

Now what?

As Lufthansa has struggled through myriad walkouts in the last 18 months – the latest being a coordinated week-long strike by cabin crew at airports around Germany – many passengers are asking that very question.

In the U.S., compensation differs from airline to airline. Generally, an airline does not have to provide compensation for a canceled flight. Usually it does, especially if the flight is canceled in the same day, but that usually comes in the form of meal vouchers and even hotel vouchers while you are being re-booked.

In Europe, it is different.

Airlines originating in the European Union follow the European Commission rules and regulations regarding canceled flights.

If your flight is canceled, Article 5 of the Regulation sets out the assistance available to you. Where a flight is canceled, passengers are entitled to reimbursement of the full cost of their tickets for the parts of the journey not made and for the parts already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan together with, where relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity or re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity or re-routing at the convenience of the passenger to the final destination subject to availability of seats.

In addition, passengers are entitled to meals and refreshments reasonable to the waiting time, as well as two telephone calls, faxes or emails. If the re-routing is the day after the planned flight, passengers are also entitled to hotel accommodation where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary or where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary. Transport should be provided between the hotel and the airport.

Article 8.1 provides that re-imbursement of the flight and compensation payments provided for in the Regulation should be made within seven days by cash, electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank checks, or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services.

So, in a nutshell, European Union regulations require airlines to offer you either a full refund of the unused parts of your tickets, or to provide other air options in due time. Some airlines may also allow you to rebook your flights at no extra cost.

When an EU airline is used, it is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and food for all those stranded as a result until a replacement flight is provided.

Now, all that said, most airlines classify strikes as something they call a force majeure event. Force majeure basically means an "act of god," something completely out of the airlines' control, such as a volcanic eruption. Most airlines have a strike written into their standard contract of carriage – a bit of a stretch, many will argue, since the airlines themselves are at the bargaining table with labor unions and clearly would have an understanding of when and if a strike would take place. Nonetheless, in the contract of carriage, you will likely find "strikes" as a force majeure event.

For the most part, airlines treat strikes along the same lines as weather delays and cancellations – meal tickets, hotel rooms, transportation, where applicable, but no outright refund.

Do, however, file the compensation paperwork in its entirety and, where you can, in the language of the country from which the airline emanates.


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