Your passenger rights in case of a strike

The continuing strikes at Skeyes and the French air traffic controllers are felt by the airlines. Many flights with Brussels Airlines and Air France were canceled as a result. We tell you all you need to know about how strikes affect your rights as airline passengers, and prepare you for potential problems with your flight.

Strikes can be the cause of a lot of trouble in air travel. Due to strikes, airlines sometimes have to delay or, even worse, cancel your flight. But exactly are your rights as an airline passenger, in case of a strike? Well, that depends!


The European passenger rights in a nutshell

According to the European passenger rights (EU261) every airline passenger has the right to appropriate care and potentially a financial compensation, when there is a problem with their flight. Of course, these rights are bound by certain criteria. As an airline passenger, you have to:

    • Depart from a European airport
    • Fly from a non-European airport towards a European destination, with a European airline


Thanks to the European passenger rights, you can count on appropriate care by the airline (this is hotel stay(s), meals, beverages and airport transport), thanks to the European passenger rights. Under certain circumstances, you might even be entitled to € 600 per person.

In case of strikes, however, the situation is a tad different.


Strikes: extraordinary circumstances?  

In case of strikes, airlines quickly invoke “extraordinary circumstances” as a reason for their delay or cancellation. If there are in fact circumstances which by no reasonable means could have been prevented by the airline, the airline itself cannot be held accountable for the fact that a flight was delayed or cancelled.

Furthermore, in case of extraordinary circumstances, the airline cannot be obliged to pay the legal compensation under the European passenger rights (EU261). Now the question is, are strikes really extraordinary circumstances? Well, that depends.

If the airline’s own ground staff or cabin crew decided to strike, this is not interpreted as extraordinary circumstances. Up until now, strikes by the airline’s own personnel are being seen as the responsibility of the airline itself. That means that strikes of the airline’s personnel don’t change anything about your right to a financial compensation, nor does it affect your right to appropriate care.

However, that changes when there’s a third party strike, like strikes from baggage claim companies or national strikes. These strikes can certainly impact the daily operations of airlines, but isn’t their direct responsibility to manage them. In case of third party strikes, the right to a financial compensation is no longer valid.

After all, the airline can’t legally be obliged to pay a financial compensation, for something they didn’t cause or control. Not even when the third party strikes lead to the delay or cancellation of your flight.


So are you entitled to nothing in case of strikes?

Luckily, no.  As an airline passenger, you still maintain your right to appropriate care, in case of personnel strikes, as well as third party strikes. This is also the case with ‘real’ extraordinary circumstances, like a snow blizzard or fog.

The right to appropriate care means that, for the flights corresponding to the criteria mentioned above, the European passenger rights entitle you to:

    • (a) hotel stay(s) (in proportion with your trouble)
    • (a) meal(s) and beverages (in proportion with your trouble)
    • airport transfer

Do you need to stay an additional night on your holiday location, due to the cancellation of your flight? Then the airline is obliged to reimburse you for these expenses. Is the airline not offering you this spontaneously? Then make sure you keep all your receipts, so that you can demand it back afterwards.

Pay attention: in case you’re flying with a non-European airline, flying towards Europe from a non-European airport, these rights do not apply. That means that extra costs for stays, meals or airport transportation are to be paid by the travelers themselves. In this case, we advise you to contact your airline directly and ask for a (partial) reimbursement of travel expenses.


In case of a cancelled flight, you are also entitled to:

-        an alternative without supplementary costs

-        a full refund of your original ticket

A secret most people don’t know, is that this alternative flight doesn’t even have to be with the same airline. Is it impossible for the original airline to get you to your destination, unless it’s 3 days later? Then check whether you could get on your destination sooner with another airline, and ask your original one to book you a flight with them. However, don’t ever buy a new plane ticket on your own. The chances of getting that ticket reimbursed by the airline afterwards are very small.


So what do you have to do now?

Did your flight get cancelled due to the strikes by the air traffic controllers? Then ask your airline to review with you the possibilities (rebooking or refund) and be sure to stand your ground on your rights as an airline passenger.


Need some help? Contact us and we’ll help you on your way!

Britt Buseyne