Can I Claim Flight Compensation For Industrial Action Or Airline Staff Strikes?

If a strike or industrial action delays or cancels your flight, your airline must offer you care and assistance, and you could be entitled to compensation in some cases.

Updated on December 13th, 2018


EU Regulation 261/2004 is a European law established in 2005, designed to protect the rights of air passengers in the event of long delays, cancellations, or cases of denied boarding.

The Regulation sets out compensation payments and details the appropriate care and assistance that airlines are obliged to provide to passengers experiencing delays.

Sometimes flights are delayed or cancelled due to strike action, whether this is airline crew, Air Traffic Control, or airport staff.

Whatever the type of strike action, you are covered by the Regulation if you flight is sufficiently disrupted. We’ll explain your rights while being delayed and what compensation you might be entitled to claim.

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Compensation for cancelled flights due to industrial action

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to a strike, you could be able to claim for compensation. Whether you are or not depends on the circumstances around the strike.

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Under EU Regulation 261/2004, airlines must pay compensation to passengers if their flight is delayed or cancelled, unless the delay or cancellation was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

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This means that you might not be able to claim compensation if your flight delay or cancellation was for one of the following reasons:

  • Bad weather that is ‘freak’ or ‘wholly exceptional’
  • Terror attacks or sabotage
  • Civil or political unrest
  • Hidden manufacturing defects
  • Strikes by ground staff or air traffic control

Though strikes can be an extraordinary circumstance, not all strikes, and not all circumstances relating to strikes, are extraordinary. It’s always best to double check whether or not you’re entitled to compensation, even if your airline tells you that you’re not.

When are strikes not an extraordinary circumstance?

Airline Staff Strikes

Strikes are not an extraordinary circumstance if the staff who are striking are airline staff and the reason they are striking is related to their employment. This is because it’s within the airline’s control to negotiate with staff and also because staff striking is an ordinary part of running an airline.

In April 2018, a court in Luxembourg ruled that Helga Krüsemann and others were entitled to compensation after TUIfly staff placed themselves on sick leave for one week in 2016, resulting in delayed and cancelled flights across the period. The airline tried to argue that this was an extraordinary circumstance, but the courts ruled against them.

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For years, airlines have denied passengers compensation on the basis that strikes are extraordinary circumstances, but this case, which was worth tens of millions of pounds in compensation, showed that the courts agreed that airlines had a duty to provide compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled due to striking by their airline staff.

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Can I claim compensation if my flight is cancelled due to a strike from Air Traffic Control?

Air Traffic Control strikes are almost always regarded as extraordinary circumstances and therefore the airline would not have to pay out compensation as a result, however it is still a grey area of law

Airlines often succeed in arguing that they have no control over ATC industrial action and can’t make any contingency plans as it’s not possible for a full schedule to operate in those conditions.

When flights are delayed due to air traffic control conditions impacting flight operations, it can cause thousands of delays for flights arriving in or departing from the airport affected.

Air France strike compensation

In April of 2018, Air France staff launched a strike over pay. They cancelled 30% of flights during this period, and the strike affected 55% of flights overall.

Until a recent European Court of Justice ruling, airlines presumed that they would not have to pay out for strikes of this kind, because they would count as extraordinary circumstances.

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After the ruling, the law is clear, and so Air France were bracing for thousands of compensation claims from those whose flights were cancelled or delayed because of this strike.

If your Air France flight was cancelled due to strikes, it is worth investigating further whether you have a claim for compensation.

My flight was cancelled or delayed because of baggage handler or airport staff strikes

If your flight was delayed or cancelled because baggage handlers or other airport staff were striking, it is likely that you cannot claim compensation from your airline.

This is because the airline will argue that the strikes were outside of their control and not ‘an inherent part’ of running an airline, which is what judges will take into account when deciding whether an event is extraordinary.

Care and Assistance

Whether your flight delay or cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances or not, your airline has a duty to offer you care and assistance if your flight is delayed by two hours or more. They must give you:

  • Two phone calls, emails, or fax messages
  • A reasonable amount of food and drink
  • Hotel accommodation if required
  • Transport to and from that hotel accommodation

Airlines are obligated to offer you this care and assistance under EU Regulation 261/2004. If they refuse to do so, you may need to pay for these things yourself, but keep your receipts, as you should be able to claim back and expense you incur as long as they are reasonable.

What are the responsibilities of the airline if a strike is imminent?

If airlines are notified of a strike, then they must let you know as far in advance as they can. If you booked directly through the airline, then they’ll contact you through the contact details you gave to them when you booked your flight. They’re also likely to use their website and social media pages to keep passengers updated.

If you’re aware that strikes are affecting your airline or the airport you’re arriving or departing from, it’s worth contacting them in advance to determine what you need to do.

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If the airline has confirmed that your flight will be cancelled, you’re entitled to cancel your flight and accept a refund, which they’ll have to pay you within 7 days.

You can also ask for an alternative flight from an alternative airport. Any extra costs for this travel need to be covered by the airline affected by the strike.

Things to consider if a strike is going to affect your plans

If strikes are likely to affect your flight, it might be better for you to be proactive and take steps to avoid too much disruption. You should also think about how this action might impact on other expenses around your trip.

Consider cancelling your flight and booking a replacement one. Once the airline has officially announced that your flight will be affected by the strike, you should be able to cancel your flight and ask for a refund or negotiate making an alteration.

It is unlikely that you’ll be able to claim from the airline for losses from hotel bookings, rented cars, or any other expenses incurred, but you probably can claim on your travel insurance.

You’ll need to check your travel insurance provider’ policy, as some policies do not cover strike action. You could have a problem if you booked these items after strike action was first threatened.

What if I paid on a credit card?

If you paid on a credit card, then under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act the credit card company is jointly and separately liable.

This means that you could claim your costs and losses back from the credit card company and let them go after the airline instead.

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Our flight compensation checker is the most accurate on the web. It checks the following instantly.

  • The length of your delay
  • The cause of your delay
  • Legal validity of claim
  • How much you could claim

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