‘This is your captain speaking’ are words many passengers scheduled to fly with British Airways (BA) from Heathrow and Gatwick airports won’t be hearing this August. This is after the UK’s airline was unsuccessful in its attempt to divert summer strikes.
93% of 4,000 pilots and first officers voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay and rewards which has been ongoing since November 2018. It was announced on July 31 that BA lost at the Court of Appeal in its attempt to block the strikes.
With neither side backing down, passengers have been left stuck in the middle. However, those whose travel plans are scuppered by strikes will be entitled to claim compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004.
Not Cleared For Take-Off With Forecasts Of Turbulence Ahead
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) has been given the all clear to call strike dates with two weeks’ notice after the airline’s two failed attempts at obtaining an injunction from the High Court and Court of Appeal. Dates have yet to be announced, leaving passengers in limbo.
The pay disputes are well within the airline’s control and the management of disgruntled staff is simply part and parcel of running any business and would not be considered an extraordinary circumstance
Pilots have been campaigning for an above-inflation pay settlement that includes a profit share scheme. Many of those who voted nine to one in favour of striking took pay cuts when the airline was struggling financially in 2009. They now believe they are not being paid fairly in light of the 2018 figures for BA’s parent company, IAG, in which the airline holds the largest share for, showing a pre-tax profit of £2.6bn.
Balpa has disputed BA’s offer of a 11.5% raise over three years and so the fight continues with the threat of chaos hanging over the heads of hundreds of thousands of passengers.
Summer Of Strikes – EU Regulation Is On Passengers’ Side
Bott and Co is advising people who are due to travel with BA from 6 August to be aware of their rights ahead of travelling. So what are the rights of passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled due to pilot strikes?
Coby Benson, Flight Delay Compensation Solicitor at Bott and Co said: “The pay disputes are well within the airline’s control and the management of disgruntled staff is simply part and parcel of running any business and would not be considered an extraordinary circumstance.
In light of this, affected passengers may be entitled to claim compensation of up to €600 each under EU Regulation 261/2004, where their flights are cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice or delayed for over three hours.”
Holidaymakers who have been delayed for more than two hours should also be provided with food and drink vouchers as well as means to communicate, including being entitled to a telephone call and an email. Accommodation must be provided if passengers are delayed overnight and transport to and from the accommodation and the airport must also be provided.
Benson continues: “It’s also worth noting that the regulation does not specify that re-routing has to be with the same air carrier. Therefore, British Airways has a duty to re-route their passengers affected by a cancelled flight at the earliest available opportunity on ANY airline, not just a British Airways plane.”
Top Tips When Your Flight Is Cancelled
1. Investigate alternate flight options by speaking to the airline that cancelled the flight or conduct your own research by looking online or speaking to a travel agent.
The law says passengers are entitled to replacement travel arrangements under comparable transport conditions and this should either be ‘at the earliest available opportunity’ or ‘at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats.’
It is a common misconception that the replacement flight has to be with the same airline – this is not the case. If the airline can only offer you a flight in a few days’ time and you can see another airline has seats available on an earlier flight, you have the right to demand they send you with the other airline.
In reality, airlines will often refuse to book passengers on rival airlines and if this happens then you have the option of booking the alternate flight yourself and asking the airline to reimburse at a later date. Of course this means you need sufficient funds to buy the replacement ticket in the first place and there is no guarantee the airline will ‘play nice’ when you ask for the reimbursement.
In some cases your travel could also be completed using alternative transport, such as train, coach or ferry – you can also look into these possibilities and ask the airline to reimburse you the costs when you get back.
2. Decide whether you want to take a replacement flight or abandon your travel plans altogether.
Having investigated your options and searched for available flights you now need to decide whether you still want to travel or instead need (or want) to abandon your travel plans altogether.
If there are no flights available and your trip is ruined then you also have the option of flying at a later date which is convenient to you. This could apply for instance if your flight is cancelled and you miss a business meeting, so there’s now no point in travelling. You can reschedule the meeting and force the airline to arrange the replacement flight at a later date.
Beware however that once you ask for a refund the airline does not have a duty to give you anything else, so you’re on your own from that point.
3. Keep all receipts
If you’re waiting for a replacement flight then the airline is obliged to cover a reasonable amount for you to buy food and drink. These expenses have to ‘reasonable’, so they won’t be covering that glass of bubbly at the airport bar.
If you’re stranded overnight, the airline also has to provide hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel. If the airline doesn’t provide this then you can pay for it yourself and claim it back at a later date.
Make sure you keep copies of all receipts so you can send them to the airline when you get back. Remember, the airline will only reimburse these costs where they are ‘reasonable’ in amount.
There are some expenses which the airlines are unlikely to cover, such as accommodation you had previously booked or any excursions that you have now missed. If you have a travel insurance policy, check to see if it covers you for these additional expenses. Even if you didn’t specially buy insurance for the trip you might find that you’re covered already with certain credit cards or bank accounts.
Bonus Tip: Check if you’re entitled to compensation
Depending on the reason for the cancellation you may also be entitled to compensation of between €250 (£215) – €600 (£515) – this is in addition to any refund you get and the amount is the same regardless of how much you paid for your ticket.
The airline can only avoid paying this compensation if the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances are by their nature unusual events, so it is very likely that you’re entitled to compensation if affected by strike action. If you’re not sure of your entitlement you can always check with a specialist flight compensation solicitor to see what you can claim.