Airline strike – what are your rights as a passenger?

Picture this: You’re in a taxi to the airport, totally glowing and zen after a week on a Barcelona beach with sea salt in your hair and sand still between your toes. Or maybe you and a few buddies are en route to the airport to fly to Croatia for a wild weekend at a music festival, and can’t wait to get there in time for your favourite act to perform.

But then you receive a text that goes something like: “We are sorry to inform you that flight EZY9876 to London Stansted Airport has been cancelled due to an airline strike. Please visit the check-in desk for more information”.

Now what? Is this going to totally ruin my holiday plans? Will I have to buy a new flight? How much is this going to cost me? Will I have to spend all night sleeping on the airport floor?

To understand exactly what you need to do and what kind of compensation you’re eligible for, you must first read the hefty EC 261 EU Passenger Rights Regulations document… Just kidding!! We’ve made it super straightforward to understand. Read on!

Am I eligible for compensation?

When an airline goes on strike, it’s likely to cause heavy delays, disruption and total confusion at the airport as passengers scramble around to work out how they’re going to get to where they want to go. The good news is, if your flight has been delayed or cancelled due to an airline strike and you were travelling to/from the EU, you may be entitled to compensation.

If your flight is cancelled, you should be offered an alternative flight on the same airline to your destination on the same day, or the day after. Or, if this isn’t possible, you’ll be offered a full refund.

You should be eligible for compensation if:

  • The airline informed you of the cancellation less than 14 days before your scheduled departure
  • Your flight was delayed by 3 hours or more
  • You were set to fly out from the EU, or you were on an EU airline arriving in the EU
  • The new arrival time of your replacement flight was significantly later than your original
  • This disruption took place within the last 3 years

How much compensation am I eligible for?

The EU Passenger Rights Regulation entitles passengers to full reimbursement of their ticket price, or alternative transport. Depending on your delay, the departure and arrival time of a replacement flight and the distance of your journey, you’re entitled to claim between approximately €250 and €600 per person, even if you’ve already been reimbursed for the price of your ticket.

Provided you meet the eligibility conditions above, you’ll be able to claim based on the following flight distances:

  • Up to 1,500km (ie. London to Paris) – entitled to approximately €250
  • 1,500km – 3,500km (ie. London to Istanbul) – entitled to approximately €400
  • 3,500km and above (ie. London to Seoul) – entitled to approximately €600

Know your rights

If you’re stuck at the airport, you have a ‘right to care’, meaning the airline must look after you. In fact, this is the case whether you’re stuck due to a strike, technical issues or bad weather.

After a delay of 2 hours or more, the airline has a duty to provide you with:

  • Food and refreshments throughout the delay
  • Means of communication – two phone calls, fax messages and emails

If your flight is pushed back for a next day departure, the airline usually arranges hotel accommodation for you, and will provide transport to and from the venue, so you won’t have to spend the night perched atop your suitcase surrounded by other crotchety holidaymakers.

It’s important that you save proof of your expenditure while at the airport – alternative tickets, vouchers and receipts of food and drink expenses – and also get the airline to confirm the cause of disruption in writing. And of course, make full use of the complimentary food and drink while you can!

What about that time my flight was cancelled due to strikes a few years ago?

If your travel was affected by a strike as far back as three years ago, you are now eligible for compensation under EC 261. The same criteria still applies!

So remember…

If you’re stuck at an airport due to an airline strike, you’re eligible for compensation:

  • If your flight was delayed by 3 hours or more, cancelled less than 14 days before your departure, and you’re flying within the EU or with an EU airline arriving into the EU
  • If the new arrival time of your replacement flight was significantly later than your original
  • Between approximately €250 and €600, depending on the distance of your flight

Don’t forget to keep all of your receipts and get information in writing from the airline, and claim your free food and drinks. And if this has happened to you within the past three years, you’re eligible to claim! Good luck.


The article is based on information from the websites listed below and correct as of 21/08/2019. The information and the amounts of compensation are subject to change and any compensation is not guaranteed by Cheapflights.

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