Your rights during air strikes: preparing for industrial action this summer

5 min read
July 19, 2023

Summer 2023 is looking like it will be following in the footsteps of the last few years, with more travel chaos coming our way. 

First, it was the BA pilot’s strike in 2019, then Ryanair’s cabin crew in 2021. As we covered last week, Easyjet’s cancellation of almost 2000 flights was an attempt to preempt the bigger disruptions it anticipates over the coming months. 

The announcement of industrial action by airport workers, air traffic control and civil servants in Italy, France and other EU countries suggests that there is going to be severe disruption for thousands of holidaymakers throughout July and August. 

If you’ve managed to avoid the mass cancellation of flights so far that’s great. But it’s unlikely that your plans for a summer break will escape unscathed from the knock-on effects of these strikes. 

In this article, we’ll cover your rights when it comes to strikes and how you can best prepare for them. 

Strikes and passenger rights

Strike action is something that the airline can be held responsible for in EU law – although read on for some important exceptions. After all, if their crew are unhappy, it is up to the airlines who employ them to find a resolution to the disputes over pay and working conditions. 

This is good news for airline passengers – if the airline is considered responsible for strike action you will be entitled to a refund or some compensation for their failure to prevent the disruption it causes. 

However, strikes are intentionally organised to create maximum disruption for those trying to fly. So even if you can claim back the costs later, there will nonetheless be a major issue for anyone trying to travel during the busy time that the action is scheduled for. 

UK and European news outlets will be covering the upcoming industrial actions and will report on the announcement of any new dates – so keep your eyes out for any updates. 

You may not be able to do anything about the strikes, but it is helpful to know your rights, how to claim compensation and other ways you can be financially protected. 

Claiming compensation from the airline 

Even post-Brexit the UK follows EU law on the responsibilities of airlines for cancellations, delays and disruptions. Under this legislation, if their staff – like pilots or cabin crew – are on strike the airline is responsible for compensating passengers who are negatively affected. 

However, there is an important caveat: if it’s not an airline’s own crew or employees then, like extreme weather, industrial action is treated as an ‘unforseen circumstances’ that the airline could not have anticipated and is therefore not responsible for. So if it’s airport workers, civil servants or air traffic control that are on strike then the airline may not have to pay compensation to passengers. 

If it is the airline’s responsibility, and you’re given two weeks’ notice and offered a rerouted flight that is similar to your original booking, you may be able to get a refund but not claim any additional compensation. In this case, other costs you incur, like airport transfers, car hire or accommodation, you’ll only be able to claim from your insurer.

However, if the strike is called less than two weeks before you travel, or you end up being stranded while on holiday, you are entitled to additional compensation to cover costs of food or accommodation.

Am I covered by insurance? 

Some but not all travel insurance will cover you for the disruption caused by strike action. This will cover the cost of alternative flights if you’re delayed more than 24 hours, or if it’s cancelled and the airline doesn’t automatically book you onto an alternative flight. 

Travel insurance will also cover any other costs incurred – such as hotel stays, car hire, airport transfers or food.

However, this is only applicable if the strike was not planned when you booked the trip or took out the policy. Now that the strikes have been called, it may not be possible to take out a policy that will cover you for this set of actions. 

It should also be noted that some travel insurers exclude cover for airline strikes and disruption caused by industrial action. So, make sure you’ve checked out the terms and conditions – if those long documents and fine print are hard to decipher, ask the insurer to tell you more clearly if you’ll be covered in these circumstances. 

The best advice we can give you is to take out insurance as soon as you’ve paid for your flights – if a strike is announced later, you’ll then be protected. 

And if you don’t know where to start, or want some help comparing insurers, go ahead and use our comparison tool.

What to do if you’re affected? 

If the industrial action that has just been announced will affect your holiday plans, the first thing you should do is contact the airline or travel agent. 

The airline is likely to get in touch with you anyway, to offer you an alternative flight or the ability to get a refund. If your flight is part of a package holiday, you’ll be protected by ATOL so the travel operator will have to make alternative arrangements for you. 

Cancelling or rebooking 

Don’t panic and cancel your flight just because of the threat of strike action – it will be unlikely that you can claim a refund if you cancel it yourself so you may end up out of pocket. 

The same goes for rebooking. While you might want to have a look at alternative options, hold off on buying new flight tickets until you know for sure that your original flight will be suspended and you’re due a refund on the original booking. 

Raise a claim

Unless you are automatically refunded for your cancelled flight, you’ll need to submit a claim to the airline. So once you know the position you’re in, and that you’re entitled to a refund or compensation, you should do this as soon as possible.

Our free tool makes it easy to know your rights and submit your claim – so go ahead and raise a case.


If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at

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