What to Do If Your Flight Is Canceled Because of an Airline Strike

The one thing passengers should have in case of a walkout

British Airways strike
Inside London's Heathrow Airport on day one of the British Airways pilot strike.
PA/PA Images via Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / September 10, 2019 9:54 am

You planned a nice European holiday, bought tickets well in advance to lock down a good price and eagerly awaited for Monday to arrive so you could start your vacation. And if you booked on British Airways, you then suddenly realized that 4,000 pilots were staging a 48-hour walkout, effectively stranding 195,000 passengers. More strikes are planned for September 27th.

And you have no backup plan.

We’re not here to take sides in this specific airline fight. We’re here to get you where you’re going and/or get reimbursed for your flight the next time this happens. Follow these steps.

Buy travel insurance

“Travel insurance can certainly help in the event of an airline strike,” says Julie Loffredi from InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison site. “But as with all travel insurance coverage, it’s important to understand the role of the insurance policy in mitigating any strike-related issues, and when these benefits may or may not apply.” 

And if you’re worried about a strike, don’t look to the airline for help.  “In most cases, airlines are not obligated to reimburse you for a flight that is cancelled or severely delayed due to a labor strike,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com (another travel insurance comparison site). “If an airline cannot or will not honor your pre-purchased ticket in the event of a strike, generally travel insurance will cover you as long as you booked your flight and purchased the insurance before the unexpected strike dates were announced.”

Buy travel insurance when you book your ticket 

Most travel insurance can be purchased up to the day prior to your departure date. “We recommend travelers purchase their travel insurance policy within a set number of days (usually 7-21 days) of their initial trip payment date, such as when they are booking their flight,” says Sandberg.

Get this plan

Loffredi suggests purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy, because that includes coverage for unannounced strikes — as well, you’ll be covered for travel delays, cancellations or other interruptions that come up thereafter. It’s more expensive (think 4-10% of your total, pre-paid, non-refundable trip cost), but again, you’re more likely to get reimbursed if there’s an issue.

Now, let’s define your delay. To get any compensation usually requires a minimum of six hours of travel interruption; depending on your plan, you’ll be eligible for reimbursement for food, lodging and additional transportation costs that are a direct result of your delay. Trip interruption (which is part of a comprehensive plan) can provide assistance for travelers who are delayed for a longer period of time, like 12-24 hours. At 24 hours or more, you may qualify to cancel your trip and be reimbursed for your pre-paid, insured trip costs.

File your claim, and … wait

If a strike requires you to re-book tickets on another carrier, you might be able to file a claim with your insurance provider to reimburse some (or all) of the cost of that additional ticket — depending on your policy. “If the airline or other carrier didn’t reimburse you fully for the tickets you lost due to their strike, travel insurance policies may operate on a ‘make-whole’ philosophy,” says Loffredi. “Depending on your plan and policy limits, this means insurance policies may offer reimbursement for the difference between what you’ve paid and what the airline refunded back to you.”

Reimbursement takes about two weeks after filing a claim, Sandberg notes.

Most importantly, read up on your airline before you buy a ticket (or travel insurance)

You have to purchase all this insurance while the strike is still considered an “unforeseen event” (and most of these strikes are announced in advance). So that September 27th second strike by British Airways is not going to be applicable. Your best bet is to do a little research and make sure you’re comfortable with the airline you’re booking with, then buy trip insurance as soon as you can after your ticket purchase.