Whenever a strike is looming at an airline, passenger anxiety naturally increases. The uncertainty not only is among passengers but extends to airline employees as well. In effect, if you call an airline even hours before a possible strike you are likely to be told that the company line is business as usual.
What Is an Airline Obligated to Do During a Strike?
Nothing. There are no provisions guaranteeing you anything in the case of a labor disruption. Sometimes there is advance notice that a strike might occur, other times it is a wildcat strike such as a sick-in where airline employees call in sick en masse. That being said, airlines will usually try to do something for its passengers.
What Will an Airline Try to Do During a Strike for Its Most Frequent Flyers?
If you are a top-tier frequent flyer member, the airline is probably working on rebooking your travel before you even reach an agent. The airline wants to maintain its most loyal passengers and will try and accommodate them first.
Rebooking on Other Airlines
- During a strike, an airline will often rebook on partner airlines, space permitting. You will be waiting a long time on the phone or at the airport, but an airline will turn to partner airlines as a strike lingers.
- An airline may offer to rebook on non-partner airlines. This usually does not occur until all partner airline options have been exhausted.
Rebooking Without Fees
- Although airlines are not obligated to do anything during a strike, they will usually loosen their ticket rules. If a strike does not affect all flights then you are likely to be able to standby for other flights without fees, thus arrive at the airport early.
- In the same vein, you may be able to rebook for later travel dates without fees. And if a strike drags on, refunds without penalties are often offered.
- Unfortunately, the airline may not offer many options, save rebooking you on their next available flight if yours gets canceled. In the days after 9/11, some passengers could not be accommodated for days after their original flights on 9/11 and 9/12.
Information During a Strike
An airline may simply post their policies/news on their website as circumstances change. It is always a good idea during a strike to check the airline's website.
What Should You Do to Protect Yourself During an Airline Strike?
- If you are flexible with your travel dates, call to see if you can rebook. Strikes often mean that you can change your ticket for future travel without fees.
- If you do not need to travel and the strike is longer, call for a refund. A strike that drags on will lead an airline to permit refunds without fees as even after flights are back to normal there is likely to be a huge backlog of disrupted passengers.
- Check if your travel insurance covers labor disruptions.
- Check for partner airlines check to see if there is space on them, and see if you can rebook as it may be allowed by the striking airline.
- As a last resort (expensive), book a refundable ticket on another airline. You can refund the ticket if you do not end up requiring it.
Strikes and Low Cost or Charter Airlines
It may be a generalization, but low cost and charter airlines are likely to have fewer options since they don't usually have ticketing agreements with other airlines and may have less service to your destination.