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17 Sep 2019

British Airways and Ryanair pilot strikes - what you need to know if your flight is affected

Flight disruption set to continue throughout September as pilots take strike action
British Airways plane at stand

British Airways and Ryanair UK pilot strikes are set to disrupt travelling passengers this September, with fresh strike action planned.

Update (18/09/2019)

A strike planned by British Airways pilots later this month in a dispute over pay has been called off.

Members of the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) were due to walk out for 24 hours on September 27, following a 48-hour stoppage last week.

British Airways strike disruption

British Airways pilots who are members of the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) plan to strike again on 27 September, following two days of strike action earlier this month.

On 12 September, British Airways started cancelling flights scheduled to fly on 27 September, informing affected passengers just outside of the 14-day window which means it doesn't have to pay compensation.

The airline is legally required to minimise disruption for passengers and ensure they are not left out of pocket. British Airways also said it will offer refunds and rebookings for passengers booked on cancelled flights.

plane taking off

We spoke to a Londoner who is affected by British Airways' decision to cancel flights on 27 September ahead of planned strike action.

She said: 'I had heard some weeks ago that flights might be cancelled due to the BA strike, but BA didn't tell me whether my flight from London Heathrow to Edinburgh would be affected until 12 September.

'Luckily I'd booked a train ticket as a precaution when I first saw the news, but I couldn't know whether that was going to be wasted money until I got the BA email, which was frankly a long time after the strike was first announced. If I'd waited to book alternative travel I could have found myself paying very high rates.

'While the email from BA did mention alternative flights, having already booked an alternative I wasn't prepared to be rerouted. I didn't want to end up flying at an inconvenient time or risk the replacement being cancelled too - and as I only had a narrow window in which to travel, I wasn't prepared to take the risk. I asked for a refund instead, which I'm waiting to receive.'

Cancelled flights, what are my rights?

Under EU law, you're only entitled to compensation if you hear from the airline that your flight is cancelled less than 14 days' from the date you're due to fly.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: 'British Airways must now proactively inform those affected by any fresh cancellations of their rights to be rerouted on the next available flight, even if this is with a rival airline.

'Unless a refund is vital to you, don't be fobbed off by this option. A refund means your travel plans would no longer be the responsibility of the airline and you would not be entitled to any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the disruption.'

Read more: Your rights when your flights are delays and cancelled due to strike action.

Your next steps if your flight is cancelled

If your flight is one of those affected, you will need to contact British Airways.

Legally, you can choose between one of the following two options:

1. Get an alternative flight (airlines call this 'rerouting') to your destination.

  • Rerouting to your final destination at the earliest opportunity. Importantly, this can include alternative flights and booking seats with other airlines.
  • Rerouting to your final destination at a later date convenient to you. Importantly, this can include alternative flights and booking seats with other airlines.

If your cancelled flight isn't a direct flight to your destination, you're entitled to a flight back to your original point of departure or to be refunded in full.

For example, if you're flying from London to Sydney with a stopover in Singapore and one of those legs is cancelled, then the airline has a duty to get you to your final destination. It can't leave you stranded at a lounge in Singapore.

2. Get a refund.

You must receive a refund of the full cost of the flight within seven days.

But, it's important to be aware that once you take a refund, the airline no longer has a duty of care towards you and you can't claim back any further expenses you have.

Did you know? You have extra protections if you booked a package holiday with British Airways.

Ryanair strikes in September 2019

Ryanair pilots who are members of Balpa have announced further strike dates in September 2019 following a breakdown of conciliation talks at Acas to resolve the dispute.

The next rounds of Ryanair UK pilot strikes will be:

  • 18 and 19 September (48 hours)
  • 21 September (24 hours)
  • 23 September (24 hours)
  • 25 September (24 hours)
  • 27 September (24 hours)
  • 29 September (24 hours)

Balpa said in a statement it feels it has been left with no choice but to add more dates.

Ryanair hasn't yet cancelled flights on these dates and, according to a travel update on its website on 16 September, it expects all its flights to/from UK airports on 18 and 19 September to operate as scheduled.

Ryanair pilots previously carried out strike action on 22 and 23 August this year and on 3 September to 5 September with minimal disruption for passengers.

Ryanair drafted in pilots from elsewhere in Europe to fill in during strike action which took place earlier this year.

What are my rights?

If your flight is delayed or cancelled because of a strike, your airline has an obligation to offer you assistance if the delay is expected to go beyond a certain point.

Assistance includes meals, refreshments, accommodation and hotel transfers, depending on the length of your flight and delay.

Strikes by airline staff are not considered an extraordinary circumstance, so you should also be entitled to compensation.

Read the extraordinary circumstances section of our flight delay guide for information on when you are and aren't entitled to compensation for flight delays and cancellations.

Have you been affected by strike action this summer? Share your experience by emailing travelexperts@which.co.uk.

Please include your contact number and preferred email address if you're willing to speak to a Which? journalist.