August 27th update: since the release of this article, the UK CAA, the aviation governing body has issued a statement noting that British Airways may not be properly honouring the rebooking options it must legally offer, and has made inquiries with the airline. You can read the CAA statement here when you’re done learning…
When strikes happen, there are winners, and there are losers. The losers, proverbially speaking, are the people who just say “to hell with it”, and irrationally spend money or make moves without knowing their rights or restrictions. During British Airways September strikes, which are set to affect flights on September 9th, 10th and 27th (and perhaps a few before and after) it’s imperative that you learn what the EU laws can offer you, what British Airways must do, and also what they don’t have to do.
The winners during these strikes are the people who use law, reason and level headed polite thinking to fight and advocate for things which are either possible or legally granted to them by law, while also remaining calm and polite with any and all BA representatives they encounter. Remember: the person on the phone didn’t cancel your flight, or go on strike.
With so much misinformation out there, this seems like a great time to clarify with the utmost crystal certainty what British Airways must do for you, what they may say back and what you really shouldn’t do…
Flights cancelled 14 days in advance or more, which all affected British Airways flights thus far have been, are not entitled to EC261 cash compensation. That doesn’t in any way mean that British Airways doesn’t have responsibilities and duties it must provide to you so that you may salvage your trip, it just means that you won’t be getting a payday in addition to a refund or a new flight.
EC261 cancellation compensation only applies when delays are between 14-7 days or within 7 days. It also applies to flights delayed 3-4 hours or more due to circumstances inside the airlines control, which usually means everything but extreme weather or crazy political unrest.
According to the official website of the European Union and the UK’s CAA, both of which have the governing law in effect for this situation, British Airways must offer you, the passenger, three definitive options if your flight has been cancelled. Know this: once you choose one, you’re ineligible for the rest, and generally speaking an airline ticket that you choose to cancel for a refund then cannot be reinstated.
The airline must offer you, on a one off basis, a choice between:
- the reimbursement of your ticket and, if you have a connecting flight, a return flight to the airport of departure at the earliest opportunity
- re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or,
- re-routing at a later date at your convenience under comparable transport conditions, subject to the availability of seats.
Important note: all of the above applies even if you used points or a voucher. BA’s duty is the same.
Now here’s where this gets a little bit hairy.
You’re absolutely entitled to a refund of your flights if they’ve been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that you should take that refund and book your own new flights if you plan to travel. If you no longer wish to travel, go for it though. A refund may not cover, and likely won’t cover the cost of a new ticket with such short notice on another airline, which means you’d find yourself out extra cash. Instead, the better play is to really exhaust your alternative flight options and have BA book that for you.
Good to know: If British Airways proactively refunds your ticket without you asking for it to be cancelled or refunded, the airline then must legally also pay any difference in fare between that ticket and your new ticket in the same cabin. That’s only if British Airways proactively refunds you without your permission, but it’s good to know.
Make no mistake: if you don’t take a refund, British Airways has a legal duty to get you to your final destination at “the earliest opportunity”. Thus far, British Airways has only allowed agents to offer re routes or complimentary rebookings onto other Oneworld airlines. In other words, when you call, they will gladly put you onto an American, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Qantas, Qatar, Royal Jordanian or other partner airline, but thus far they’ve been unwilling to book passengers onto other carriers which would typically be described as a competitor, despite the “earliest opportunity” obligation.
But put this aside for a second and try to find the easiest solution first…
Here’s What To Do Right Now If You Still Wish To Travel
If you still wish to travel, find an alternative flight with a seat for sale on another Oneworld airline, which you can instantly filter by using Google.com/flights and selecting “Oneworld” in the airlines tab.
If there’s a seat for sale to your final destination in the same cabin that will work for you, call British Airways and get them to put you onto that flight ASAP, while there’s still space. It doesn’t matter how much it says the ticket costs, it’s British Airways duty to book that seat for you – and don’t feel bad for them, because they have pre-negotiated special rates between the other airlines for these situations.
As to convincing BA to rebook you onto non partner airlines, like Virgin, this is a bit of a legal grey area, where technically British Airways is supposed to book you onto the first available flight with a seat for sale in the same cabin, if that flight works for you, even if it’s a competing airline.
With this much time in advance, the airline has thus far chosen to play a bit of hardball, which may or may not be above board. The CAA guidance lacks teeth, which British Airways is taking advantage of in this situation. During flight delays, airlines are absolutely required by EU law to rebook passengers onto any other available airline, no matter how much they pretend not to be, but for cancellations the letter of the law, as they say in Line Of Duty, is less crystal.
For example, a friends flight was recently cancelled by United, but after my suggestion spoke the right words to get the United agent to endorse their ticket over to Virgin Atlantic, even though the two airlines are not in fact partners.
If you’re away from home and none of the options above allow you to leave on the same planned date, British Airways has a duty to provide meals, access to communication and also accommodation until you make it home. In other words, if your holiday is extended by three days because of the strikes and there are no flights they can get you out on at all, it’s the airlines legal duty to provide lodging for you.
Before you pull out the credit card and starting charging the mini bar, don’t. In most circumstances, the airline will choose the accommodation and issue vouchers for said accommodation at the airport where you are. Don’t go booking your own hotel until you’ve spoken with the airline and received a form of written or verbal confirmation that a hotel you wish to stay in will absolutely be covered and can then be expensed. The same goes for meals. You’ll be given basic vouchers, which absolutely won’t include alcohol or any extras.
Outside of these legal requirements, you can always attempt to submit expense claims to British Airways with reasonable things you encountered while stuck due to the strikes. The airline really does not have any obligation to honour these, but if you’re a frequent flyer or the expenses are extremely fair, you may or may not find some joy.
Best of luck, and keep us informed of how you get on in the comments section. It’s massively helpful to others to see what you were able to achieve with your British Airways dealings.