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…
First, There’s No EC261 Compensation Due
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.
British Airways Has 1 Of 3 Duties, And You Must Choose Carefully…
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.
You Have A Right To Be Rebooked On Other Airlines
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.
Accounting For Extra Nights Away And Expenses
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.
You’ve surprised me Luigi, Well done.
Again an invaluable objective article, only missing one thing…
…advice on flying ABBA in the future until BA change strategy and start respecting their customers.
Thank you for the surprise though
Thank you for the article. Could you please update if travel waivers start becoming available for days close to, but not exactly on the strike dates? Thanks!
What “right words” did you suggest for the friend with the United flight?
You are legally obligated to rebook me on the next available flight regardless of airline and if you don’t I’ll be contacting the CAA.
Just spent the last 3 days trying to contact BA to have my canceled flights from Pisa to Aberdeen on Monday 9th re-routed. Got through many times after an hour on hold only to be cut off every time!! Finally got to talk to them yesterday and requested an alternative flight as my wife has to be back to work on Tuesday, they offered me an option with Iberia from Florence back to London Gatwick instead of Pisa to Heathrow and said i could re-book the London to Aberdeen part myself and request a re-fund and claim compensation for that part of the journey. I have now discovered there are no flights from Gatwick to Aberdeen and the time i arrive (19:40) i have no chance of getting home from any London airport……what do i do now? I did request them to put me on a KLM flight via Schiphol which gets into Aberdeen at 10:00p.m. but they refused to do this as this is not a partner airline. What do i do now, guess i am stuck in London which is no use!! Can i still request a full refund after they have changed my booking and cancel the whole nightmare i am having?
Have you tried the Caledonian Sleeper train from London Euston? 21:15 Direct. Or 23:00 change at Edinburgh?
Not a flight I know but if you’re really stuck.
I’m having to change my outbound BA flight to an earlier date. There is no alternative flight or carrier on the same day. The fair for the new BA flight is more expensive. Should I expect BA to write off the difference? Or will I have to try and claim on travel insurance?
You should not cancel the ticket, you should make them rebook you on the flight you find.
Great article. Thankfully not caught up in this this time round but this information would have been incredibly useful for previous flight cancellations when I’ve simply been fobbed off by GCH CS
Good article. I noticed a typo though in the first paragraph : “It also applies to flights delayed 3-4 hours or more due to circumstances outside of the airlines control”. You should replace outside by within. Mechanical issues, Strikes, operational delays are within the airline control, but not the civil unrest or the weather…
why canceled my holiday with out telling us and all they need to do was book us on another flight .home we did this are self at are local ba desk at the airport as i was 15 mins bus ride away .
we found out this morning they had refunded into are account so took some time to sort out
Received the email stating our return flight from Boston to Glasgow via Heathrow on 11/12 Sept was cancelled, clicked thru for refund as suggested by BA.
Next day new email says BA screwed up and our flights are NOT cancelled!
Been trying to contact BA to find out if we have flights or not.
We’ve not re-booked any flight.
That’s appalling that you haven’t been able to get through. I’d say keep exhausting all lines of communication: phone, twitter, email, etc and push on. If it was cancelled in error, they should be able to reinstate it at original fare for you, given the extreme circumstances.
I got lucky. Was due BA first class on the 27th to Abu Dhabi. They moved me onto flights departing 25 and will pay hotel costs for the extra days. Kind of helps that I am also. bA exec club gold card. Guess I’m lucky with status and flight class .Push hard and know your rights
“Humble brag, it’s humble braa-aag, humble brag of the week!”
Really good article Thank you.
However in my personal situation we are booked using a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher thus paying in AVIOS. Somehow I suspect this will not work out for the good of our itinerary.
It’s all the same duty of care, they must refund you or rebook you regardless of Avios availability or partner airline.
Thank you for that clarification Gilbert. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they don’t carry on and hit my next flights in December as I’m the same as Colin….on a 2-4-1 Avios in F
Great Article. I’m flying to Barcelona in Business but their alternative carrier can only offer Economy on the day I was due to fly. BA have been offered a flight two days earlier which I’m happy to take but i’m wondering if I can claim for the additional nights hotels/expenses in this case?
So if I have bought some expensive return flights with easyjet, from what you say, I shouldn’t bother cancelling the cancelled BA return flight given that, at worst, they will have to refund me anyway or at best, they refund me anyway which will make them liable for the difference?
We are currently in Barbados and were due to fly home on 3 september to Gatwick. We received a text message and email from BA yesterday (30th Aug) to say our flight was cancelled but we do not know why as it is not a strike date and Dorian passed here last week with minimal damage.
We had to ask dialaflight who we booked with to get us on another flight as soon as possible as our daughter was due back into school on 4th September (year10).
The only options they gave us were to travel with BA on the 11 September or to travel via Miami into Heathrow on 4 Sept with a 2 hour connection time in Miami meaning she would not make it back to school until Friday 6th September.
We also had to then pay for Estas which you need even if in transit and also and extra night i kennels for our two dogs, provided we make the dubious connection.
BA refunded our cancelled flights in September MINUS a change fee we paid months ago–is this legal? THANKS!!
BA have cancelled my flight from Glasgow to Gatwick on 11/09 and have booked me on a Glasgow to London City flight on 10/09 instead. I need to make my way from London City to Gatwick for my connection flight which leaves on 11/09/19. Can I claim expenses occurred from London City to London Gatwick and accommodation costs for the night?
I was booked on a BA flight on 12th September, the only other flight they offered was that I come home early on the 9th which I had to take as had work commitments, I lost 3 days of my holiday and couldn’t get a hotel refund, can I claim any compensation?
We flew the day the strikes were announced, we rebooked at the airport for the next available flight home, 3 days later. We were told to keep the receipts hotel up to 200 per night, food 25 per day. Car hire booked via BA was extended and so was Gatwick parking. Our claim of just under 800 was reduced to 300, we plan to appeal, we carefully followed every instruction from rebooking, cabin crew, and a call to customer service. I feel we have been treated dishonestly
I was holding 2 one-way tickets (nonrefundable, approx. 140 Euros total) from Pisa to London-Heathrow on 9/27, and British cancelled, and did not reinstate, the flight due to the strike. In early October, they issued a refund of 1.66 Euros to my credit card. Confused, I contacted them and they informed me that my ticket was “restricted” and I wasn’t entitled to any refund beyond some of the taxes. I complained a second time, and got the same answer. They referred to the terms/contract of carriage. I find it hard to believe that I can’t get the fare I paid refunded when they cancelled the flight. This sounds like straight-up stealing to me. Is there really a situation in which an airline can legally cancel the flight and simply keep the customer’s funds? I submitted a complaint to the CAA and also have disputed the transaction with my card company.
BA cancelled out return flights on 8and 9 September they gave us 15 days notice which is fair enough. But the Day we were due to fly they cancelled our whole holiday to Orlando and refunded our whole trip. We were lucky to get on another flight with Thomas Cook but BA refuse to pay the difference or pay any compensation. Surely this cannot be. I have been corresponding with them since 24 August????
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