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It wouldn’t be summer in Europe without an airline strike, would it? Next time, you might not care quite as much, because the airline you’re flying with is officially on the hook for compensation to you, if they mess up your plans.

A new ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) states that airlines are no longer able to claim ‘exceptional circumstance’ which allows them to avoid compensation to passengers when staff go on strike for many flights in, around or out of Europe.

If there’s a strike, and you’re delayed or cancelled by a certain amount of time, you’ll be due cash compensation, and any flight available to get you home.

ECJ Rules On Airline Strikes

First, this applies only in regard to EC261 compensation, which applies to all flights by European airlines, and any international airlines when departing from Europe. The UK now has its own policy, which is the same as EC261, but no longer a part of it.

Yep, it would include a United flight from Europe to the USA, but not a United flight from the USA to Europe. For Lufthansa, KLM, or any other EU airline, it’s all flights.

These passenger protection rules make it so that when airlines delay passengers; or cancel flights which cause delays, passengers have options which are set in stone.

If delays or the results of a cancellation hit certain thresholds, typically more than 3-4 hours, cash is also due to passengers, in addition to the next flight home, even on a competing airline. With strikes ever present in recent years, airlines have consistently told passengers that compensation is not due, because strikes are “extraordinary”.

The same EU rules state that all bets are off for compensation and other perks if the delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances such as extreme or unsafe weather. Makes sense, right? But for airline strikes, the European Court of Justice has now ruled that an airline is still on the hook, and airline strikes are not extraordinary.

That excuse is no longer legally valid.

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If airline staff go on strike, and it results in a 3-4+ hour delay or more; or cancelled flight, the airline is on the hook for all the compensation it would be if they had any other non exceptional problem. That’s clearly set in legal precedent now, after a two plus year battle, dating back to 2018.

This is a huge “win” for all passengers, since many hundreds of thousands have been impacted by this in recent years and basically told to “deal with it”. This has lead many to dig into their own pockets to find an alternative ticket, or way around. In the future, any compensation claims will have legal precedent from the European Court of Justice in the passenger favor.

Christian Nielsen, AirHelp’s Chief Legal Officer, states…

“The decision from the European Court of Justice sets the new standard on how strike cases are dealt with, as it is binding for all EU countries and airlines. The ruling clarifies a very important matter for all passengers that are affected by airline staff strikes in the future, but also for those who suffered from this in the past years.”

If a flight this summer is delayed by more than 3 hours due to airline strike, under the new ‘strike’ rules a passenger would absolutely be entitled to…

Of course, in the (im)practical world we live in, this doesn’t mean airlines will honor their obligations without a flight. This landmark ruling makes it abundantly clear that airlines will be held responsible, whether you paid cash or used points, but they can still make erroneous claims to frustrate or delay paying out.

If this happens, the best approach is a continued barrage of communications to the airline stating simply the request to be fairly compensated, highlighting the flight, the reason given for the delay and the legal obligation set clearly by the EU and this new ruling. Failing that, the EU has a series of suggestions to take things further, and for a fee, companies like AirHelp can help process and fight the claim for you.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. British Airways tend to ignore the law and consumer rights anyway but if true *and enforced*, surely this means the end of their business?
    BA surely couldn’t survive if forced to pay customers what their legally entitled to as refunds and compensation.

  2. 2 years ago Aistrian compensate me no issue when theu were on strike amd i got stuck. Got offered hotel and paid my expenses.

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