British Airways passengers have been urged to contact their travel insurers to ensure they are protected should strike action go ahead.
Yesterday the airline’s largest union, Unite, announced that 7,400 cabin crew have voted in favour of strike action. British Airways staff are angry about cost-cutting measures and new employee contracts introduced last November.
Despite 80% of cabin crew who returned their ballot papers voting yes to strike action, the union has not announced dates – although it has told journalists that the busy Easter period is unlikely to be affected.
Will my insurance cover me?
Any strike action as a result of the latest ballot is expected to take place in March – however, passengers have been warned that insurance policies bought after 18 January (when the new ballot was announced) are unlikely to cover cancelled or disrupted flights.
“Insurers will say that passengers knew about the risk of strike action when buying their travel insurance, if this was purchased after 18 January,” explains Bob Atkinson, travel expert at travelsupermarket.com.
However, it is worth checking with your insurer as some may continue to offer you cover until a strike is confirmed.
Even if you did buy travel insurance before 18 January, you should still get in contact with your insurer as soon as possible.
“Not all policies will cover passengers for strike action,” says Atkinson. “Generally speaking, the cheaper the policy the less likely you will be able to claim for disruptions that were beyond your control – such as a strike.”
Travellers with annual insurance policies but who booked their British Airways tickets after the 18 January should also double check what their rights are. It may be that some insurers will not offer cover, arguing that passengers knew there was a risk of strike action before they booked.
What are my rights if my flight is disrupted by strikes?
Back in January, British Airways reassured its passengers that, in the event of strike action, it would put their interests first.
“We will provide assistance for those crew who wish to work normally and we will explore all options to enable us to operate the best flying programme possible under the circumstances,” it said in a statement.
If strike dates are announced, customers booked to travel during that period will be able to rebook, free of charge and subject to availability, onto other British Airways flights outside of the strike period for up to 12 months from the original date of travel.
However, rebooking options will be subject to availability.
If flights are cancelled as a result of strike action, customers will also be able to cancel their booking and claim a full refund - EU regulations require that airlines pay refunds within seven days or offer passengers the soonest available flight to their destination.
British Airways Executive Club members will continue to earn Tier Points and airmiles for flights cancelled due to any strike action.
British Airways is also liable to pay for meals and refreshments that you take during the waiting time, and overnight hotel accommodation and transfers if necessary. You'll also entitled to claim two free telephone calls, plus the cost of emails or faxes.
However, you won't be able to claim for other expenses incurred - for example, if your car hire company or hotel refuse to refund you and you are unable to travel to your destination, then you will have to try and claim through your travel insurance.
If you flight is delayed or cancelled within 14 days of departure then technically passengers are able to claim compensation under EU regulations. However, this excludes problems caused by strike action.
How likely is a strike?
The union and British Airways are now in negotiations to try and avoid any industrial action altogether.
Unite previously organised a 12-day strike over the busy Christmas and New Year period but this was called off after the High Court found the balloting process was illegal. However, in January Unite confirmed its intention to hold another ballot among its 12,000 members.
Most voted ahead of another court ruling; on Friday 19 February Unite lost its legal battle to overturn the airline’s cost-cutting measures with the High Court ruling that British Airways acted within its rights.
The judge also rejected the union’s argument that it was not properly consulted on changes – including pay freezes and reducing the number of cabin crew on long-haul flights.
Following the ruling, McCluskey said it made “absolutely no difference” to the substance of its dispute with British Airways. However, the airline has now threatened to take away travel perks from workers who do take part in the strike - and sources say this could sour the appetite for industrial action among cabin crew.