British Airways strike: Which flights are cancelled and what can thousands of travellers do now?

Simon Calder
File image: EPA/Andy Rain

What is happening?

In July, BA pilots belonging to the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) voted overwhelmingly to strike. BA then tried twice in court to get the ballot ruled unlawful, but failed.

On Friday afternoon, 23 August, the pilots’ union announced strike dates: 9, 10 and 27 September. And on Friday evening thousands of passengers were told their flights had been cancelled.

The idea was to notify travellers as soon as possible – partly to help them, and also to avoid the need to compensate passengers under European air passengers’ rights rules. If an airline cancels a flight less than two weeks ahead, it must provide up to £560 in compensation.

The cancellations for the first 48 hour strike were for a five-day stretch, covering 8 to 12 September. But by Saturday 24 August, many passengers had been told their flights were not, in fact, cancelled.

My flight has really been cancelled. What are my rights?

The European rules that govern British Airways stipulate a passenger whose flight is cancelled must prove the traveller with “re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity.”

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) confirms that if BA cannot offer an alternative flight on the original day of departure, it must book a seat on another airline.

Unfortunately, British Airways failed to mention that obligation, telling passengers they could choose from a refund or rebooking on BA for a different day.

To compound the problem, British Airways told passengers: “If you have a flight booked with us on those dates, it is likely that you will not be able to travel.”

In fact, it is very likely that many of the passengers will be able to travel. They can request a seat on another airline through the call centre, though waits are long.

I recommend not spoiling the weekend by repeatedly trying to phone an overstretched call centre. Call again on Wednesday: by then the surge of stressed and anxious passengers who have not been fully informed of their rights may ease.

If I get rebooked, will I get the same baggage allowance?

That should happen; if there are extra costs then you should pay them and reclaim the extra from British Airways.

Should you be rebooked on a long-haul flight on Norwegian, which has no complimentary catering for economy passengers, you can asks for meals to be added to your booking, or pay and reclaim.

I need an extra hotel stay. Who pays?

If it is required because of rebooking, whether on British Airways or another airline, then BA is required to book the accommodation for you and provide meals (no alcohol).

I cancelled for a refund and rebooked with easyJet at great expense. Can I send the bill to British Airways?

If you can demonstrate you were not given a full range of options, I believe you can.

Is the reference to “comparable transport conditions” a valid reason for BA appearing to be reluctant to re-book on low-cost airlines such as easyJet?

No. Passengers have told me that British Airways staff have refused to rebook them on easyJet because it is not an “affiliate airline”. But again, that is BA's problem, not the traveller's – even if the airline has to use a manager's credit card to pay for the seat on easyJet, if that is the most appropriate departure.

I booked alternative flights and then my flight was uncancelled. Can I claim the extra cost?

A spokesperson for BA said: “We are sorry for any confusion and inconvenience this has caused.

“We would encourage anyone who has incurred any expenses as a direct result to get in touch, and we will deal with each case on an individual basis.”

My reading of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 indicates that British Airways must provide its services with “reasonable care and skill”. I don’t think cancelling than uncancelling meets that test. So I imagine BA will be meeting all reasonable claims for the extra costs it has triggered.

I am flying on 9 September but have not been told my flight is cancelled. Should I worry?

Probably not. It may be that your flight is on BA CityFlyer, the London City airport subsidiary, which is unaffected by the strike. Or it may be a “code-share” flight that is actually operated by American Airlines, Iberia, Vueling, etc.

If it is a British Airways “main line” flight, it may be one that BA is confident of offering. The airline is already looking at contingencies, which will include chartering in capacity from its part-owner, Qatar Airways. A “sub-fleet” of short-haul aircraft operated many British Airways flights during the 2017 cabin-crew strikes.

I am due to fly home on 27 September. When are BA are likely to give more information?

While I have every sympathy with people booked on BA on 27 September (and 26/28/29 Sept because they could also be affected), at this stage do nothing unless you actually want a refund because your plans have changed.

We’re booked on a flight on 28 September. Might we be bumped off in favour of someone on a cancelled flight on 27 September?

No, passengers on cancelled flights go to the back of the queue. Travellers already booked on flights that are going always take priority.