Strikes in Europe: How to Plan Around Them


Ongoing labor actions continue to wreak havoc on major European transit hubs and may upend the plans of travelers this summer.

Tens of thousands of flights and trains have been delayed or canceled in recent months as workers across European cities walked out over pay disputes and labor conditions. France and Britain have been hit particularly badly, with prolonged strikes over peak holiday periods.

In part because of the labor actions, flight cancellations in Europe rose by 65 percent in March compared with the previous month, and are expected to rise further as demand increases into the summer season, according to Cirium, an aviation analytics firm.

For travelers in the process of booking their summer trips, travel experts advise checking if flights and hotel reservations coincide with planned labor actions. Heathrow Airport in London, where members of security staff have been striking for several days each month, keeps an updated calendar of planned disruptions. In Britain, the national rail service has posted planned train strike dates through June.

In France, trade unions have been staging regular nationwide protests against a bill introduced by President Emmanuel Macron to raise the country’s retirement age by two years. Violent clashes have broken out between demonstrators and the police, causing some tourist attractions to close. Air traffic controllers and workers at SNCF, the country’s national railway operator, have walked out several times this year, and the action is expected to continue in the coming months as lawmakers discuss the draft pension bill.

In Italy, baggage handlers, pilots and flight attendants have been striking regularly over pay; a nationwide strike has been planned for June 4 that will affect buses, trams and metro lines. Train strikes across Germany have also been causing widespread disruption.

The U.S. State Department advises travelers to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for advisories about labor actions and other events in international destinations.

Even though the days for planned strikes are known in advance, travel agents are advising their clients to budget a few extra days in their itineraries in case they are affected by disruptions. Travelers should also familiarize themselves with their rights before embarking on their trips. Under European Union rules, travelers flying into, out of or within the bloc are eligible for a refund or a replacement flight if their flight is canceled or delayed for more than three hours. Travelers delayed overnight may also be entitled to reimbursement for personal costs, such as food and accommodations.

If informed about a cancellation less than 14 days before a scheduled departure date, passengers are entitled to up to $660 in compensation. The same rules apply to travelers to Britain.

“If your flight becomes disrupted due to an airline strike, airlines may owe you compensation ranging from $250 to $600 to make up for the inconvenience,” said Tomasz Pawliszyn, the chief executive of AirHelp, a flight claim management firm based in Berlin.

The rules apply only when the workers taking action are employed by an airline, including pilots, cabin crew, airline engineers or others who work directly for the airline. Strikes by other airport staff, including air traffic control and security, are considered to be outside of the airline’s control.



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