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What can I do if Aer Lingus cancels my flight because of a pilot strike?

Under EU rules the airline must offer a refund or a rerouting but it’s not that simple in practice

Aer Lingus pilots' strike: The industrial action might not happen – that is the most optimistic scenario. Photograph: Alan Betson

Earlier this week we got a mail from a reader called Pat who was troubled by news he’d just heard and he wanted to see if we had any advice.

We suspect Pat is not the only person in the country troubled by the news that summer strikes may be on the cards at Aer Lingus and while we are able to offer some advice we don’t have much by way of comfort as there are some areas where Pricewatch fears to tread and industrial relations is one such area

“We have a flight booked with Aer Lingus on July 6th to Lanzarote to return on the 16th,” he said. “What are our rights if the pilots decide to strike before/while we are on holiday? We want to go on holiday and have paid for our accommodation so a cancellation with a refund is no good to us,” he says.

“Are we entitled to ask the airline to find us alternative flights to and from our destination? Or do we have to accept a refund if they choose that option?”


Pat said that the last time he and his wife flew with the airline “the volcano blew up and grounded all flights in Europe and we lost out on a wedding anniversary trip to Paris”.

He added that, while they got refunded the cost of the flights on that occasion, they lost money on the booked hotel for four nights.

“Any advice is welcome,” Pat says.

First we better provide some context.

All Aer Lingus passengers might have to contend with possible strikes in the weeks ahead after its pilots voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action yesterday in a deepening and alarming row with the airline’s management over money.

If Pat is at home and the outbound flight is cancelled then, under EU Regulation 261, Aer Lingus will have to offer him a refund or a rerouting on the next available flight or at a later time of his choosing

IALPA members at the airline have called on management to “come to their senses” with its representative, Captain Mark Tighe, saying its members will announce in the days ahead what action the public can expect. He said the union’s preference was to avoid industrial action which could lead to widespread travel disruption for holidaymakers this summer - but he wasnt ruling it out.

“We want to avoid industrial action, we want management to come to their senses,” he said.

Any strike action would have a “severe impact” on customers, the airline’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Donal Moriarty, warned.

He said that Aer Lingus would “do everything possible both to refund customers and to arrange alternative transport for them to get to their destination”, he said.

But he also admitted that looking after everyone at the height of summer would be a challenge.

For its part, the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) is calling for a resolution.

The umbrella group’s president Angela Walsh said on Wednesday night that ”any pilot strike over the summer months will cause serious impact for both holidaymakers and corporate travellers, as we are in the busiest travel period of the year, with knock on effects on accommodation reservations and connecting travel.”

She said agents “are on the front line when strikes, cancellations and other disruptions occur and are the first port of call for customers. While we are always happy to minimise all disruption for our customers, we urge the airline and greater travel industry to put the consumer first in an effort to avoid such disruption to travel plans.

“Those who have booked with a travel agent can contact their agent in the case that any strike is confirmed and we will work to rearrange travel plans to the best of our abilities.”

Pat did not book a package so contacting an agent is a route he cannot travel and he lacks the protection that such a booking gives.

And that protection can be substantial with each element of the holiday protected insofar as is possible by the travel agents.

The DIY option makes it tricker and we have seen this before because we have been in strike land before – and not only with Aer Lingus. As a result we have some sense of what might happen next.

The first thing we would say to our reader is don’t panic. We don’t know what is going to happen and what form – if any – the industrial action will take. Everything is – if you forgive the expression – up in the air so, by our reckoning, there is little point in worrying overly about what might happen three or four weeks from now.

Telling someone to stay calm is one thing, actually staying calm is quite another and to be honest Pricewatch would be up to 90 if we were in Pat’s position. And we have found ourselves worrying about this exact scenario in times past.

When it comes to the weeks ahead there are a range of scenarios facing Pat and all Aer Lingus passengers.

The industrial action might not happen and Aer Lingus managment and its pilots might do a deal – that is the most optimistic scenario. We have no idea how likely that is.

The second scenario for Pat is that a strike grounds planes on the day he is due to travel which means he can’t get to his destination as planned.

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Another scenario would see the couple fly out but then be unable to get home from Lanzarote on the planned date as a result of a strike at that point.

The rights they have will depend on the scenario.

If Pat is at home and the outbound flight is cancelled then, under EU Regulation 261, Aer Lingus will have to offer him a refund or a rerouting on the next available flight or at a later time of his choosing. If Pat goes for the refund, the airline’s responsibility to him and his wife ends immediately.

But as he points out, a refund will be of little use as the holiday is paid for. That is why he asks if the airline might find him a flight on another carrier.

It is a reasonable question but we’d not be overly optimistic on that score. If a strike happens there will be many thousands of passengers impacted and there is while Aer Lingus might try and get passengers to their destination through other means the chances it will successfully book everyone on different carriers seems remote, much as we might like that to happen.

Pat could cancel his booking and then book with another airline himself and then try claim the money back from Aer Lingus. We have heard of people being successful doing this on occasion – and not necessarily with Aer Lingus – but we have also heard of people being unsuccessful in their attempts to do this so it very much depends.

All we can say at this point is that people who find themselves impacted by any strike should keep the channels of communication between them and the airline open and keep a careful record of all correspondence.

And if the airline gives the green light for an alternate booking, happy days – but get it in writing.

The other scenario is that Pat is stranded overseas as a result of a strike.

Of course, the days of airlines being on hand to ferry passengers facing cancellations to airport hotels have long gone in many instances but that does not mean your rights are gone

If he finds himself in this position he will have the same rights under EU Regulation 261 and the airline must offer him and his wife a refund or a rerouting on the next available flight or at a later time of their choosing.

The airline also has an obligation to get their passengers home and to take care of them while they are overseas until they are in a position to do so.

Passengers are legally entitled to meals and refreshments while stranded and if necessary, the airline will have to cover the cost of hotel accommodation and transport between the hotel and the airport. They also have to offer passengers two free telephone calls and access to email – although in the age of smartphones that is less relevant.

Of course, the days of airlines being on hand to ferry passengers facing cancellations to airport hotels have long gone in many instances but that does not mean your rights are gone.

If people can’t make contact with the airline or it does not provide the care and assistance it is legally obliged to at the moment they need it, then they will have to make your own reasonable arrangements. It is incredibly important that if a person does this they retain all receipts because they will need them to claim back the reasonable expenses.

The definition of reasonable is pretty loose. If Pat were to check into a five-star hotel In Lanzarote and eat and drink all around them while waiting to get home and then look to be reimbursed he might be disappointed.

But if he can stay in a modestly-priced hotel and eat in modestly priced restaurants while waiting for the strike to end, then he will be able to claim that money back.

Passengers who find themselves in this position should send copies (it is very important the original documentation is never sent in case it goes missing) of all receipts to Aer Lingus. Submissions should also include booking references, passenger names, original and new flight details. And the money will come back.

But, and we can’t stress this enough, we are getting ahead of ourselves and July 6th is awhile away so we don’t know what might happen and it is beyond our control so there is little point in worry about it all just yet. And fingers crossed it won’t be an issue for anyone