are my options when an airline's employees go on strike?
What recourse do I have if I have a non-refundable, non-changeable
ticket and the airline goes on strike?
My friend and I have tickets to Los Angeles from Myrtle Beach on
US Airways and American Airlines. We have a tour paid from Los
Angeles to Australia. If American goes on strike, what are our
options—our tickets are non-refundable. Would another airline
fly us from Chicago (O'Hare) to Los Angeles if American were on
strike? We made these reservations two months ago and have paper
tickets. Thanks in advance for your reply.
Dear Pat and Elaine,
So, what options do you have once you've purchased a ticket and the
airline is in danger of a strike? You can try the following:
If you have an E-Ticket, get a paper ticket
immediately. After June 1, 2001, you will no longer be able to change
E-Tickets to paper tickets on any airline. The Airline
Reporting Corporation (ARC) is implementing new rules regarding
E-Ticketing. Once an E-Ticket is produced, it is final—no exceptions.
Global Reservations Systems (GDS) such as Sabre, Worldspan, and Apollo
will no longer allow travel agents to convert an E-Ticket to paper.
Understand, a paper ticket is a negotiable document; E-Tickets are not
negotiable documents. Be advised that other airlines will accept paper
tickets, but only on a stand-by basis.
- Switching airlines: Many
airlines have agreements with other airlines to accept tickets for
travel in the case of a strike if space is available. However,
policies vary with each carrier. Some require re-ticketing. Some will
honor frequent-flier award tickets, but others will not. Your best bet
is to call other airlines to see what options are available.
- Rebooking: Most airlines
will waive many of the usual rebooking restrictions and penalties for
ticket-holding customers who are willing to reschedule their trip for
- Buying another ticket:
Though expensive, another option is to buy a fully-refundable, backup
ticket on another carrier. This way, if your original airline has a
strike, you will still be able to reach your destination. If not, you
can cash in the backup ticket for a full refund. However, be aware
that some airlines competing with a striking carrier will issue only
non-refundable tickets, even full-fare ones, during a strike, so this
may not always be a viable backup option.
If you are using a frequent flyer award ticket, a word of caution: you
may find that other airlines will not accept such tickets during a
strike. If this happens to you, the striking airline will re-credit
your frequent flier account with the unused mileage.
People on cruise vacations that booked their air travel from the
cruise line are protected because responsibility lies with the cruise
line to get passengers to the ship. However, travelers who did not
purchase their air from the cruise line are really at a disadvantage
with no protection and will have to be creative to get to and from
A group of us are leaving for
Japan and Hong Kong on March 3rd, traveling on Northwest Airlines.
What happens if the airline goes on strike, and we're all stuck
over there? I understand that we would probably have to pay for
the tab while stuck, but would we have any legal recourse for
reimbursement once the strike was settled?
Thanks for your help,
A strike is considered a force majeure event, meaning it is out of the airline's control. During
a strike, you are at the mercy of the airline, and this means that you
have no special rights other than to get a full refund on any unused
portion of your ticket. Most well-established carriers work reasonably
well trying to re-accommodate passengers on other airlines; however, that
is not always possible. If you become stuck somewhere, you could end up
with many out-of-pocket expenses.
My friends and I are planning a trip to Canada in August this
year. We understand that some of the major airlines face possible
strikes this summer. We'd like to avoid making reservations with
those airlines but don't know which airlines will be involved. Do
you know which airlines have contract deadlines, or do you know
where I can get this information? We'd appreciate any information
you have. Thanks!
It is good to know your options in the event of a "possible"
airline strike. Currently, as of press time on March 3, we are aware of
five airlines that are having tense contract negotiations:
Northwest Airlines Mechanics—On February 9, the National
Mediation Board (NMB) released the parties into a 30-day cooling-off
period. Both parties will participate in meetings on March 7 in
Washington, DC. They can legally strike on March 12, the end of the
cooling-off period. However, President George W. Bush accepted the board's
recommendation to set up an emergency presidential panel, which could
delay a strike for at least another 60 days after March 12.
Comair Pilots—Comair pilots could go on strike as soon as
March 26, which would severely impact Cincinnati given that Comair
operates 323 daily flights there.
Delta Airlines Pilots—Delta and its pilots have passed the
February 28 deadline to negotiate a contract with U.S. mediators. Both
sides are currently waiting to see if the NMB releases the two sides to a
30-day cooling-off period. A strike could occur as soon as the first week
American Airlines Flight Attendants—If all negotiations
break down, a strike could be declared as soon as mid-April.
United Airlines Mechanics—The mechanics' contract came up
for renewal last July, and the two sides have been negotiating for more
than a year. No one knows an exact time frame in which a strike would
occur. Currently, the NMB is working with both parties; when the NMB
releases them, a 30-day cooling-off period will begin—after which a
strike could occur.
You may remember that three years ago, President Clinton stepped in one
minute after midnight to stop the American Airlines pilot strike.
Similarly, President Bush is eager to avoid the economic disruption of an
airline strike and has gone on record stating that he would act to avert a
walkout by mechanics at Northwest. In my opinion, Bush is likely to
intervene with other strikes as well.
I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!
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