Hundreds of thousands of travellers booked on a British Airways (BA) flight over the next month face severe disruption after today's announcement of strike action.

The Unite union says its members at the airline will take 20 days of action following their overwhelming rejection of BA's latest offer aimed at ending their long-running dispute (see the Cheap Flights guide).

Cabin crew will walk out on 18-22 May inclusive, 24-28 May, 30 May-3 June and 5-9 June, which will cover the Spring Bank Holiday and school half-term holidays, leaving many holiday plans in ruin.

It could also disrupt football fans heading to South Africa for next month's World Cup.

This follows strike action over Easter which left hundreds of flights cancelled, and comes at a time of major disruption due to the volcanic ice cloud from Iceland (see the Volcanic ash rights MSE News story).

Below is a Q&A explaining your rights, assuming the strike goes ahead, if you're booked on a BA flight over the next month.

Will all flights be cancelled during the strike period?

No. The airline says it plans to operate a "substantial" part of its longhaul schedule to and from Heathrow and predicts flights to and from Gatwick and London City will continue as normal.

Any flight departing from another UK city will land at one of the three airports above.

BA says it is already speaking to a number of carriers about leasing extra aircraft and obtaining thousands of seats from other airlines to accommodate as many passengers as possible.

No flights have yet been cancelled. The airline will stagger cancellation announcements for flights to or from Heathrow, with details of which flights will run during the first set of strike dates (18-22 May) due on Thursday or Friday this week (see the BA website for announcement dates).

Will I get a refund from British Airways if my flight's cancelled?

  • Before flights are cancelled. If your flight is to or from London City or Gatwick you cannot get a refund or rebook unless your ticket conditions allow this.

    If flying to or from Heathrow, if you had booked on one of the strike days by Monday, you can rebook any of the sectors on your ticket within a year of your proposed travel date, but you cannot get a full refund unless your ticket conditions allows this.

  • Once flights are cancelled. If one of or all of your flights are cancelled, you will either get your money back (including any unused return leg), be placed on an alternative flight or be allowed to rebook any of the sectors on your ticket within a year to or from the scheduled or a nearby airport.

  • How to claim a refund/rebook. You can do so online or by phone. See the BA website for contact details. For now, BA is asking you ensure you gave it your correct contact details so it can get in touch, if necessary.

Can I book another flight?

It may be possible to find another flight (use Kayak or Travelsupermarket, but first see full information in the Cheap Flights guide), but until BA cancels flights, you risk paying twice if the strike's called off or your journey is still on.

It's unlikely you'll be able to hold a seat on another airline without paying yet as most travel agents only allow this when booking months ahead. You can ask a friendly agent, though it won't be easy.

What if I've booked hotels/car hire at the other end?

If BA cancels flights it will refund your booking, but not hotel and other travel costs (unless you booked a BA package - see below).

So ask the relevant provider for a refund. If unsuccessful, some travel insurers will cover you for non-refundable hotel or car hire costs.

However, insurance only protects against unforeseen events so cover and travel must have been booked before you knew of the strike.

The problem is different insurers class the moment you knew of the strike at different times. Some may class it as the moment strike dates are announced, others when the ballot decision is revealed or others when it was even mooted there could be a strike.

So call your insurer and ask (see the Travel Insurance guide).

What if I've booked a package deal?

  • Your rights. You should get a full refund (hotel and travel) or be given a suitable alternative holiday if your flight is cancelled (see the Cheap Package Holiday guide).

  • How to rebook/get a refund. Contact your tour operator/travel agent

Are credit card payments covered?

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act makes the credit card issuer jointly liable for anything over £100 if you're failed by a retailer/service provider. So, technically, your card firm will be liable if your flight is cancelled.

However, based on past experience, it will be quicker to get a refund via BA (see the Section 75 Refunds guide).

I've yet to book a flight. What should I do?

BA has temporarily stopped selling seats on all flights to and from London Heathrow between 18 May and 9 June.

BA plans to operate all flights to or from Gatwick or London City, though some passengers may consider other airlines if prices are similar or cheaper, to minimise any risk of delays (see the Cheap Flights guide).

Additional reporting by the Press Association.

Further reading / Key links

Official statement: BA advice
Make them play fair: Consumer Rights
Fly for less: Cheap Flights
Beat airline tricks: Budget Airline Fee-Fighting