Update Monday 3 July: The strike is ongoing. The information below still stands.
Passengers who have flights delayed or cancelled during a two-week strike by British Airways cabin crew in July may be able to claim up to £530 compensation.
The aviation regulator has said it's unlikely a planned strike by the airline's staff would be deemed an 'extraordinary circumstance' – meaning passengers whose flights are disrupted COULD be eligible to claim under EU flight delay law.
Often strikes which delay flights – such as those by air traffic controllers or airport staff – are considered an 'extraordinary circumstance' (ie, outside an airline's control), so airlines don't have to pay compensation under the EU 261/2004 law. But the Civil Aviation Authority has said that is unlikely to be the case with an airline strike.
BA has declined to say whether it intends to pay compensation for any delays resulting from the strike, insisting only that it will abide by EU law and that most flights won't be disrupted.
Martin: 'Why should the strike be seen as an extraordinary circumstance?'
MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis said: "There seems to be a never-ending debate about what is an airline's fault and what isn't.
"Usually it's accepted that industrial action isn't an airline's fault. But that's generally when it's other staff such as air traffic control – the situation is more complicated when it's the airline's own staff. Arguably if they have had a long time and due notice of the strike, why should it be seen as an extraordinary circumstance? The airline should be able to put plans in place to prevent detriment to customers.
"If your flight is cancelled, regardless of whether it's the airline's fault or not, you are entitled to a choice of a full refund or alternative flight. But if it is defined as the airline's fault, you would be due compensation for ensuing delays as well.
"The problem here is the only people who can actually decide if it is the airline's fault or not are the courts. Yet if you are caught up in this and the strike causes substantial problems, you should certainly put in an EU 261/2004 compensation claim and see where it goes."
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When is the strike and how do I claim if I'm affected?
The strike by BA cabin crew who are members of the Unite union, part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions, is set to run from Saturday 1 July to Sunday 16 July. It's unclear how wide disruption will be – and it could be called off beforehand. But if it goes ahead, routes to and from Heathrow are most likely to be affected.
Under EU regulation 261/2004, if your flight is delayed by more than three hours or cancelled, and it was the airline's fault, you can often claim between £110 and £530 in compensation. To qualify, your flight must have left an EU airport, or arrived at an EU airport on an EU airline.
- For cancellations you can claim compensation ON TOP of a refund or a new flight BA offers, if the alternative flight it offers arrives later than your original flight (even if you choose a refund instead). See Cancellation compensation amounts.
- For delays your flight must have arrived 3hrs+ late. Compensation's fixed, based solely on delay and journey length. See Delay compensation amounts.
To file a claim after your flight's been cancelled or delayed – you can't do so just because of the threat of strikes – you can use our free Flight Delays and Cancellations Reclaim Tool.
If BA refuses to pay compensation, you can escalate your case to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. It's worth noting though that if your appeal is unsuccessful you'll have to pay a £25 admin fee.
As Martin says, if BA refuses claims relating to the strike it could ultimately be up to a court to decide if compensation's due. Solicitors' firm Bott & Co, which specialises in flight delay claims, told us this issue has not been tested in English courts, but it understands that other European courts have dismissed similar claims.
What does British Airways say?
A BA spokesperson declined to say whether the airline would pay out compensation claims resulting from the strike, but said: "We always meet all of our obligations under EU261."
They added: "We understand the uncertainty that the threatened industrial action is causing, and we would like to reassure our customers that the vast majority of our services will be unaffected.
"All flights to and from Gatwick, London City and Stansted will operate as normal, as will our recently launched Mediterranean services to and from Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester. The vast majority of flights to and from Heathrow will operate as normal."