Airline Strikes: What You Need to Know

Puppy on WestJet

They don’t happen often but then they do, airline strikes can wreak havoc on travel. As of May 10, 2018, 91% of WestJet pilots voted in favor of a strike that could affect flights at the end of May and into June, depending on how negotiations go. In this post, we will discuss the impacts of a strike and provide some tips on how to prepare for the worst case scenario.

WestJet view from the wing
WestJet view from the wing

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Airline Responsibility/Liability:

Under Canadian law, all air carriers are required to have a tariff. A tariff sets out the terms and conditions that apply to all passengers regardless of the fare they paid and cover topics such as:

  • Failure to operate the service or operate on schedule
  • Refund for services purchased but not used, whether in whole or in part, either as a result of the client’s unwillingness or inability to continue or the carrier’s inability to provide the service for any reason.
  • Ticket reservation, cancellation, confirmation, validity and loss

We would recommend you familiarize yourself with tariffs by visiting as tariffs apply to issues experienced by travelers as a result of controlled and uncontrolled delays/cancellations and “force majeure”.

When the delay is as a result of a “force majeure”, the airlines are not liable to cover any of your bills as a result of this unforeseen and unavoidable circumstance. In order to limit their liability, airlines have often categorized a labour disruption such as a strike as a “force majeure” and in some circumstances, legal action has been pursued to dispute this. In one circumstance, a judge ruling found that a strike did not constitute a “force majeure” and the passenger was awarded compensation as per the tariff (see the Canadian Transportation Agency’s write-up on Case number 15-05627 for more information).

WestJet Customer Care
WestJet Customer Care

In WestJet’s case, they have taken a proactive approach to let travelers know their money will be refunded if any flights are cancelled as a result of the strike. The refund sounds good in theory but it could still mean that you will be stranded somewhere and that you could lose the money you paid for car rentals, hotels and other activities as these costs are not usually covered by the air carrier when there is a strike by their employees.

If you do travel, the airline has to get you to your destination but that could be days later than what you planned. If flights are cancelled as a result of a strike, it can create a backlog so it could take days for you to be rebooked on another flight. In these circumstances, airlines tend to prioritize their elite members and ensure their issues are addressed before anyone else’s. When our flight from JFK – John F. Kennedy Airport to SEA – Seattle Tacoma Airport was cancelled by Delta in anticipation of bad weather, the soonest they could rebook us was 5 days later and during this time, we’d be responsible for all of our “living” expenses.

Puppy on WestJet
“Don’t worry, if the pilots go on strike, I’ll fly the plane!”

As of May 11, WestJet has not posted anything on their website offering travelers the opportunity to change their travel plans and waive the fees but they may depending on how things go in the next few weeks. The best thing to do is to monitor the situation by checking the news and the airline’s website.

Travel Insurance:

If a strike does occur, travel insurance might be the best way to book another flight and/or have your expenses covered while you are stranded so be familiar with your policy and what is covered. You need to familiarize yourself with the “Trip Cancellation/Interruption” and “Flight Delay/Cancellation” policies. Thankfully, the insurance we have with our American Express Platinum card does provide coverage for flight delays as a result of an airline strike but not for the cancellation of a trip in anticipation of an airline strike.

If your credit card doesn’t provide sufficient coverage or if you can’t bear the risk, you may want to look at purchasing additional coverage but you need to purchase the insurance before the strike starts. It’s very daunting to read the policies and the fine print so don’t be shy and call your provider to ask the questions.

Final Thoughts:

Strikes are bad news for airlines because they incur profit loss and so it’s in the airline’s best interest to avoid them. As a result of walkouts and strikes, Air France-KLM has already reduced their profit outlook this year and WestJet has already announced their revenue per available seat mile might be flat to -2% due to the possible pilot strike. Let’s hope a strike is averted for those that have travel booked and if you are enticed by the sales email WestJet sent last night and do book flights, make sure you have a plan to deal with potential flight interruptions/delays as a result of a possible strike. Always remember that an informed traveler is also a tactical traveler and that situational awareness can be the only thing that saves you from a very negative, time-consuming, and costly experience.

Related Posts:

Have you ever been stranded as a result of an airline strike? Are we forgetting any important information about airline strikes? Do you consider yourself a tactical traveler?

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