Hundreds of flights cancelled as French air traffic controllers strike

But what are your rights?


Title:  Passengers Waiting in LineCreative image #:  TR003850License type:  Royalty-freePhotographer:  Jack HollingsworthC

Holidaymakers and business travellers are facing travel chaos this week, as French air traffic controllers go on strike for the next six days.

The strike has been called as a protest against the Single European Sky (SES) reforms, intended to unify services and increase efficiency. Hundreds of flights between France and the UK have already been cancelled, and thousands of planes due to fly over France are expected to be delayed by several hours.

"Unions bent on stopping progress are putting at risk the hard-earned vacations of millions of travelers, and from the public's perspective, the timing of the strike could even be regarded as malicious," says Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

"In addition to vacationers, business people undertaking important trips, and those awaiting urgent shipments will all face hassles and uncertain waits as flights are cancelled, delayed or diverted around a major portion of European airspace."

Some airlines, such as Ryanair, are contacting affected passengers directly.

"Ryanair regrets that we have had to cancel 26 flights on Tuesday as a result of these unwarranted strikes by French air traffic controllers, who have deliberately initiated industrial action at the busiest time of the year in order to cause maximum chaos," says chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs.

"Ordinary people who work hard all year to take a well-earned holiday have had their travel plans disrupted through no fault of theirs, or of Ryanair's, because of the selfish actions of so few."

Travellers are being advised to check the situation with the airline before travelling to the airport. British Airways, for example, is aiming to publish revised schedules by 4.00pm each day for the following day's flights, but advises people to check the status of their flight here, or by visiting on their phone.

So what happens if your flight is delayed or cancelled? Under EU rules, travellers whose flights are cancelled altogether must be offered a full refund or the opportunity to rebook. Where a flight within the EU is delayed by more than two hours, airlines are required to offer travellers vouchers for meals. If there's an overnight delay, passengers should be offered phone calls, refreshments and accommodation. What they won't get, unfortunately, is any compensation, as industrial action is deemed to be beyond the airline's control.

And when it comes to insurance, most delayed passengers won't be covered. Some higher-end policies may pay out, especially for more expensive flights - as long as the insurance was taken out before the industrial action was announced last Friday.