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Does travel insurance cover strikes?

Barely a holiday season goes by without airline, air traffic control or pilot strikes. So what should you do if your holiday is interrupted by industrial action? And will your travel insurance cover you?

Barely a holiday season goes by without airline, air traffic control or pilot strikes. So what should you do if your holiday is interrupted by industrial action? And will your travel insurance cover you?

Written by
Helen Phipps
Insurance comparison expert
Reviewed by
Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
Last Updated
29 FEBRUARY 2024
7 min read
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How strikes impact travellers

In 2023, a series of strikes across both Heathrow and Gatwick Airports were called off in the summer, but sometimes travellers aren’t so lucky. Strikes by airline and airport staff – from baggage handlers to air traffic controllers and pilots – are not uncommon. So, what’s the situation if one affects you?

Does travel insurance cover airline strikes?

Travel insurance can cover delay and cancellation caused by strikes. It’s a good idea to buy your travel insurance as soon as you’ve purchased your flights, because if a strike is announced later, you could be protected.

Depending on the situation and your policy, your travel insurance could allow you to reclaim your holiday cancellation costs if your flight is delayed for more than 24 hours, or if it’s cancelled and the airline doesn’t book an alternative flight for you within 24 hours.

It may also cover you for costs arising from missed connections or delays caused by the strike. It won’t cover the cost of the flight itself, as you could get a refund from the airline for this.

However, some travel insurance policies specifically exclude cover for strikes, so check the terms and conditions in the policy wording before you buy. Also, remember that a travel insurance policy won’t cover you for strike action, if you buy it after the strike has been announced.

What should I do if my flight is affected by a strike?

If you hear about a forthcoming strike, the first thing to do is to contact the travel agent or airline, or look on their website.

If your flight is part of a package holiday, the company should normally make alternative arrangements for you. If you’ve booked directly through the airline, you may be offered an alternative flight, or possibly a refund.

Will I get compensation because of an airline strike?

Provided you’ve had at least two weeks’ notice of the strike, or the airline can offer you a rerouted flight that isn’t much different to your cancelled one, you won’t be entitled to any compensation.

But if the strike is announced fewer than 14 days before you’re due to travel, or you’re left stranded because of a strike, you have certain rights.

You have the right to a refund or an alternative flight, provided the flight:

  • was between the UK and EU
  • or was operated by a UK-based airline

But although passengers typically have the right to compensation if flights are cancelled or severely delayed, this might not apply if the reason for the delay is a strike. That’s because strikes are often considered to be ‘extraordinary circumstances’ – outside of the airline’s control.

However, this can depend on who is striking and the country where the disruption takes place. Strikes by airport staff tend to be considered as extraordinary circumstances. But if the action is being taken by the airline’s own staff – for example, a pilot strike – you could be entitled to compensation.

How long do airline strikes last?

There’s no set length of time for an airline strike, but they usually last no longer than a few days.

Should I book another flight?

Booking another flight before the strike is confirmed for definite, could be risky. If the strike is called off, or it doesn’t affect your journey, you might find yourself out of pocket, having paid for two flights. The airline won’t have to refund you if this happens.

What if my flight is delayed for another reason?

Whether you receive compensation will depend on whether your flight was:

  • Departing from the UK (to Europe or worldwide)
  • Arriving in the UK on a UK or EU airline flight
  • Arriving in the EU on a UK airline flight.

After that, your compensation will depend on both the flight distance and the length of delay. It’s the arrival time that determines whether you're eligible for compensation or not. Here’s a breakdown:

Length of delay Flight distance Compensation pay out
3 hours or more Less than 1,500km    £220
1,500km to 3,500km £350
4 hours or more More than 3,500km  £520

If your flight is delayed by five hours or more, you’re within your rights to refuse boarding the flight. If you decide to do this, the airline must offer you a full refund for the flight, as well as any connections or return flights booked with the same airline. If your connection is the delayed flight, you’re entitled to repatriation, a flight back to the airport you originally left from.

You can find full details on delays and cancellations at Citizens Advice.

While flight delay/cancellation compensation acts as useful protection, it will never offer the type of cover provided by a travel policy. That’s because its availability is more circumstantial and the pay out isn’t likely to cover all your expenses. Similar to how the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) schemes don’t offer the same level of cover for healthcare and medical expenses.

How have things changed after Brexit?

After Brexit, and the UK officially left the EU, new rules were brought in to cover the gaps left behind in UK legislation. This means you’ll still have the right to compensation if your flight was between the UK and EU (no matter the airline), or any flight operated by a UK-based airline. Depending on the extent of the disruption you suffered, the amount you could get in compensation can vary.

Customers with pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, your travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. Whatever happens, don’t lie to an insurance provider, because this could mean your claim is rejected. When you declare any medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show you quotes from insurance providers who will cover them, with no exclusions.

If your condition is more serious, MoneyHelper has a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone. You can call them on 0800 138 7777.

Check your travel insurance cover

Strikes by airline or airport staff are a huge inconvenience, but they do happen. It’s always wise to buy travel insurance as soon as you’ve purchased your flights, and to check the terms of your policy before you buy, to see exactly what it covers. Although insurance can’t make up for a ruined trip, it can at least ensure you’re not out of pocket if a strike happens.

How can I find the best travel insurance?

If you’re looking for travel insurance to protect your travel plans and offer you the peace of mind you deserve on holiday, we can help. We compare dozens of travel insurance providers, so you can choose the right policy for you. We compare single trip travel insurance and annual multi-trip policies that could protect you for cancelled flights, curtailment, medical care and more. If you need extra cover for water sports, winter sports or other extreme sports activities, you can get extra cover with travel policy add-ons.

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Helen Phipps - insurance expert

Having worked in both sides of the industry, Helen’s a real insurance expert. She’s worked directly with several insurance providers and now Compare the Market. She’s always searching for the cheapest prices for customers and is passionate about saving people money. Being married with two kids, Helen knows all about the cost of living and the benefits of having the right products and insurance for the whole family.

Learn more about Helen

Rebecca Goodman - Insurance expert

Rebecca Goodman is a freelance financial journalist who specialises in insurance, personal finance and consumer affairs. Rebecca regularly writes for national newspapers including The Independent and The Mail on Sunday on a wide-range of financial topics. She covers everything from money-saving tips and holiday advice to investigations into how energy efficient appliances can cut the cost of household bills and the impact donating money can have on those in need. Along with features in national papers, Rebecca also writes news stories for websites including Yourmoney.com and The Money Edit.

Learn more about Rebecca

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