There are problems with French air traffic controllers again then?
Unfortunately yes. They will be downing tools on Monday May 1st as part of an ongoing series of protests against the French government’s plan to increase the pension age from 62 to 64.
What does that mean?
The French civil aviation authority has warned that the industrial action is likely to a hit Paris’ Orly, Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais as well as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, Nice and some other airports. Ryanair, for example, has said it is cancelling 220 flights due to the strikes which it said would affect around 40,000 passengers. But it is not only a Ryanair issue and multiple airlines will be similarly impacted.
But it is only on Monday, right?
No, not really. The French authorities have also warned that the rolling strikes will see the disruption stretch from Sunday evening until early on Tuesday morning.
What does that mean for flights from Ireland?
It is not good news for sure. While the situation is up in the air (sorry) by Sunday afternoon multiple flights to France from Ireland were cancelled including flights operated by both Ryanair and Aer Lingus to airports including Lourdes, Niemes, Carcasonne, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Paris.
And it’s just flights to and from French airports, right?
Possibly not. There have also been warnings that flights from Ireland to other countries might be disrupted if the flight paths take them through French airspace.
Well, that is not good. What should I do?
The first thing – obviously – is to keep in touch with your airline – it might also be worth keeping an eye of the Dublin Airport Live Arrivals and Departures pages https://www.dublinairport.com/flight-information
Okay, well I see that my flight has been cancelled because of the French strike. Where do I stand?
While many passengers due to fly in or out of French airports or even through French air space are likely to experience serious disruption they will not lose all their rights and airlines will still have an obligation to look after them.
Okay, so, what are my rights?
Under EU Regulation 261 airlines must offer passengers affected by cancellations a full refund or a rerouting on the next available flight or at a later time that suits the passenger. If you opt for a refund the airline’s responsibility to you ends there and then. If you ask to be put on the next available flight then the airline must provide care and assistance until you can be accommodated on an alternative flight.
Care and assistance? What does that actually mean?
Well, if you are overseas and trying to get home – or indeed if you are in Ireland and trying to get home – the airline must provide you with meals and refreshments. If necessary, it will have to cover the cost of hotel accommodation and transport between the hotel and the airport and you will have to be offered two free telephone calls and access to email.
There is no one from the airline at the airport and I can’t get through to their help desk. Who is going to give me money for the hotel? And indeed find me a hotel?
The days of airlines being on hand to ferry passengers facing cancellations to airport hotels have long gone in many instances but that does not mean your rights are gone. If you can’t make contact with the airline or it does not provide the care and assistance it is legally obliged to at the moment you need it, then you should make your own reasonable arrangements. It is incredibly important that if you do this, you retain all receipts because you will need them to claim back the reasonable expenses.
Reasonable expenses? What does that mean?
The definition is pretty loose. If you check into a five-star hotel and eat and drink all around you at the fanciest of French restaurants while waiting to get home and then look to be reimbursed you can expect to be disappointed. If you stay in a modestly priced hotel and eat in modestly priced restaurants while you are waiting for the strike to end, then you will be able to claim that money back. Ultimately it is aviation regulators across the EU who decide what is reasonable.
How do I claim back expenses incurred?
Passengers should send copies (it is very important the original documentation is never sent in case it goes missing) of all receipts to the airlines on which they booked flights. Submissions should also include booking references, passenger names, original and new flight details.
And when should I get my money back?
If you haven’t got the money back within a reasonable time frame – say a month, you will have to take further action. This might see you lodging a complaint with the Commission for Aviation Regulation – www.aviationreg.ie. But hopefully it won’t come to that.
I don’t think my flight is going to be cancelled but it looks like it is being delayed. Do I have any rights in this case?
You do. If you are facing a delay the airline must also provide you with care and assistance. If you are left hanging around in an airport it must cover reasonable cost of meals and refreshments. If your flight is delayed by more than five hours an airline must offer you the choice of continuing with your journey or a refund of the cost of your ticket.
Am I covered by my travel insurance?
It is possible but not likely. Most policies have a get-out clause and don’t cover industrial action.
Am I entitled to compensation outside of reasonable expenses from my airline?
That is most unlikely and we can’t stress that enough. The strike is likely to be considered an eventually outside of the airline’s control in which case compensation does not apply. We have heard of many instances where legitimate claims for expenses to be reimbursed are rejected by airlines because passengers mistakenly say they are looking for compensation.
Anything else I need to know?
If you are still unclear about your entitlements as set out in EC Regulation 261/ 2004, or if you have further queries in you can find out more at flightrights.ie or contact the Commission for Aviation Regulation on 1890 787 787.