Airline strike: what happens if pilots walk off the job and you have a trip booked

Airline strike: what happens if pilots walk off the job and you have a trip booked

*Last updated May 29 2018

WestJet pilots have voted in favour of a strike, possibly happening later in May 2018. Travel insurance does not cover the “possibility” of a strike. If you purchased our Concierge Club insurance, you may be covered for “Change of Mind” insurance which allows cancellation for any reason and a 75% refund up to 3 days prior to departure.

tripcentral.ca does have experience dealing with airline and supplier labour disruptions (strikes, lockouts, slow-downs) and will proactively manage your booking on a priority basis.

WestJet pilots have voted overwhelmingly to go on strike, and were in the legal position to do so on May 19. At this time, WestJet continues to meet with the AirLine Pilots Association and its Master Executive Counsel. No labour action has been served and operations continue as normal, as of May 29, 2018. 

We will continue to update this section with statements and updates from WestJet, as they become available.

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History of airline strikes

In September 1998, Air Canada pilots walked off the job for 13 days and created havoc for Canadian travellers. In the summer of 2000, another Air Canada strike was averted at the 11th hour. Since then, airline labour disputes have been pretty much contained to Europe, where we have far less travellers at one time than on a Canadian airline. In 2016, however, Air Transat pilots were in a work dispute, but this was resolved before pilots walked off the job.

What does tripcentral.ca do in these circumstances?

We start with an outreach program to contact all affected customers in priority order based on travel dates.

If a strike goes through, our travel agents will be ready to give options to cancel or change airlines, as soon as WestJet advises, and affected customers and travellers will be contacted.

In the worst case scenario that operations are disrupted, there is typically a window of cancellation (say, 7 days) which moves daily. tripcentral.ca amasses its crisis team which is staffed according to the size of the problem. In 1998, a core team worked nights and weekends along with our travel agents to rebook customers on other airlines and even other modes of transportation. The airline provided refunds within the window for rebooking future travel without penalty. You would then purchase a new ticket at market rates. This is where the crisis team at tripcentral.ca kicks in – early and aggressively to mitigate inconvenience and loss for our customers.

Our agents are supported by a specialized team at head office to manage communication and alternatives should they occur.

What should you do?

If you will be in-destination and returning on a WestJet flight sometime after the May 19 possible strike date, it is essential we have contact information from you: your cell number or email address you will be monitoring while away, so that your travel agent can keep you up-to-date.

An airline strike is an operational, reputational, and financial nightmare. Parties often use high stakes during negotiation to get the best position – right down to the wire. Unfortunately, this causes worry for travellers in advance. But, disruptive strikes and lockouts are not common. The best advice we can give you is to try not to worry because there is nothing to be done. You cannot cancel without penalties and insurance will not cover anything because of the threat of a labour action. Only change of mind or limited supplier waivers can be invoked to cancel in advance, and this will result in some financial loss for you, not to mention cancelling a trip that is very likely to still happen.

Special note: tripcentral.ca’s company President was stranded in Florida in 1991 after the demise of Eastern Airlines. He is particularly attuned to the emotional factors associated with the uncertainty our customers experience in these scenarios. In the end, other airlines pitched in (as required by US Department of Transport regulation) to fly stranded passengers home on a stand-by basis. The same would not apply for a strike, but nevertheless, the uncertainty of our customers during these times is a priority for all of us at tripcentral.ca.

We will do our very best to reduce the stress and negative outcomes of a strike, should they occur. We remain optimistic that this will be settled without any operational disruption to our customers.

17 Comments

  1. Can I switch to another airline without penalty to me? When can they legally go on strike?

    • Hi Frederick. They can go on strike on February 29. In the event that they do, Air Transat would be required to provide alternative services or a refund. We will be managing your file and staying in touch with you.

  2. So, my question is this, if the strike affects my vacation, which is booked for the 25th of March, I essentially lose all my money? We are not booked through the Concierge Club that would allow change of mind. This is very concerning, at over $6000 we are not in a position to lose out.

    • Hi Geralyn. Your departure is quite far in the future in the world of airline labour relations. We are optimistic it will be long settled by then. There are also many other remedies that could occur, including alternative airlines being used to fly customers in a doomsday scenario. We know it is easy to say, but please try and not worry about this. We are being transparent by contacting all of our customers so that you at least have the peace of mind that we are watching and communicating. Even if you had change of mind insurance we would not recommend doing anything at this time.

  3. Dates listed above do not reflect the strike position on Monday, February 29th .. our return date. I am assuming the strike or lockout position commences Monday, February 29th NOT Tuesday March 1. Further, your email and blog don’t provide much information to help us not worry, which is your only advice. Perhaps with your experience you could offer some answers to questions like, do we get to stay at the hotel .. or on the airport floor. How many days are “usual” to book alternative travel. I have to return to a job, on Tuesday Mar 1, so understandably, I am very worried about this situation.

    • Hi Barbara. You are correct, we are updating the blog post to reflect February 29. Transat is a public company, regulated by three provincial authorities, and an excellent corporate citizen. Stranded passengers are not an option. TICO will not permit that. In the unlikely event that Air Transat is not able to fly, because you are booked through a registered tour operator, the company will be required to provide alternative services or a refund. You should be travelling on the day you were scheduled to travel, so accommodations should not be a concern. Our main goal in this communication is to let you know that we have your file and will be managing communications with you in the event there are any changes that affect your booking. If you have further questions, please feel free to reply to the email you were sent and we would be happy to explain further.

  4. I am impressed with the open way you are discussing this issue. I didn’t book with you, but will definitely consider it in the future.

    • Thank you Myk. We think it’s really important to be transparent and reassure our customers that they will be taken care of. Please let us know if there is anything we can help you with in the future.

  5. We are returning from Dominican March 1st. . If there is a strike you say we will be offered alternative services or a refund… I want to be able to get home!!

  6. Hello,
    We are scheduled to fly out Feb. 28 to Jamaica with Air Transat & return march 6. If they go on strike while we are in Jamaica, how do we get home?

    • Hi Janice, Air Transat will offer an alternative service with another carrier.

  7. I’ve received 2 emails. I admit I felt a bit of panic at first. I greatly appreciate being notified. Our trip isn’t until April 16th and we purchased options flex so either way, I hope everything is still a go. I would be disappointed however if we weren’t flying Air Transat. They are a great carrier and from the minute you step on their plane, you know your vacation has started. Thank you Trip Central for letting me know. Just one more reason to return to your site again when we plan our next trip.

    • Thanks for the kind words Jen. We’re sure everything will be worked out by then.

  8. My family was closing booking another vacation with you for March 16th before this potential strike notice, your team member has been great. All our top three choices use Air Transat. Would you encourage us to finalize our plans with you for an Air Transat vacation, knowing either we’ll get there somehow or our money/credit back.

  9. My family will be in Barbados on the 22nd and returning on the 23rd. My understanding is that WestJet gives us a refund for our flight home due to the strike. My question is, who pays for the difference if the alternative carrier charges more than what was refunded? Can I get WestJet to refund me the added cost?

    • Hi Gail. We have not heard any more from WestJet regarding the strike at this time – meaning they are still in discussions. You should be returning from Barbados as planned today.

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