September 15, 2014

Welcome to airline strike season in Europe. Air France canceled half of its flights today as pilots expressed their opposition to the airline's plan to shift focus to a lower-cost (and lower-paying) subsidiary. Thousands of travelers across Europe have been impacted—a number that will surely increase if the strikes continue through the week as planned.

And in Frankfurt, Lufthansa pilots declared an eight-hour strike set for Tuesday, which will disrupt the airline’s long-haul flights. In negotiations regarding Lufthansa’s early retirements packages, the pilots union has led strikes (at the budget subsidiary Germanwings) and walkouts since August.

Both airlines have worked proactively to minimize the strikes’ impact on travelers, rebooking with partner carriers and offering hotel-stays in the event that no alternative flight is found.

While strikes can throw a wrench in anyone’s travel plans, there are a few ways to lower your risks, as detailed by T+L’s Trip Doctor, Amy Farley. Here's what you need to know: 

Before you book your trip: If you're worried about strikes, stick with airlines that have multiple alliance partners. If your carrier strikes, it will have an easier time getting you onto an alternate airline. And always protect your trip by purchasing travel insurance. Just make sure it covers cancellations due to strikes—and that you buy it before one is announced.

When a strike looms: If you absolutely must get out on time and are worried that a strike may impact an upcoming flight, call to see if you can get rebooked on another carrier. If you're not getting the answer you want, call again and try speaking with a different agent. Strikes move quickly, and there’s always a chance another agent will be more flexible or have more authorization to rebook you. As a last resort, you might consider buying a fully refundable (though costlier) ticket on an alternate carrier as a backup plan. If your original flight is canceled, you’ll be eligible for reimbursement and can use the second ticket to depart as scheduled.

It's also worth knowing that if a strike hits, the European Union requires any carrier flying to or from EU countries (plus Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland) to offer stranded passengers compensation for meals, hotel accommodations, and transfers. So if you're stuck in Paris—enjoy!

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor news team. You can find him on Twitter at @pschles08.

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