Summer getaway chaos: Airlines must allow passengers to switch flights for free

Sam Meadows
Staff at Heathrow Airport, British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair are all considering strike action, potentially beginning this week - PA

Airlines must allow passengers to switch flights for free to avoid the chaos of a summer of strikes, consumer experts have argued. 

Staff at Heathrow Airport, British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair are all considering strike action, potentially beginning this week, meaning travellers could face delays and cancellations.

Consumer rights groups told the Sunday Telegraph that airlines should waive the often costly fees for those who, where possible, wanted to move their flights to days which will be unaffected in a bid to minimise disruption.

One traveller due to fly to South Africa with British Airways on Friday was told his family of five would be charged £150 per person if they wanted to travel on Thursday instead.

Another who will be flying back from France on a day which could be affected was told it would cost her £60 to change her plans.

Other airlines also charge for changes including between £17 and £57 with Easyjet, £40 and £45 with Flybe and £35 with Jet2, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Martyn James, of consumer complaints service Resolver, said: “The fact of the matter is that strikes are often seen as a foreseeable event and so covered by compensation so you could argue that it’s beneficial to airlines to waive these charges.

Easyjet charges beteen £17 and £57 for changes  Credit: AFP

“If passengers are willing to be accommodating and move around the strikes I can see no reason to charge them to do so.”

James Daley, of consumer watchdog Fairer Finance, said: “Ultimately if workers follow through with these strikes then that is a failure on the part of the employers to come to an agreement and be on good terms with their staff.

If that leads to disruption of their services it shouldn’t be the customers who pay the price for that.”

Generally strikes by airline staff are covered by compensation schemes while unconnected strikes, by air traffic control staff for example, are not, said Mr James.

Last minute talks between Heathrow Airport and Unite, the union, were adjourned on Thursday and will resume tomorrow.

If these are unsuccessful, as many as 4,000 airport staff plan to walk out on Friday and Saturday, and on four other days in August.

A ballot on strike action by British Airways pilots is expected to close tomorrow, while Easyjet and Ryanair staff are considering industrial action in the coming weeks.  

Naomi Leach, of Which? Travel, said holiday makers should contact their airline for information, allow extra time at the airport and consider getting travel insurance to cover them. 

She added: “The level of refund, compensation and assistance you are entitled to will depend on the severity and cause of the disruption." 

British Airways said it had been assured by Heathrow that contingency plans are in place should the strikes go ahead and it planned to operate a schedule as normal. It said its charges vary depending on the type of ticket purchased.

Heathrow Airport said it would do everything in its power to minimise impact on passengers should the strikes go ahead.

Virgin Atlantic, which also operates flights from Heathrow, said its policy is currently being reviewed in light of the potential industrial action and that decisions on charges would be made on a case-by-case basis.

A spokesman for Easyjet said it does sometimes allow passengers to change flights for free if there could be disruption but that it has plans in place if the strike goes ahead.

A spokesman said “there should be no impact on our passengers”. Ryanair was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.