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Airline Strikes? Should you be concerned?

Airline Strikes: Should You Be Concerned?

U.S. Airline Strikes? 

As experts forecast record breaking summer travel numbers, pilots from United Airlines arranged picket lines at major airports last Friday as they push for higher pay.

The pilots have been working without a raise for more than four years while negotiating with airlines management over a new contract.

Under U.S. law, airline and railroad workers can’t legally strike, and companies can’t lock them out, until federal mediators determine that further negotiations are pointless.

The National Mediation Board rarely declares a dead end to bargaining, and even if it does, there is a no-strikes “cooling-off” period during which the White House and Congress can block a walkout. That’s what President Bill Clinton did minutes after pilots began striking against American in 1997. In December, President Joe Biden signed a bill that Congress passed to impose contract terms on freight railroad workers, ending a strike threat.

The last strike at a U.S. carrier occurred at Spirit Airlines in 2010.

Over the years, airline workers have conducted job actions that fell short of a strike but disrupted flights anyway. A federal judge fined the American Airlines pilots’ union $45 million for a 1999 sickout that crippled the airline’s operations, although the amount was later reduced. In 2019, a federal judge ordered unions representing American’s aircraft mechanics to stop what the airline termed an illegal work slowdown.

Pilots are not trying to screw up travel for everybody intentionally, but bargaining is about leverage and power…having the ability to do that can be a negotiating tactic.

Regardless of the legal hurdles to a walkout, unions believe that strike votes give them leverage during bargaining, and they have become more common. A shortage of pilots is also putting those unions in particularly strong bargaining position.

What you can do:

  • Know that walkouts and strikes aren’t legal so it that shouldn’t affect your U.S. travel, however there can always be delays so check your flights often especially with United Airlines this summer.

But what about Europe?

Europe on the other hand, does NOT have the federal regulations put in place that the United States does.

European airline workers are unhappy that sky-high inflation has not been matched by higher wages.

Walkouts are planned all over Europe, showing that it will always pay to check before you travel or your client travels.

Some countries and strikes to be aware of…


Anyone travelling by air on May 19th could be affected by a nationwide strike by ground handling staff. Cabin crew from several airlines serving Italian routes will also strike on the same day. The strike is over employment contracts for handling staff at Italian airports. Unions say pay and conditions have not been improved in the last six years.

ITA Airways has cancelled 113 domestic flights, but says most passengers have been rebooked on alternative flights.

Cabin staff at Air Dolomiti, a subsidiary of Lufthansa operating routes from Germany to 13 different Italian destinations, will take part in a 24-hour national strike. Volotea cabin crews from all around the country will strike from 1-5 pm.

Ground staff from American Airlines and Emirates will strike for four hours between 12 and 4pm.

The good news is that under Italian law, flights scheduled to leave between 7-10 am and 6-9 pm are also protected from strike action.

What you can do:

  • Be AWARE of the dates of the strikes and with what airline outlined above.
  • If you must schedule a departure of an Italian airport, schedule it between the time frames that are protected under Italian law (7-10 am and 6-9 pm).


Many of us already know the protests that have broken out across the country after President Emmanuel Macron decided to push through the change of retirement age from 62 to 64 without a parliamentary vote. Since then, Paris was set on fire.

Trade unions have now announced a new nationwide day of protests on June 6th ahead of the French parliament’s National Assembly on June 8th. 

The level of travel disruption on strike days has varied. However, there have been flight and train cancellations and tourist attractions in Paris do sometimes close.

Air traffic controllers (ATC) have been on strike since March, affecting flights all over Europe. Low-cost airline Ryanair said that in the first four months of 2023, there were more than 50 days of ATC strikes leading to more than 3,700 cancelled flights and affecting more than 666,000 passengers. 

What you can do:

  • Check ahead of time if your client is traveling on a strike day. There could be cancellations and tourist attractions could be closed.
  • Allow for EXTRA time at security especially at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG).

The U.K. Security staff at Heathrow Airport (LHR) strike

Security staff at Heathrow are on strike from May 25-26 as part of a row over pay. This industrial action almost exclusively affects Terminal 5 and British Airways is the only airline to operate from this terminal. 

Heathrow says it has managed to keep the airport running smoothly during the previous industrial action, involving around 1,400 security staff.

What you can do:

  • The airport has advised people to check the status of their flight before travelling.
  • Passengers have been told to arrive no earlier than two hours before short-haul flights and three hours before long-haul flights.
  • Travelers will also only be able to bring two items of carry-on luggage through security on strike days. Handbags and laptop bags do count but checked baggage isn’t affected.
  • British Airways is offering passengers the chance to check in hand luggage for free to reduce pressure on security checkpoints.

Scotland: Glasgow Airport (GLA)

Security staff who work at Glasgow airport have been negotiating a pay rise. They have just rejected what the Unite union called a “derisory” offer of a 5 per cent pay increase.

The union is balloting 400 workers employed by five companies; Glasgow Airport Ltd, ICTS Central Search, OCS, ABM and Falck Fire Services UK on strike action. 

“If these companies don’t come back with fair and decent offers then a summer of travel chaos is on the horizon,” warned Pat McIlvogue, Unite industrial officer.

No strike dates have yet been announced at this time.

What you can do:

  • Allow extra time for your clients to get through customs and security.
  • Always check flight times prior to departure date.


The Spanish Airline Pilots Union (SEPLA) is calling for a fresh wave of strike days for pilots at Air Europa. They will be walking out from 22nd to 26th and 29th to 30th of May then again on 1st and 2nd of June. These will take place at all of the airline’s bases of operation and workplaces in Spain. 

The union did warn that strikes will be extended in the coming months if the company refuses to negotiate a fair agreement.

Pilots represented by SEPLA at other airlines in Spain, including Ryanair and EasyJet, are also considering strike action this summer.

What you can do: If your client is traveling from within Europe from/to Spain, opt for a scenic train ride instead to avoid the delays and interruptions. 

Sources: CBS News, Euronews

Schedule Changes with Centrav

It’s summer, and with European strikes there’s bound to be a schedule change or two. Here’s is what you’re going to want to do:

If you accept the new itinerary:

  1. Changes of over 90 minutes require YOU as the travel advisor to accept to the new proposed itinerary directly inside the email we send you. 
  2. Once you click “Accept Schedule Change”, your booking will be put in our queue and our team will process each change in the order we receive it. 

If you want a different itinerary:

  1. If you do not approve of the changes, please take a look at flights on centrav.com to find something that would work for your clients. Flight must be on the same airline and as close to the original departure date as possible. 
  2. Reply back to the email we sent and copy/paste these flights into it. 
  3. We will attempt to get approval for these alternative flights from the airlines and let you know.

Email is preferred method of contact with schedule changes.

Read Next: Does Travel Insurance Cover Airline Strikes?

Macy Maxson

As Digital Marketing Strategist at Centrav, Macy loves all things marketing. Her passion is to help travel professionals run their business well and succeed! Her favorite destinations to travel to include the Caribbean and Europe.

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