BA strike: How will the walkout affect return flights?
Got a question? Our expert, Simon Calder, can help
Could BA say that I must fly out since there is no strike on 9 October, and refuse a refund on the outbound, yet refund the return part of the flight – obliging me to make my own (very expensive) return arrangements?
A Millions of passengers with forward bookings on British Airways are watching the ill-tempered pay dispute between the airline and its pilots with concern.
In response to the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) calling a two-day strike for Monday and Tuesday, BA cancelled about 1,700 flights. Almost 200,000 passengers have had their plans disrupted.
The two sides appear still to be a long way apart, with the temperature of the conflict rising rather than cooling. British Airways is stripping striking pilots of their staff travel concessions, and the union warns future strikes may be called in addition to the already-announced stoppage on 27 September.
The airline’s website currently says: “We’re extremely sorry for the problems caused by the strike action called by the pilots’ union, Balpa on 9, 10 and 27 September … If you have a flight booked with us on those dates, it is likely that you will not be able to travel as planned.”
Fortunately, the European air passengers’ rights rules are on your side. If one of your flights is cancelled, British Airways will give you a refund for both legs. BA will also offer the option to rebook on another date without the usual charges, and to allow you to use the value of your ticket to book to another destination within 355 days (though it is difficult to imagine why anyone would take the latter option rather than just taking a full refund and then rebooking).
But crucially British Airways is also obliged to rebook passengers who need to travel on the same day on the closest alternative flight, which in your case would probably be Air Canada. It has four flights on 24 October from Toronto to Heathrow. In the unlikely event that none of these suit, there are also links to Gatwick on Air Transat and WestJet.
For long-haul flights, October is an off-peak month, and there should be seats available. So despite the unwelcome uncertainty, I don’t expect there to be any significant impact on your travel plans.
Q Whatever happened to the ultra-cheap “leave after 3pm, return before noon next day,” Eurostar tickets?
A The “nightclubbers’ special” was sold by Eurostar until about a decade ago. It was a brave and very useful attempt to fill seats on less-popular trains at weekends through the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris and back.
It was restricted to trains departing from London to France after 4pm (not 3pm), and the two or three earliest returns on Sunday morning. The idea was that such an arrangement would appeal to younger people who would be tempted to race to Paris, spend the night at a club such as Raspoutine then return to Gare du Nord to fall asleep on an early train home.
At just £35 return, with no onerous advance-purchase requirements, it was probably the best bargain ever offered by Eurostar.
Regrettably, rather than boosting business as intended, it mainly appealed to people like me who wanted a cheap one-way to the French capital. The train firm concluded it was “abstractive” – actually reducing revenue by allowing crafty travellers to get a better deal than buying a normal ticket. In addition, an informal “grey market” sprang up, with unused tickets being sold at stations, again to Eurostar’s disadvantage.
The current best deal to Paris, as well as Lille and Brussels, is marketed as Snap. It is something of a lottery: you must book at least a week ahead through snap.eurostar.com. You choose either a morning or afternoon/evening departure, and are told 48 hours before departure which exact train you will be travelling on.
Unlike the weekend-only nightclubber, you can use the deal on any day of the week. But it seems to be only sporadically available, and is less flexible and rather more expensive: starting at £25 one way, but sometimes rising steeply. The last one I bought, in May, cost £99. No changes are possible after purchase.
If you are flexible, though, Snap is always cheaper than the usual sales channels.
The other option is getting a later flight but leaving myself only just over two hours from landing in JFK (at 5.15pm) to get to an appointment at 7.30pm near Broadway.
A I hope I can put your mind at rest. In my view, 90 minutes is more than enough time between arriving at Heathrow by rail and departing by air – and even allows a fair amount of wriggle room for train delays, which is always welcome if you are relying on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground.
You will either be flying from Terminal 3 on American, Delta or Virgin Atlantic, or from Terminal 5 on British Airways.
The uniform check-in deadline for all these airlines is one hour before departure. But that is for passengers with baggage to check. Having already checked in online and with no bags, the bar is lower.
British Airways has a strict 35-minute policy at reaching the security search area at Heathrow Terminal 5; you simply won’t be allowed through the barrier if you are any later than that. The rule has some merit for long-haul flights like yours, given that almost all of them depart from satellites B and C. Reaching the gate requires either a subterranean yomp taking 10 or 15 minutes, or for the shuttle trains to be performing reasonably well.
As far as I am aware, there is no automatic cut-off at Terminal 3, so in theory you could wing it by turning up half an hour before departure. I would not advise cutting things so fine, but one hour should be more than enough.
I certainly don’t recommend relying on short lines at New York JFK, particularly with a late afternoon arrival when border control is busy, and the train links to Manhattan.
My preferred route to Midtown, where I’m guessing your appointment may be, is the Airtrain to Jamaica ($5/£4.10) and a Long Island Railroad express to Penn Station at 34th Street – $4 off-peak, for which you will qualify. If I can do plane to Penn in under two hours I consider it a success, but it could take three.
Email your questions to email@example.com or tweet @simoncalder