Your rights when airport workers strike

22 March 2016 | Planned airport strikes around Australia will affect many passengers this Easter.

Unlucky strike

Immigration and Border Protection staff flagged an Easter strike, before postponing due to the Brussels attacks. When airport staff strike it can cause delays at customs and immigration screening around Australia, which may affect flight schedules or passengers transiting between international and domestic flights.

If you're travelling internationally and there's a strike, it's best to know your rights and be prepared for long queues.

What are your rights?

Unfortunately, a strike at the airport is out of the airline's control, which for travellers means you probably won't be offered much in the way of compensation if your flight is delayed or cancelled as a result of the strikes.

We've written about general protections if your flight is delayed or cancelled, but when airport staff are striking things can get a little more complex. Most of the problems will occur when passengers are delayed or miss their flights transiting between flights or moving from international to domestic terminals. 

Generally, the airlines will do their best to get you to your final destination. Customer service agents are there to assist and it's always a good rule of thumb to be as polite as possible, remembering the delays aren't their fault.

Can you ask for compensation?

When the reason for a delay, cancellation or denied boarding (like an airport staff strike) is out of the airline's control, passengers are not entitled to compensation. 

We compared the policies of four Australian airlines finding most will try to book you on the next available flight, some will offer a refund or credit if they can't rebook you, and none will offer meals, refreshments, accommodation and transfers. 

Make sure you look closely at your airline's policy and speak up if you think you're entitled to some kind of compensation.

Can you access compensation through your travel insurance policy?

Your best chance for compensation from a delay, cancellation or denied boarding caused by the strikes is through your travel insurance.

Depending on your insurance provider, you should be able to claim for meals, accommodation and transportation from an unforeseen event like a strike. However, now the strike has been announced in the media, you'll probably only be covered if you bought your insurance and flights before the strike was announced.

Remember to read your policy's product disclosure statement (PDS) carefully – we found several policies (Jetstar's international 'Starter', 'Essential' and 'Premium' policies) had the following cover exclusion:

"Cancellation, delays or rescheduling caused by strikes by airline staff, airline contractors or suppliers or any other airline entity."

We asked Jetstar whether this includes striking immigration and customs staff. Their underwriters AIG said "The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is not an airline contractor or supplier. However each claim will be subject to the terms and conditions of the policy, and depend on the particular circumstances involved."

Tips for travellers during an airport strike

  • Our advice is to arrive with plenty of time to spare to avoid any travel troubles on the day of the strike. Nobody enjoys a stressful start to a holiday, so it's worth checking-in an extra hour or two early to avoid the long lines and queues – if you're there early you won't risk missing your flight from a lengthy queue at immigration.
  • It's worth noting that strikes may create disruptions at smaller airports where domestic and international flights operate from the same terminal. 
  • If you're a passenger needing special assistance, such as wheelchair assistance or unaccompanied minors, it's worth giving your airline a call to see if there is anything you need to do on the day. Again, arriving early is always a safe bet.
  • If you're picking up a loved one returning from a holiday abroad, be aware that customs and immigration processes could be slower than usual – watch out for expensive airport car parking fees as they can quickly add up!

Stay on top of the news

Keep watching the news – staff, the union and the government might come to an agreement and call off the strike, or the strikes may continue for weeks.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection website provides up-to-date information on planned industrial action.