2022 has been one of the most challenging years in living memory. So we all deserve a bit of happiness over Christmas and the New Year. However, celebrating with friends and family, or escaping for a short holiday is going to be exceptionally challenging as an unprecedented number of strikes will affect everything from getting your Christmas cards delivered on time to getting home to your loved ones.
Regardless of your feelings about the various strikes taking place in December – and new ones are being announced even as I write this – transport is particularly badly affected.
If you’re planning on traveling to see friends or family over the festive season – or taking a Winter break – you’ll need to be very, very prepared. So here’s my guide to your rights. Top takeaway tip – have a back up plan.
Train travel has been rather challenging over the last year even before strike action was announced. Many rail services have performed so badly they’ve been taken back in to public ownership. And as a northerner who regularly travels home to Manchester to see family and friends or give interviews for the main broadcasters, I’ve experienced first-hand the chaos caused on the North West main line by Avanti (who are not on my Christmas card list).
Passengers on all networks have endured everything from regular unexplained cancellations to overpriced tickets. Now, with national strikes affecting well over half of the rail network we can expect even more chaos. In fact the current advice from Network Rail is not to travel at all on and around strike days.
If you’ve paid for advance tickets or passes, then you should be able to get a refund, but how that process works depends on the individual rail companies, who have all the details on their websites.
You are entitled to a ‘fee-free change or refund from the original retailer of your ticket’. However, looking at the T&Cs on some train websites, they say they will only pay out if you can’t travel or are delayed when taking these alternative services. Put your claim in regardless – I’ll be very disappointed if I hear that rail businesses are trying to get out of paying when the official advice says not to travel.
If you do manage to get on a train then ‘delay repay’ compensation could kick in if you don’t arrive on time. But you’ll need to apply for this in most cases. I’ve also been hearing that some cheeky train firms are claiming people have ‘arrived’ on time when they’ve been stuck outside their destination for hours. This is ridiculous – make a complaint if this happens to you.
Airlines and airports
Two different strikes could affect you if you’re planning on jumping on a plane in the coming month. Baggage handlers are planning industrial action which could have an impact on your luggage – so travel light or pack what you can in to your carry-on bag.
But much worse news is the announcement that Border Force staff are striking which could lead to extreme disruption. This is because of the ‘knock on impact’ of passengers having to wait much longer to go through passport checks. As top TV travel expert Simon Calder says, this could lead to people being left on planes to avoid overcrowding, which leads to delays with the next set of passengers taking off, which leads to… well, you get the picture.
If you cancel your flights, you probably won’t get a refund, though you might be able to move the flight to a different date when no strike is planned if you are lucky.
On top of all of this, even if your flight is cancelled or delayed, it’s likely that you won’t get compensation. That’s because the law that governs flight compensation only kicks in when the problem is ‘within the control of the airline’. So if airline staff go on strike, then you are covered. But if airport staff, border control employees or air traffic control walk out, chances are you won’t be.
This is where a good travel insurance policy comes into play. However, a study by Which? earlier this year found that 40% of policies did not cover strike action. So check before you buy.
On the road
If you can’t drive, the trains are out and internal flights are all booked, then you have one option – a national bus or coach service. So far, coach travel still seems to be an option, so a savvy traveller might want to snap up a ticket, just in case. If you don’t need it though, do your fellow travellers a Christmas favour and cancel your booking as soon as you can to free up your space.
If you are driving, fit a friend in if you can – car sharing will be big this year! And with the roads likely to be far busier than usual, pack lots of blankets, drinks, heat pads and phone charges.
It also makes sense to take a look at your breakdown cover, just in case there is a problem on the way. Lots of people have reported problems with their contracts as they assumed their policies covered more eventualities that they did in practice. I’m also hearing reports of long delays in pick-ups, so make sure you have everything you need to keep warm.
Other strikes and your rights
Strikes can have both direct and indirect effects on people, which in turn have an impact on compensation and your rights. A direct impact would be the cancellation of a service you have booked due to strike action. For example, if ferry staff go on strike and you can’t travel, you are directly impacted.
In these sets of circumstances, your rights are usually set out in the T&Cs of your contract. You may not have these to hand but whenever you pay for goods and services, you enter into a contract with the business. You can usually find this guidance online. If a service is cancelled, then options range from refunds to commitments to reinstate your contract as soon as it’s possible. There may also be dispute resolution services or trade organisations that you can go to if you are dissatisfied.
Indirect impacts are where you don’t have a direct relationship with the business on strike but you are still impacted. So if you can’t get on a train to go to a gig or event, it’s not the fault of the event organisers – but you are still losing out.
It’s much harder to get a refund under these circumstances. You may be able to sell tickets for events you can’t get to through the ticket agencies website – or gift the tickets to a friend, but it’s rare for businesses to have refund policies when the event is still going ahead.
One last tip
Travel is going to be challenging this year. So if you are still purchasing gifts online, why not have them sent direct to the recipient? With strict warnings not to peak before the big day, of course!
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James