Lufthansa cabin crews are preparing to strike from November 6-13, 2015 over proposed cuts to pension and retirement benefits. The planned walkout could result in significant flight cancellations to both European and intercontinental destinations. Strikes are never a walk in the park, but here are five ways to minimize any travel disruptions you may encounter.
1. Watch for Travel Waivers
Not all travel waivers are created equally. Depending upon the severity of the strike, Lufthansa may simply offering rebooking on other carriers, free date changes, or even free routing changes and refunds. Read the fine print of your travel waiver to see how much leeway you have.
The proposed strike starting Friday is not even a sure thing yet, thus you cannot even protect yourself yet if you are booked on a Lufthansa ticket. After all, Lufthansa is in no rush to clog up its phone lines with speculative flight rebookings and has gone to court to try and block the strike this week. But once the strike is announced, cancellations will rapidly follow and it is then that you want to jump on the phone or online right away to try to get yourself rebooked.
Keep an eye out for news on the strike and don’t be stuck waiting for hours on the phone if a strike is announced — do not put off re-booking.
2. Cancel Non-Essential Travel Beyond Hub Cities
When one major artery into Europe is closed, others fill up. It is down season in Europe, but remove all the Lufthansa flights and you have many passengers chasing far fewer seats. Look for Joint Venture partners like United and Air Canada to especially fill up. Thus, if you are looking for upgrades or open middle seats, you are less likely to get them during a strike (though it is very flight dependent — you may occasionally get lucky if many cancellations of feeder flights from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia lead to a glut of open on the intercontinental flight).
Things can work out very well during strikes — Frankfurt and Munich airports will be eerily quiet and lounges empty: that’s a plus. But if you are traveling beyond hub cities, delays and cancellations are almost certain and if your travel can wait, best to postpone it.
3. Re-Route Prior to Travel
Usually travel waivers are issued by travel date rather than upon whether your particular flight is affected. A strike does not necessarily lead to the cancellation of all flights, but cancellations can be rolling and my recommendation is to get yourself off Lufthansa metal if a strike is announced, even if your particular flight is not immediately cancelled or delayed.
Many of you will be on United-issued tickets and United will try to re-reoute you on its own metal first. Avoid being stranded by moving yourself preemptively off Lufthansa flights.
4. Have a Plan and Push to Be Re-Routed on Other Carriers
Lufthansa serves a handful of unique destinations that are not served by other Star Alliance partners and I have witnessed first-hand airline agents tell you that it is impossible to get you to your destination or book you on a non-Alliance carrier like Air France or British Airways if there are no other flight options. This is wrong — if you can find the right agent, you can be rebooked on any carrier with an interline agreement.
It always helps to have a plan in place. Use Expert Flyer or even Kayak or ITA Matrix to search for alternate available flights and then specifically propose them — some agents are simply not proactive but will be helpful if you spoon-feed them information.
5. Contact an Award Expert
Last, sometimes all of this can be overwhelming and not worth your time. Consulting services like my own Award Expert offer help to stranded passengers — calling the airline and rebooking on the best available schedule so you can avoid hours on the phone. Keep that in mind if time is short.