Categorized | Etcetera

How to minimize problems during European travel strikes…

Posted on 30 January 2012

In an anti-austerity protest timed to coincide with today’s meeting of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium’s first general strike in almost two decades has shut down public transportation, rail networks and Charleroi Airport, a hub for Ryanair and other low-cost carriers. Though most flights at Brussels’ airport are still operating, Reuters reports, the Eurostar and other high-speed international trains are not running into or out of the country and many shops are closed.


Trade union members block the entrance of Brussels South Airport in Charleroi, Belgium on Monday. Belgian trade unions organized a nationwide strike and called on leaders attending the European Union summit in Brussels to move away from austerity measures and start boosting growth and employment.

Today’s strike isn’t the first to spark widespread headaches for European travelers, and it certainly won’t be the last as unions protest plans to cut spending and raise taxes across much of the continent. So what’s a vacationer to do?


As SmarterTravel’s Ed Perkins points out, European sojourns in rural areas may be relatively immune to strikes. But if your itinerary includes cities, “you need to be able to cancel or change your plans in the event of a widespread strike or even if such a strike seems likely.” Among his tips:

— Keep advance bookings and reservations as flexible as possible.

–Pay as little up front as you can, and minimize nonrefundable payments.

— If you’re on the hook for more than a few hundred dollars, buy trip-cancellation/trip-interruption insurance that will cover any possible losses if you have to cancel your trip or even head somewhere else on short notice.


While most policies cover destination-area strikes, says Perkins, coverage typically requires that services be shut down “completely.” Also, he adds, most typical policies deny coverage if a strike has been announced before you buy the insurance, and “insurance companies might well say that pronouncements of future strikes by local labor leaders are enough to deny coverage.”


An increasingly popular alternative is a so-called “cancel for any reason” policy. But it’s pricier – about 50% higher than the typical premium, which is 4%-8% of the total trip cost – and to use the coverage, you’ll often need to cancel at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure.


Another reason to keep your itinerary as flexible as possible: By keeping up with the latest news and official travel advice, you’ll often be able to bypass potential problems altogether. For example, the British Foreign & Commonweath Office, akin to the U.S. State Department, issued an advisory on Jan. 25 about today’s strike in Belgium, warning travelers that trains, metro and buses “will be severely disrupted if not cancelled entirely.”

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