If you ever go to Europe, not knowing what to do during a train or air strike can be the bane of your existence. At first, you’ll be pleased at all the public transportation options you have once you arrive inside the boundaries of the continent. However, it can be just as brutal when you arrive in Europe amidst a train or air strike. Some good examples have been happening in recent days and have been getting press, such as this recent air strike and this recent train strike. Transportation strikes in Europe are actually fairly common (or at least more common than what you see in the United States) but typically lasts less than a week. Even though you don’t cross through the country where the strike is coming from, it can still cripple your travels as many train and air networks use companies that are involved in these strikes. If you’re not familiar with handling a strike, prepare for a world of hurt. Fortunately, you have me directing you through all the madness, as part of being a savvy NY Minute Traveler is to handle things like this with ease.
Unfortunately, transportation strikes in Europe tend to happen on short notice and with little warning in advance (France and Italy are especially notorious for this), so there’s not much you can do to prepare for a strike other than make sure that trains and planes are running. However, there’s a good chance that a strike catches you by surprise. The good part is that European law assures that you’ll have a minimum amount of service (unlike in the U.S.), so you don’t have to worry too much about getting stranded.
When entering a region/country that’s experiencing a train strike, look for signs signaling a strike. In stations, there will be words denoting a strike like huelga (Spanish), gréve (French), ciopero (Italian), apergia (or απεργία in native Greek), or Streik (German). There will also be attendants in the station helping customers and usually giving out free coffee or water (a noticeable sight considering that you pay for EVERYTHING in Europe like ketchup with your fries or even going to the public restroom). While you can check your transportation company website, they’ve been known to be wrong on occasion. The station will always have the most up-to-date information, so you can check the modified timetables there. There’s also the option of getting a refund, but you can only do so if it remains completely unused (some tickets have multi-leg trains).
While it may take longer than usual, you’ll most likely be able to find a train headed your way. Don’t worry too much about having the right ticket. Just get on the train (make sure it’s the one you need first!) and ask questions later because in the rails of Europe, it’s better to apologize than to ask for permission and it’s accepted that not everyone will be able to take the precise train. In fact, that’s always the best strategy when catching a train because even when there’s not a strike, you’d be surprised how inefficient some train stations are (l spent over an hour in a four-person line one time trying to get a ticket I never got in Leucate, France, no joke). During a strike, you’ll get more leeway than usual since people know that trains aren’t running. In that case, you may be able to take advantage by totally ignoring your reservation or scheduled time of departure and just go whenever you want. You should make sure you at least have a ticket just in case they do ticket control, even though there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t check tickets in the event of a strike.
As for an air strike, it’s a bit more complicated. You should always confirm your flight details to make sure your flight isn’t canceled if there’s a strike looming. Checking with your airline online is the best option. Avoid checking with the airport. Also, there are EU laws governing what the passenger is entitled to in terms of compensation, so you shouldn’t be left out in the cold. You have to right to a full refund or to rebook. You’re also entitled to food, accommodation and refreshments should you be stranded in the airport overnight. However, this does not include indirect costs like travel to from the airport, or any extra amenities you may purchase while waiting for your flight. Travel insurance may help with this by paying for your canceled flight, but read the fine print and see what your policy covers. Also, you’ll need to be under policy before any air strike can be announced.
While any of these events during a strike can be aggravating, do not let these events ruin your trip. Many times, the NY Minute Traveler will face many contingencies during real travel (and when I mean real travel, I mean anything other than the all-inclusive resort/cruise). It’s a fact. Sometimes, you can make lemonade out of lemons. For example, you can take the time out to explore the city surrounding the airport if the delay is long enough. In spite of all the delays, you’ll see that it’s all worth it once you reach your destination and start having your dream getaway.