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Beware! It’s Strike Season in Europe

Trains and Metro not running. Flights delayed or canceled in and out of De Gaulle and Orly. Massive traffic jams. That’s a distinct possibility for France over the coming months, possibly in other European countries as well. Does that mean you shouldn’t plan a trip to Europe? No, but it means you need to take some extra precautions.

If you’ve followed recent European history, you know that strikes there are very different from the ones we have here in North America. Our strikes occur when workers and management can’t agree about a wage package, benefits, working conditions, and such. Strikes are arguments between principals in an economic dispute—labor, in Samuel Gompers’ words, wants more; management wants to give less, and workers strike when bargaining fails to reach a compromise. European strikes, by contrast, are often over public policy issues, and government is the target rather than management. Thus, in the year 2010, French labor is striking against not any individual employers but instead against a government proposal to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62. Other European countries face the same demographic time bomb as France, and labor unrest is likely to spread. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}I was caught in that sort of strike during my last visit to Paris. Traffic and travel were so chaotic that I had no choice but to walk—schlepping my suitcase—from my hotel to the Gare du Nord and hop the Eurostar to London several days before I had planned. You don’t want to be in a big European city when that happens.

If you still want to plan a European trip, then, what are your options? Some European vacations are relatively immune to strikes. A vacation rental in rural Provence or the Dordogne, for example, would be relatively immune to all but the most widespread problems. But if you plan a more conventional visit, 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. That means:

  • Keep advance bookings and reservations as flexible as possible.
  • Pay as little up front as you can—especially, minimize nonrefundable upfront payments.
  • Buy trip-cancellation/trip-interruption (TCI) that will cover any possible losses if you have to cancel your trip or even head somewhere else on short notice.

If you don’t have a lot of nonrecoverable deposits upfront, you don’t have to worry about TCI. But if you are on the hook for more than a few hundred dollars, you need TCI. And make sure you buy the right kind of TCI. Most policies I’ve seen cover destination-area strikes, but coverage is limited:

  • Typically, coverage requires that services be shut down “completely,” and even a highly limited partial service could be enough to deny reimbursement.
  • Also, 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.

If you buy TCI, you don’t want to buy into protracted arguments with insurance companies, which often end with your being stonewalled or having to hire a lawyer. Instead, you want to be able to decide, maybe even a day or two before you’re scheduled to leave, that you really don’t like the outlook in your planned destination. Or if a big strike happens when you’re already there, you might want to pack up and head for some other country.

That’s why I strongly recommend “cancel for any reason” TCI. Yes, it’s more expensive, and some policies cover less than 100 percent of your prepayments, but it’s the only form of insurance where you’re totally in control of what you want to do with your trip. Any-reason TCI is available from CSA, Travel Guard, TravelSafe, Travelex, and other major suppliers. For your best deal, check one of the comparison sites such as QuoteWright or Squaremouth.

Your Turn

Have labor strikes ever thrown a wrench in your travel plans? What did you do? Share your advice by adding a comment below!

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