British Airways Strike Threat: Will Your Cruise Be Affected?

April 4, 2011
(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- Unite, the trade union for British Airways cabin crew, voted once again this week in favour of strike action. This could mean that flights to join cruises over the busy Easter period and beyond, when Brits will enjoy an unprecedented four bank holidays (thanks to the extra one for the royal wedding), could be affected, causing travel misery to thousands of holidaymakers.

Here's the situation as it stands. The ballot took place on March 28 and any strike action must be announced within 28 days of that date, or a new ballot has to take place. Unite must give the airline seven days' notice of any strike dates.

If a strike does take place -- and let's not forget that BA has already lost 22 days and millions of pounds over this dispute about cabin crew working conditions, so is desperate to prevent industrial action -- here's what the airline proposes:

All flights will operate as normal out of London Gatwick and London City (where the crew are on different contracts to the more militant crowd at Heathrow).

100 percent of long haul flights should operate from Heathrow.

Most, but not all, short haul flights will operate from Heathrow, although they may be on aircraft operated by other carriers.

So what's the possible impact on British cruise holidays?

The 28-day period from the last ballot ends on Easter Monday, April 25, so if your fly-cruise departs after that date, there is currently no threat of industrial action, although this may change.

Fortunately, the Mediterranean cruise season only starts in earnest from the end of April, and a lot of ships will just be arriving during the strike period from their repositioning cruises and so won't be affected. But several lines could be impacted:

According to a statement from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent company for Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, there are various plans in place to ensure that holidays are as unaffected as possible should a strike occur.

"In the event of any confirmed strikes, and based on how past such events have been managed, RCCL will set up a specialist team to arrange alternative transport for affected guests and manage any queries from concerned travellers. Past experience of similar strike action has seen [the company] re-book guests onto alternative airlines, coach transfer guests to other airports and support guests who are booked on a fly-cruise package in reaching their cruise departure destination."

MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises could also be affected as both have ships in the Mediterranean sailing from Savona, Genoa or Barcelona. Costa's spokesman simply says there will be a contingency plan; we'll keep you posted on MSC's plans.

Voyages to Antiquity also starts its Med season during the strike period. A spokesman for the line confirmed that alternative flights would be found for passengers and crew, as they were with 100 percent success when the same happened last year.

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are both on ex-U.K. sailings throughout April, so they won't be affected, while Queen Mary 2's transatlantic crossings should be safe as the one-way to New York incurred on each is long haul.

Holland America and NCL have fly-cruises scheduled from Barcelona and Venice. We're waiting to hear of any contingency plans they have in place. P&O Cruises isn't affected, as all its departures in April are ex-U.K.

The same is true (all departures are ex-U.K.) for Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Voyages of Discovery and both Saga Holidays ships.

Princess Cruises doesn't have ships in the Med during April, and as BA promises to operate long haul flights as scheduled, anybody joining a Princess vessel for a Caribbean fly-cruise via a BA flight should be okay.

But what if you're still hoping to book a cruise for the Easter period? Perhaps roundtrip U.K. is the most sensible option. There is still availability from all most British ports in April, for example, to the Western Mediterranean with P&O Cruises, or the Canaries with Royal Caribbean from Southampton. Cruise & Maritime Voyages can take you from Hull to the Baltic or the Norwegian Fjords, or London's Tilbury to France and the Channel Islands. There's also a getaway with Fred. Olsen from Liverpool to Spain and Portugal. All of these are roundtrip from the U.K., which means that cruisers can avoid the stress of flying and strike action altogether. For details of all of these, check out cruise deals on Cruise Critic U.K.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor