Q&A: Travel unravelled

Q. We are travelling to Malaga on 29 March, but I have heard that there is a national strike in Spain on this day. We are flying out on Ryanair from Manchester – can it cancel our flights? What are our rights? We have pre-paid for hotels and car hire, so we are really concerned. Lisa Bennett, Blackpool

A. The Foreign Office confirms that a general strike has been called for Thursday 29 March by the two largest trade unions in Spain. "The strike may affect public transport within Spain and services at Spanish airports," the latest travel advice says. "Travellers are advised to check for transport delays before arriving in Spain and to allow extra time for transfers to and from airports."

Unfortunately, airlines have been so badly hit by previous strikes in Spain that some – including Ryanair – may take the view that pre-emptively cancelling flights is better than the alternative, which is that aircraft may be diverted, delayed or grounded because of the industrial action.

If the airline cancels your flight, it has no obligation to you beyond refunding the fare – because clearly in this case the reason is beyond its control. Ryanair may offer you travel on an alternative date, but it is not obliged to do so. And because you evidently sourced accommodation and car rental separately, you are not covered by the very benign Package Travel Regulations, which would have secured a full refund in the event of being unable to reach your destination.

The best hope for you: that Ryanair is concerned about the 150-plus passengers who are due to return on the plane you are booked to travel out on. The airline would be responsible for finding board and lodging for them in Malaga (pictured above) until new flights could be found. It might instead decide to tolerate possible delays along the way.

It may also be that staff at Malaga airport, aware of the dreadful impression cancellations would have at the start of the Easter holidays, decide to work normally. If you do manage to get to Malaga, be warned that "public demonstrations... may also affect local services", according to the Foreign Office. But if you don't get that far, ask the hotel and car-rental firm if you can defer the trip for a few weeks.