Trade union outrage over Air France's VIP treatment for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

'If there are rules they should be for everybody,' says spokesman

A trade union for crisis-hit Air France has voiced outrage after it emerged that it treated Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to a first-class plane ticket to New York, and even covered €500 in airport charges for her.

France’s former first lady, who is married to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and is a millionaire in her own right thanks to her folk-singing career, flew to New York from Paris on 23 June on a return ticket worth €11,000. When members of trade union Sud-Aérien, discovered that the airline had paid for the ticket and charges, they went public to denounce the practice of offering free flights to ‘VIPs’ at a time when France’s national airline is shedding jobs as part of a three-year economy drive to save €2bn.

The union noted that the head of Air France-KLM, Alexandre De Juniac, may be a former aide to the ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, but he “is still providing a service.”

Union spokesman Léon Crémieux said that the protest had nothing to do with Ms Bruni-Sarkozy personally. “It’s just that if there are rules they should be for everybody, and to use the company for one’s friends, or friends of friends, is dishonest, particularly at a time when the workers are being asked to take a hit.”

Air France pointed out that former French presidents and their families, “in accordance with tradition, can take advantage of transport facilities in the highest reservation category.”

As well as unlimited free travel on the national carrier and by rail in France, the former heads of state are entitled to a raft of other privileges with no price cap. These include grace-and-favour furnished apartments, under a 1985 decision by then Prime Minister Laurent Fabius which updated a 1955 law. The former leaders are also provided with a personal and security staff, a car and drivers for their lifetimes.

Centrist politician Charles de Courson said yesterday that the free travel, along with “a number of ancient regime privileges, should be stopped.”

Mr Sarkozy was known as the “bling bling” president, because of his association with ultra-wealthy friends and a predilection for flashy fashion accessories. He now has an 11-room office close to the Elysée palace, also paid for by the state.

According to the author of a book on “L’Argent de l’Etat” (the state’s money), René Dosière, each former president costs the taxpayer on average between €1.5-2m per year.