Q. What is happening with the air-traffic control strikes over France? We are due to fly from Manchester to Zakynthos next Sunday. Sharon Dews, West Yorkshire
A. Anyone planning to fly to France between now and next Sunday, or on a route that involves flying through French airspace, runs the risk that their flight could be delayed or cancelled. Air-traffic controllers are staging a sequence of strikes in a dispute over cuts and closer integration with the rest of Europe.
The rolling sequence of strikes began yesterday and is due to continue until Sunday 29 June. Standard practice by the French authorities is to inform the airlines of “mandated cancellations” for the following day – ie ordering them to axe a certain proportion of departures so that an under-staffed air-traffic-control operation can cope. The three main airlines between the UK and France – British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair – each cancelled a number of departures to and from France yesterday.
Cancellations are not mandated for flights that normally simply overfly France, such as yours, but they could still be affected. Flights to and from two holiday favourites, Portugal and Spain, are worst hit, but travellers to destinations in south-eastern Europe, including Italy and south-west Greece also risk disruption. The most direct route from Manchester to Zakynthos traverses about 60 miles of Alsace in eastern France.
Airlines will seek to route flights to these areas around the north of France, but this puts pressure on the already crowded skies of Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.
As the conflict rumbles on, it is the traveller who suffers in terms of disruption and stress, and the airlines that are hit financially. They lose the ticket revenue from cancelled flights, and must provide food and accommodation for affected customers. Passengers are not due additional financial compensation, because strikes are regarded as “extraordinary circumstances” beyond the airline’s control.