French air-traffic control strike disrupts 5,000 flights

Tens of thousands of UK travellers affected – including to Italy, Spain and Switzerland as well as France

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 09 May 2019 16:04 BST
Red alert: map of European airspace showing the effects of the French strike
Red alert: map of European airspace showing the effects of the French strike (Eurocontrol)

Five thousand flights have been disrupted by the first big French air-traffic control strike of the year.

The controllers are stopping work as part of a day of industrial action by civil servants across France against President Macron’s plans to reform the public sector.

They walked out at 7pm local time on Wednesday and will resume work at 6am tomorrow, Friday 10 May.

At 3pm today, Eamonn Brennan, director-general of Eurocontrol in Brussels, tweeted: “Approx 5k flights affected with over 300k minutes of delay and many other flights cancelled.

“Network manager is working hard with our colleagues and airlines around Europe to minimise the impact of today’s French strike.”

The delay-minutes figure translates to an average delay of one hour for each affected flight. In addition an estimated 550 flights have been cancelled because of the stoppage.

Delays are building, with many travellers reporting they were boarded on time for flights which were then stuck on the ground for an hour or more while waiting for a slot to overfly France.

Four big airports in southern France are particularly badly affected: Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse. Links on easyJet from Bristol, Gatwick and Luton to Toulouse were cancelled, as was a round-trip on Flybe from Manchester and another on Ryanair from Stansted.

Ryanair and easyJet flights to London airports are among those cancelled from Marseille. Ryanair has also cancelled services between Stansted and Perpignan.

The airline said: “We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused by these French ATC strikes. We will do everything we can to minimise your disruption, which is sadly beyond our control.”

Many of easyJet’s 60-plus cancellations, and dozens of Ryanair grounded flights, are on French domestic routes.

Passengers on British Airways have been hard hit, with 46 cancellations so far. Three round-trips from Heathrow to Nice, Barcelona and Madrid have been grounded, along with two each to Paris and Marseille, as well as services to Lyon, Toulouse, Basel, Geneva and Zurich.

From Gatwick, BA services to and from Algiers, Bordeaux, Nice and Turin have been grounded. A single round-trip from London City to Paris Orly is also affected.

The cost to the airlines is running into millions of pounds. Besides losing revenue from cancelled flights, they are responsible for providing meals and, if necessary, accommodation for disrupted passengers.

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