French strikes cause travel chaos as thousands of flights and trains to be cancelled over next month

Air traffic controllers and rail workers are angry at labour reform plans

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 19 March 2018 23:22 GMT
French strikes cause travel chaos as thousands of flights and trains expected to be cancelled over next month

Travellers to, from, through and over France face disruption over the next few days and weeks.

At 6pm British time on Wednesday 21 March, some French air traffic controllers will begin a strike that continues to 5am on Friday 23 March.

The action will severely disrupt flights on Thursday, one of the busiest days of the week. According to Eurocontrol, the French authorities have ordered a 30 per cent reduction in arrivals and departures at the main Paris airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, as well as Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes and Toulouse.

The greatest impact is expected to be in the south and west of France.

The area control centres at Aix-en-Provence, Brest and Bordeaux will reduce the amount of traffic allowed to overfly France. During previous strikes, hundreds of flights from the UK to other countries, particularly Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy, have been cancelled or severely delayed.

The UK air-traffic provider, NATS, is bringing in more staff to cope with an increased workload as flights divert around France

Ryanair responded angrily. A spokesperson for Europe’s biggest budget airline said: “We will advise customers of any changes to our flights. We call on the French Government and EU Commission to take action to prevent these French ATC unions once again holding European consumers to ransom.”

A spokesperson for the trade association Airlines for Europe said: ”ATC strikes in Europe are a massive problem, impacting travellers, business, tourism and ultimately local economies.

“From 2010-2017 the economic cost of ATC strikes in Europe totalled €12 billion.”

Last month controllers’ unions reacted angrily to a European Commission call for EU member states “to ensure air service continuity in the event of industrial action”.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation said: “Air traffic management staff causes less than one per cent of flight delay in Europe while the airlines are responsible for over 50 per cent.”

An Italian military exercise over the Adriatic is likely to complicate issues for flights to Italy, Croatia and Greece.

Before the air-traffic strike ends, Air France workers will begin a strike. Several unions representing the airline’s staff have called a stoppage for Friday 23 March.

Air France said: “It remains too early to ascertain the effects this strike might have on our flights.” Passengers are likely to be informed the day before if their flight is cancelled.

The airline may also reduce the number of passengers allowed on some flights if there are insufficient cabin crew.

Passengers booked to travel on Friday or Saturday are being offered the chance to switch to another day without penalty.

On the railways, staff working for the national train operator, SNCF, are planning to strike between 8pm British time on Wednesday and 7am on Friday.

Eurostar, which runs rail services from London St Pancras to Calais, Lille and Paris, has cancelled two round-trips to the French capital on Thursday and one Paris-London service on Friday.

Union members working for RATP, which runs public transport in Paris, are also likely to stop work on Thursday.

The rail workers’ stoppage presages a series of rolling two-day strikes which begin just after Easter, on 3 April, and continue until 28 June.

Every five days, a fresh stoppage will begin in what a union leader has called “an intense and long-lasting conflict”.

The series of two-day strikes is likely to have a significant effect on high-speed TGV services., the French Railways’ distribution channel in the UK, is likely to warn passengers in advance if their train is set to be cancelled during the strike.

The unions are opposed to the labour reforms being implemented by President Macron’s government. Transport workers in France currently have generous guarantees on employment protection, pay rises and retirement.

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