French air-traffic strike grounds 100,000 travellers across Europe

Ryanair has cancelled 222 flights, affecting about 40,000 passengers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 10 October 2017 18:18
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Simon Calder tells of how French Air Traffic strikes affect passengers

Hundreds of flights across Europe have been cancelled, and many more delayed, due to the latest strike by French air-traffic controllers. An estimated 100,000 passengers have had their flights grounded.

Members of the main air-traffic unions stopped work on Monday night and will continue until early on Wednesday morning, as part of a national strike against the labour reform policies of President Macron.

Airlines have been told to cut three out of 10 flights. Many others have been diverted around French airspace, extending journey times and causing additional congestion.

The biggest budget airline, Ryanair, cancelled the largest number of flights: 222, affecting about 40,000 passengers.

While the cancellations are across western Europe, UK airports are particularly badly affected. Dozens of links from Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh to France and Spain have been axed.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “Due to an unjustified French ATC strike, we regret we have been forced to cancel a number of flights today. We apologise to all affected customers, who have been contacted by email and text message and advised of their options: a full refund, rebooking on to the next available flight or transferring to an alternative flight."

Around 60 per cent of easyJet flights normally cross French airspace. Many flights were cancelled, and others heavily delayed. Passengers on easyJet’s morning departure from Gatwick to Malaga endured a delay of over six hours because of the strike. With planes and crews being held on the ground at airports across Europe, knock-on cancellations are likely later in the day.

Flybe has cancelled 20 flights, many of them links to and from Paris Charles de Gaulle which would normally carry passengers connecting to long-haul flights. The airline said: “We would like to apologise in advance for any inconvenience that may be experienced through these circumstances that are entirely beyond our control.“

Air France is running its full long-haul programme, and cancelling about one in four short-haul services.

British Airways has cancelled 10 flights to and from Nice, along with eight links to Barcelona. Services to and from Switzerland, Italy and Germany are also affected.

BA said: “Yet again this will unfortunately bring another wave of unnecessary disruption for some customers travelling in Europe.” It is using larger aircraft on some flights to compensate for cancellations.

The airline is allowing anyone due to fly today to or from any French airport, as well as Madrid and Barcelona, to move their trip back to a date up to and including Thursday 12 October.

The pressure group Airlines For Europe (A4E) claims that seven out of 10 air traffic control strikes since 2005 have been by French controllers.

Thomas Reynaert, managing director of A4E, said: “The impact of the seventh strike day in France this year will be quite significant: airlines have been forced to reduce their flight programme by a third. We expect to see escalating delays throughout the day, forcing airlines to cut back on their flight programme even further. Given France’s its geographical location, ATC strikes in France and the reduction of capacity in French airspace considerably penalises passengers throughout the continent.”

The organisation is running an online petition, "in an effort to force the EU to finally take action to prevent these unwarranted strikes".

Passengers whose flights are disrupted are not entitled to cash compensation, but airlines have a duty of care towards them — providing meals and accommodation until they can reach their destination.

If airlines are not able to offer an alternative departure within a reasonable time, typically two days, they must pay for flights on other carriers.

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