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Christmas travel chaos across Europe looms with air and rail strikes expected to affect thousands

Airlines from the UK to Nice have been advised to fly via Italy on Friday to avoid a strike by French air-traffic controllers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 12 December 2018 20:32 GMT
How strikes across December will affect air and train travel

As the pre-Christmas travel rush gets underway, a range of strikes on air and rail are set to jeopardise journeys.

French air-traffic controllers are set to walk out from Thursday evening until Saturday morning, with widespread disruption expected on Friday. It is part of a nationwide campaign by public servants against the Macron administration, but the controllers’ union, USAC-CGT, has called on all its members to strike because of specific concerns, saying: “We have suffered continual downsizing for more than 10 years.”

The strike will start at 8pm on 13 December to 7am on 15 December.

Toulouse Airport in southwest France has warned travellers: “Disturbances to be expected on the flight schedule. We invite you to contact your airline to know the status of your flight before travelling to the airport.”

Eurocontrol said: “Minimum service will be provided with precautionary measures.” It is holding a conference call at 10am on Thursday to explain the likely impact and discuss mitigation measures.

Restrictions are expected all day in the Nice region and airlines from the UK have already been advised to fly via Italy.

On Friday, a nationwide strike and coordinated demonstrations in Belgium will affect the country’s main airport.

Brussels Airlines, the Belgian national carrier, warned passengers: “The national demonstration in Belgium of 14 December 2018 might have an impact on your flight.”

“Brussels Airport and its partners will do everything in their power to limit the impact of the demonstration on the passengers,” the airport announced on its website on Wednesday.

”Nevertheless, delays are possible. Travel with cabin-baggage only and leave for the airport well ahead of your departure time.”

A strike in Tunisia could also affect flights to and from North Africa.

Virgin Atlantic pilots belonging to the breakaway union, the PPU, are planning a series of four-day strikes in a dispute over recognition.

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The first is due to start on 22 December and continue to Christmas Day; the next straddles the new year from 30 December to 2 January; and a third is due to start on 4 January.

The PPU has 304 members working for Virgin Atlantic, representing around 30 per cent of its flight crew. Around half of them voted to strike.

The airline said its our operations team is working through the flying programme, and told The Independent: “As things stand right now we’re not expecting to be cancelling services.”

On the railways, strikes by members of the RMT union working for Northern Rail will drastically reduce services on the remaining Saturdays of the year, taking the total to 19 days since the summer.

The long-running dispute is over the role of guards.

The train operator says: “The RMT strike action, planned for 15, 22 and 29 December, will see Northern running approximately 700 services during each Saturday – but with very few Northern services running after 5pm.”

On Saturday 22 December, the strikers will be joined by staff working for South Western Railway, which runs from London Waterloo to Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.

The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “South Western Railway might think it’s acceptable to play fast and loose with passenger safety, security and access but RMT members, who have stood firm throughout this dispute despite appalling harassment from the company, will not accept a dilution of the safety regime on the railway.

The train operator said: “By targeting the last Saturday before Christmas when people are trying to travel to be with family and friends the RMT is ensuring the maximum misery is inflicted at what should be a time of relaxation and enjoyment.

“This action is totally unnecessary. We have guaranteed to roster a guard on every train, and we need more, not fewer guards – 70 more by May 2019 – and we have an opportunity with the introduction of the new suburban trains to operate these trains differently to maximise the customer benefits.

“Should this action go ahead, we will do everything we can to provide the best service possible for our customers.

The RMT has also called a strike by members working on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground for 26 December 2018 and 14 January 2019, saying that the management’s attitude “creates undue stress on staff and puts all members and the travelling public at increased risk”.

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