Thousands of flights scrapped as French air traffic controllers strike

AFP , Thursday 25 Apr 2024

Thousands of flights were cancelled in France and Europe on Thursday as a strike by French air traffic controllers over pay caused stoppages not seen in two decades.

A passenger walks to departures boards as air traffic is strongly disturbed due to the strike of air
A passenger walks to departures boards as air traffic is strongly disturbed due to the strike of air-traffic controllers, at Orly airport, outside Paris, on April 25, 2024. AFP


Airlines cut more than half of their normal flight schedules at Paris's two main airports Orly and Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle, with many flights in the southern city of Marseille also grounded.

Short and medium-haul flights were the worst affected, while long-haul services faced the least disruption.

A total of around 2,600 flights arriving at or departing from French airports were forecast for Thursday, down from 5,200 the day before, civil aviation authority DGAC told AFP.

Across Europe, roughly 2,000 more flights were cancelled and another 1,000 forced to change routes to avoid French airspace, the Airlines for Europe trade body said.

Cancellation numbers were at their highest "in 20 years", said Augustin de Romanet, chief executive of ADP, the company operating the capital's airports.

On Wednesday, De Romanet had warned that "several tens of millions of euros" were at stake for airlines and airports "every strike day".

Air traffic association IATA accused the French controllers of "blackmail" and of making exorbitant demands.

Air traffic controllers have asked for, among other things, a 25 percent pay rise over five years.

A decision by their biggest union, SNCTA, on Wednesday to withdraw their strike call after a deal with management came too late to alleviate the mayhem significantly, as the DGAC had already ordered airlines to cancel most of their flights.

Three smaller unions, meanwhile, maintained their strike call.


'Overflights should be protected'

Delays for flights authorised to operate were moderate, however, the DGAC said, with many only around 30 minutes late.

French holidaymakers were particularly hard hit by the disruption, with many of the country's schools on spring break.

"There's not much to be done," said one passenger giving only her first name, Chloe.

She said she and a fellow passenger had flown into Paris from Shanghai without being able to connect to their home city of Clermont-Ferrand, 420 kilometres (260 miles) to the south.

"My husband got in his car at 4:00 am in Clermont to come and pick us up," she said.

Several airlines told customers they could change their reservations without cost or get a refund for their tickets.

Budget airline Ryanair reported 300 cancellations Thursday, and EasyJet and Transavia each said 200 were scrapped.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said many of his carrier's cancellations had been due to aircraft being barred from entering French airspace.

"Overflights should be protected," he said in a video message posted on X. "They should not be closed because there's a national ATC (air traffic controller) strike in France," he said, adding that Spain, Italy and Greece already protected overflights on strike days.

"Every time the French go on strike, they cancel a disproportionate amount of overflights," he said, appealing to the EU Commission for support.

The unions' demands are a response to a planned overhaul of French air traffic control systems.

The strike calls followed an initial breakdown of talks, raising concerns over the risk of renewed action during the Olympic Games in Paris from late July, when millions of visitors are expected in the capital.

Short link: