Thousands of travellers flying from British airports have again been left stranded by French air traffic controllers on strike over an increase in pension age. Hundreds of flights were grounded on Wednesday and many more were disrupted, with delays and cancellations not only affecting journeys to France but also to other parts of Europe only accessible overflying French airspace.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said passengers should check with their airline before going to the airport in case their journey is cancelled or badly delayed.
Ryanair cancelled 250 flights on Wednesday from airports including Birmingham, Luton, Leeds Bradford, Stansted, East Midlands and Dublin.
Among the destinations on Ryanair’s cancelled list are Alicante and Málaga in Spain and Marrakech in Morocco.
EasyJet has cancelled 118 flights. Most of the axed services involve flights within France, but also include return flights to Paris from Gatwick, Belfast and Luton, as well as a Gatwick-Toulouse return service.
British Airways was among the other carriers that had to cancel flights, while Flybe axed 16 services including flights to Paris from Manchester, Birmingham and Exeter, and some flights from Southampton.
Ryanair criticised the industrial action by French air-traffic controllers, who want fresh talks on working conditions and are angry at plans to push back their pension age by two years.
“It’s grossly unfair that thousands of European travellers will once again have their travel plans disrupted by the selfish actions of a tiny number of French … workers,” the Irish airline was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) as saying.
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We can assure our passengers we are doing everything possible to limit the inconvenience of this strike on them.”
A BA representative said: “We are doing all we can to minimise disruption to customers. We will be using larger aircraft as well as rerouting some flights to try to help as many customers as possible get to where they need to be.
“Unfortunately there will be some knock-on delays to other parts of our short-haul network as a result of the strike action, given how much airspace in Europe will be affected. We are sorry for any disruption to customers’ travel plans.”
AFP reported that the situation in Paris terminals was relatively calm, with passengers apparently making other plans after heeding advance warnings of the strike. The CAA asked for passengers flying from Britain to do the same.
A spokesman said: “One thing we are really keen to do is to advise passengers, if they are due to fly in the next few days, to check with airlines before going to the airport.
He stressed that passengers should exercise their consumer rights if they are faced with long delays. “When there is a long delay they are entitled to food and drink and the airline should provide that. If passengers are being delayed overnight airlines are obliged to provide accommodation,” the
“If their flights are cancelled at short notice they are obliged to offer passengers a refund or a rearranged flight.”
A spokesman for Eurocontrol, the agency that oversees air-traffic control across Europe, said France’s aviation authority had requested a 40% cut in flights to and from French airports.
He said flights to destinations elsewhere in Europe had, where appropriate, been rerouted to the east and west of French airspace. ‘Typically there would be about 4,000 overflights [in French airspace]. Some of these are still happening but obviously people are rerouting around as much as possible,’ he said.
The strike, which began on Wednesday at 5am and is set to last 48 hours, was called by the main air-traffic union SNCTA, which wants talks over the working conditions of its members.
A sticking point is the raising of the retirement age for air traffic controllers by 2 years from 57 to 59.
Alain Vidalies, the French transport minister, said he regretted that the union had chosen to call for strike action and noted that a meeting was due to take place on 13 April to discuss the specific working practices in the sector.
SNCTA had originally called the strike from 25 to 27 March but scrapped it after the Germanwings crash in the French Alps in which 150 people were killed.
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