Julian Bray comments: Repatriation flights to rescue schoolchildren stranded by the latest series of French air traffic control strikes are today being operated by easyJet. The airline is adding five special flights - Luton to Paris, Paris to Barcelona, Barcelona to Luton, Gatwick to Madrid, and Marrakech to Gatwick. Other flights may be added as appropriate.
The airline is to operate larger planes before the weekend to ease the widespread disruption throughout Europe caused by the 48-hour controllers' strike which ended yesterday but other strikes are already in the pipeline which will ensure that hundreds of aircraft will not be in their correct positions as they attempt to play catch up. In the initial round EasyJet was among the worst-hit - having axed some 331 flights yesterday and 248 on Wednesday. The timing by the French could not be more difficult as the UK Government introduces 'phased' enhanced passport exit controls, which is already impacting on tight time schedules and causing some tempers to fray due to the long waiting in queues just to clear immigration and customs control.
"We are operating five rescue flights, prioritising the repatriation of three groups of schoolchildren."
Other carriers, including Ryanair, British Airways and Flybe were also badly affected by the strike, with Ryanair having to cancel more than 250 flights on Wednesday.
The French air traffic controllers are currently scheduled to stage two more stoppages in the coming days - the first from April 16-18 and the second from April 29 to May 2. The spacing of the French industrial action will mean that few aircraft in Europe will be running to schedule as the cumulative effect will leave groups of passengers, luggage, freight and perishable cargo stranded at a variety of major airport hubs. It could well be that 'foreign' aircraft will be specially chartered to cope with the chaos and that flights will be routed around French airspace all of which causes delays and precisely timed landing and take off slots missed.
The authorities are strongly suggesting that all passengers should confirm flight details by telephone with their airline before venturing anywhere near airports. This also goes for return flights. Airlines are required to provide refreshments and possibly hotel accommodation, a situation which is costing the industry some £50 million in extra costs. But there are NO CASH REFUNDS.
As many as 20,000 people are currently caught up in the disruption and more will be added as the additional strikes go ahead. Passengers are strongly advised to change dates if at all possible, or seek alternative routes and methods of transport.
Although the dispute is confined to French air space, the total footprint extends beyond France. The bonus is that some not previously used airports may suddenly see a flurry of new aircraft landing, refuelling and taking off. Local coach firms will also see an increase in business.
JULIAN BRAY ++44(0)1733 345581, Journalist, Broadcaster, Aviation Security & Operations Expert, Travel / Cruise Industry, EQUITY, NUJ, Broadcast COOBE ISDN ++44 (0)1733 345020 (DUAL CODEC) SKYPE: JULIAN.BRAY.UK e&oe Cell: 07944 217476 or iPhone 0743 530 3145 #VENDOR 10476453 http://feeds.feedburner.com/BraysDuckhouseBlog