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1,000 flights cancelled: How Friday’s French air traffic controllers’ strike will hit travel in Europe

One thousand flights have been cancelled because of a French air traffic controllers' strike - which affects both flights in and out of France and those that cross over French airspace. Here's a look at the disruption.

Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP

When?

The SNCTA union, which represents the majority of French air traffic controllers, has called a one-day strike for Friday, September 16th.

Flights on this day will be heavily disrupted, and it’s likely that there will be knock-on effects over the weekend as well.

There are also strikes announced for Wednesday, September 28th, Thursday, September 29th and Friday, September 30th – at this stage we do not know how much disruption these will case, cancellations will be announced nearer the time so check our travel section HERE.

Where?

This affects flights in and out of all French airports (which includes France itself and its overseas territories such as the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe) and potentially affects all flights that pass over French airspace.

Why?

The strike is over pay, and also the longer-term recruitment of air traffic controllers.

READ ALSO 16 French phrases to use on strike days

How much disruption?

A lot. The French aviation authority Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) has asked airlines to cancel half of all their flights in and out of France on Friday. 

There is no target of cancellation for flights that merely pass through French airspace, but the DGAC has warned that these too can be affected, although it is working with air traffic controllers in neighbouring country to re-route some flights.

The DGAC is recommending that passengers postpone their travel plans on Friday, if at all possible.

In total 1,000 flights have been cancelled. 

Airlines

The 50 percent cancellation applies to all airlines, and anyone whose flight has been cancelled should be notified by email and/or SMS. Anyone who has a flight booked is advised to check directly with their airline, and use the airline app or flight tracker if applicable for the latest updates.

Air France – the French national carrier has tried to keep as many of its long-haul flights as possible, and says that 90 percent of scheduled long-haul flights should go ahead on Friday. In order to do this, however, it has had to severely cut short-haul and medium-length routes – just 45 percent of short/medium flights will go ahead on Friday.

Ryanair – Ryanair has cancelled 420 flights, affecting 80,000 passengers. As well as flights to France, these also include passengers travelling between Spain, Italy, the UK, Ireland and Germany, where flights passed over France.

The company is particularly affected by ‘overflights’ – flights passing over France through French airspace – and is calling on the EU to take tougher action to protect airlines from this type of disruption. 

Easyjet – the UK-based budget airline has cancelled 50 percent of its flights, and advises customers to check the Easyjet flight tracker on their website for the latest information on their flight.

READ ALSO: Your rights if your flight is delayed or cancelled in France

Transavia – the French budget airline has announced 140 flight cancellations for Friday.

Vueling – the Spanish budget airline has cancelled 80 flights to and from France – it has a full list of cancelled flights on its website here.

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STRIKES

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

The main union representing French air traffic controllers has cancelled calls for a strike from September 28th to 30th, after "reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry."

SNCTA, the main union for air traffic controllers said this week that they had lifted their calls for a three-day strike at the end of September after coming to an agreement with France Ministry of Transport. 

In a statement on its website, the SNCTA said “In view of the concrete progress made on the demands, the SNCTA is lifting its [strike] notice for September 28th, 29th and 30th. The strong mobilisation of September 16th was necessary and instrumental for reaching this conciliation in a very constrained calendar. Thank you to all of you!” 

The French ministry of transport has not yet commented on the above agreement or lifting of the strike.

The International Air Transport Association tweeted their support for the SNCTA’s decision to cancel further industrial action, calling Friday’s strike “unnecessary.”

The association also urged the European Union to implement a “Single European Sky.” This reform, which was put forward almost 20 years ago, has not yet reached fruition. It intends to shift the current system of air traffic organisation away from national borders and toward a “coherent zone” in order to reduce emissions and save both time and money.

The strike on September 16th left over 1,000 flights in France grounded, as well as widespread delays and over 2,400 flight cancellations across Europe. 

The SNCTA mobilised for wage increases due to the rising cost of living, in addition to an acceleration of recruitment in order to anticipate a wave of retirements. After Friday’s action, the union had called for further strikes from September 28th to 30th before reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry. 

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