Leaders of the major French air traffic controller (ATC) unions have threatened to stage a nationwide strike from 0600 CEST June 3 to 0600 June 6. The extent of possible disruptions resulting from the action is still unclear; however, the potential for very high participation indicates that severe delays and widespread cancellations are likely if the strike occurs, and could also affect routes transiting French airspace. Union leaders and government representatives will continue to negotiate in the run-up to the labor action; a further announcement is expected on May 31.
If confirmed, the Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) could call on airlines to cancel flights to major French airports ahead of the strike in order to maintain minimum services. Short- and medium-haul passenger flights are more likely to be affected by the cancellations than intercontinental routes. Smaller, regional airports may be unable to guarantee minimum services, causing delays and unannounced flight cancellations at these facilities. The strike could also cause ancillary delays at other airports across Europe, particularly on Air France (AF) flights, as aircraft are held at their points of origin. Many carriers that operate flights to France will probably offer flexible rebooking policies during the strike period.
The start of the work stoppage would coincide with the beginning of summer holidays in France, one of the country's busiest travel periods.
Prepare for flight disruptions throughout France during the declared walkout; disruptions may extend past the end of the strike as the backlog of canceled flights is cleared. Confirm flights closer to the strike dates. Plan accordingly for cargo flight disruptions and associated delivery delays.
Dealing with Work Slowdowns, Stoppages and Strikes by International Air Carriers
Increasingly, international governments are classifying airline transport as vital to national interest, requiring airline personnel and their unions to enter into mandatory negotiations or arbitration to settle disputes before a full strike is initiated. Job actions during this process may still occur and include work slowdowns using a variety of tactics including "sick-outs," work-to-rule, and refusal to work overtime. These job actions are usually unannounced, short, and difficult to predict. Work slowdowns can be disruptive to a carrier's operations, often resulting in delayed or canceled flights. Serious threats by labor groups to strike have prompted action by airline management in the form of an employee lockout directly impacting flight schedules.
In the US, airline personnel are bound by provisions of the Railway Labor Act that restrict their ability to strike. Unsettled labor disputes are passed to the National Mediation Board (NMB), which attempts to arbitrate an agreement. A minimum of 30 days' notice is standard before any US airline labor groups may strike. Additional procedural steps can be taken by the US executive branch to extend the delay before a strike. Although it does not happen often, US air carriers can also experience work slowdowns as described above. If a US airline labor dispute remains unsettled through the lengthy mediation process, the resulting strike can also be lengthy.
In countries where unions are powerful or labor laws governing airline personnel are less restrictive, nationally-based carriers are at greater risk for disruptive job actions. Unannounced "wildcat" strikes involving airline labor segments (pilots, mechanics, baggage handlers, flight attendants) can occur at any time. Labor unions play a much larger and more forceful role and may react to broader national issues as well as disputes between labor and airline management. Unions often announce a pending work stoppage, but advance notice may not be timely enough for passengers to successfully secure alternative transportation on originally scheduled dates of travel. Strikes and work slowdowns are often short but very disruptive.
Considerations Prior to or During Travel
• Ask airlines or ticket providers if agreements are in place with other carriers to honor tickets if a work stoppage or strike takes place. Airlines that are part of international airline alliances or have codeshare agreements are more likely to honor a "partner" airline's ticket. Although you may be re-ticketed with another carrier, payment of associated fees or higher ticket price may apply
• Though you may be ticketed with an airline not dealing with labor difficulties, your schedule may be affected by codeshare agreements with the carrier experiencing disruptions. Ensure your travel provider clearly identifies any codeshare flights.
• Book flights with morning departures. If disruptions occur, it will afford the best chance to obtain alternate transportation for same-day travel.
• If travel plans are flexible, consider rescheduling flights for a later date to avoid paying any additional fees. While airlines are not required to do so, non-partner carriers operating on the same route may accept your ticket for travel or waive any ticket change penalty when labor disruptions are pending or occurring.
• Be aware that re-ticketing with another carrier may result in changes to your route and add one or more connecting flights, possibly on different airlines. Be sure that new connecting airports/airlines have no entry/exit or carriage restrictions for your passport. Airlines are aware of such restrictions and will be able to provide this information.
• Consider purchasing a fully refundable ticket if travel dates are inflexible. This may be expensive but it is a better option if airline or ticket changes need to be made, and better ensures reimbursement if the ticket is unused.
• Call ahead to cancel or change hotel or car rental reservations to avoid paying penalties.
• Keep emergency contact numbers for travel professionals handy. Seeking assistance from travel agents rather than temporarily replaced, diminished, overwhelmed airline staff may be preferable if labor disruptions affect your itinerary. Contacting airlines directly may be necessary if tickets were booked through a travel website.
• Secure alternate transportation before going to the airport if you have advance notice of an airline strike. Airport terminals can be chaotic during labor actions, especially if the airline involved uses the facility as a hub.
• Check airline websites, contact airline customer service numbers, sign up for automated alerts, and/or monitor local media to stay informed about the situation as it develops.
Passenger rights and compensation can vary depending on the country where the ticketed airline is based, the destination where the disruption occurs, and airline(s) involved. In most instances, alternate air carriers will not be obligated or be under legal mandate to assist passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled as a result of a work slowdown, stoppage, or strike by another airline. However, passengers are often accommodated on alternate competing airlines to further positive public relations sentiment. Familiarize yourself with the ticketed airline's contract of carriage to know what you are entitled to with respect to compensation, including for extended delays requiring added overnight stay, accommodation on alternate travel and refund policy for any portion of purchased tickets as a result of a labor disruption.