Air France strike: Massive flight disruptions, could cost up to $19mn

Air France strike: Massive flight disruptions, could cost up to $19mn
Up to 60 percent of Air France flights have been canceled as the company’s pilots began a week-long strike over the cuts. The same level of groundings is expected until the weekend.

“Close to 600,000 texts and messages have been sent to inform customers due to travel on Tuesday individually and in real time. If the strike action continues beyond 16 September, the flight schedule will be adjusted accordingly. Customers will be informed of the potential impact the day before departure. However there may be other disruption and delays,” the company’s official statement said.

The French company’s pilots express their anger at the Air France’s plans to expand the low-cost flights of Transavia brand, establishing foreign bases – and thus saving about $1.3 billion.

The union also stressed they were ready to extend the strike after the failed weekend talks on the situation.

A prolonged walk-out could become Air France’s gravest dispute in over a decade: in 1998, a 10-day strike disrupted France’s hosting of the soccer World Cup.

The strike could cost Europe’s second-largest airline 10-15 million euro (US$13-19 million), Air France-KLM Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac told Reuters.

Transavia low-cost operates a fleet of Boeing 737 planes, and expressed its readiness to buy 22-23 more to create about 1,000 new jobs. Air France planned the expansion to be able to compete with Ryanair and Easyjet in the low-cost airline market. The latter announced an offer of extra seats to passengers stranded by the Air France strike on Monday, AP reported.

The issue is the difference in pay and conditions for pilots, who could switch from Air France to Transavia. Pilots’ union SNPL accused the French carrier of looking to profit from cheaper work force in foreign bases.

So far, the strike involves only French pilots, but Dutch personnel of the joint company also said they might join the walk-out.

"The last strike we had was in 1995; we don't even know how to spell the word 'strike'," Steven Verhagen, president of the Dutch Airline Pilots' Association told Reuters.

"We are eager to see Transavia as a European company but <...> we don't want to see pilots from lower-cost countries taking our jobs. There is no imminent strike, but this could happen in the near future," he added.

The events come amid Air France-KLM shares dropping over 3 percent, practically canceling last week’s advances after the announcement of low-cost expansion across Europe.

In the meantime, German Lufthansa’s pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit canceled an eight-hour walk-out scheduled for Tuesday, and it could have been the fourth strike in three weeks. It’s due to the pilots having got an adjusted list of demands over the new retirement scheme. The pilots urge the company to allow early retirement at 55, with 60 percent of the regular salary before the pension payments begin.