Air France grounds flights on last day of ‘€90 million’ strike

Tuesday marks the last day of a strike that has cost France's national carrier "€90 million"

Air France grounds flights on last day of '€90 million' strike
Photo: AFP

Air France has vowed to operate around 90 percent of its flights on Tuesday on the final day of a cabin crew strike that has cost the company tens of millions of euros.

Tuesday marks the final day of the seven-day strike by flight attendants which has affected over 200,000 passengers and forced Air France to cancel hundreds of flights.

On Tuesday France’s national carrier said all long haul flights would operate as normal, without a limitation on the number of passengers due to the insufficient cabin crew.

However around 10 percent of internal flights and 15 percent of medium-haul flights operating in and out of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris would be grounded, the airline warned.

On Monday some 150 flights were cancelled at Paris’s two main airports, CDG and Orly.

The CEO of Air France Frédéric Gagey said the industrial action has cost the company “around €90 million”.

“It's a huge sum of money, the equivalent of the cost of a long-haul airplane,” he said.

Gagey also said the strike would have other costs notably on the image of Air France.

“This is not what we want to build, we have done everything to strengthen our sense of service and the quality of what we offer to our customer,” he said.

“It is a huge regret for the entire company.”

There was a suggestion on Monday that unions could call for fresh walk-outs to ramp up the pressure on the airline, but so far no strike notice has been filed.

Two cabin crew unions are demanding management extend a collective labour accord on rules, pay and promotions and have indicated more strikes are in the offing.

Christophe Pillet for the SNPNC-FO cabin crew union told AFP a further stoppage could come as early as next week, estimating up to 280,000 passengers would be affected by the past week's stoppage, costing the carrier some €100 million ($111 million).

“We shall meet by the end of the week to decide on what course to take,” said Pillet.

“Management made the choice to break off social dialogue — we never closed the door on negotiation,” added Pillet of a dispute which saw management limit the extension of a labour accord expiring in October to 17 months rather than three to five years as the unions wish.

An Air France spokesman told AFP they had no indication of more stoppages in the pipeline and added cancellations were in line with forecasts.

A two-week stoppage in 2014 cost Air France an estimated €400 million.

Another one between June 11th and 14th, right at the start of Euro 2016 football championships, cost around €40 million, the airline calculated.

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Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs

Air France management said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs
An Air France plane lands at JFK airport in New York. Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

The carrier wants to get rid of 6,560 positions of the 41,000 at Air France, and 1,020 positions of the 2,420 at Hop!, according to a statement issued after meetings between managers and staff representatives.

“For three months, Air France's activity and turnover have plummeted 95 percent, and at the height of the crisis, the company lost 15 million euros a day,” said the group, which anticipated a “very slow” recovery.

The aviation industry has been hammered by the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus outbreak, with firms worldwide still uncertain when they will be able to get grounded planes back into the air.

Air France said it wanted to begin a “transformation that rests mainly on changing the model of its domestic activity, reorganising its support functions and pursuing the reduction of its external and internal costs”.

The planned job cuts amount to 16 percent of Air France's staff and 40 percent of those at Hop!

With the focus on short-haul flights, management is counting mainly on the non-replacement of retiring workers or voluntary departures and increasing geographic mobility.

However, unions warn that Air France may resort to layoffs for the first time, if not enough staff agree to leave or move to other locations. 

'Crisis is brutal'

Shaken heavily by the coronavirus crisis, like the entire aviation sector, the Air France group launched a reconstruction plan aiming to reduce its loss-making French network by 40 percent through the end of 2021.

“The crisis is brutal and these measures are on an unprecedented scale,” CEO Anne Rigail conceded in a message to employees, a copy of which AFP obtained. They also include, she said, “salary curbs with a freeze on general and individual increases (outside seniority and promotions) for all in 2021 and 2022,” including executives of Air France.

The airline told AFP earlier this week that: “The lasting drop in activity and the economic context due to the COVID-19 crisis require the acceleration of Air France's transformation.”

Air France-KLM posted a loss of 1.8 billion euros in the first quarter alone, and has warned it could be years before operations return to pre-coronavirus levels.

Air France has been offered seven billion euros in emergency loans from the French state or backed by it, while the Dutch government approved a 3.4 billion euro package of bailout loans for KLM last week.

The group joins a long list of airlines that have announced job cuts in recent weeks.

Lufthansa is to slash 22,000 jobs, British Airways 12,000, Delta Air Lines 10,000 and Qantas 6,000.