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‘French airports will be understaffed this summer,’ warn unions

Unions are warning that understaffing is likely to cause long delays at French airports over the summer, echoing problems seens at airports around Europe in recent weeks.

'French airports will be understaffed this summer,' warn unions
Travellers queue during Ascension weekend in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam (Photo by Jeroen JUMELET / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT

“We should not be under any illusions, we will be understaffed to get through the summer. Clearly, there will be additional expectations at the controls and elsewhere,” warned Thomas Juin, president of the Union of French airports to Le Figaro

There have been chaotic scenes at airports around Europe in recent weeks, and unions warn that France is likely to face similar problems this summer.

In the Paris region, travellers at Charles de Gaulle were already reporting long queues at the beginning of May.

So far, Orly airport has not seen its capacities “overflowing” but it is already “under tension.” The airport’s director, Sandra Lignais, told Le Figaro, she is attempting to stay “vigilant” on the situation. 

Juin expects that at some airports in the Paris region, such as Beauvais, traffic will be “even higher than in 2019.”

The Paris region appears to be most impacted by longer than average wait times, with fewer complaints being registered in France’s regional airports. However, the shortage of airport staff is industry-wide, so it would still be recommendable to arrive early. 

Since 2020, French airports have lost “15 to 20 percent of their staff,” explained Juin. During the height of the pandemic, many airline workers were either let go, left the industry, or were given part-time work options.

National airline Air France cut almost 20 percent of its workforce during the pandemic – the equivalent to 7,500 jobs.

The Paris airports of Orly and Charles de Gaulle alone need to fill about 4,000 positions. However, the Airports of Paris group told BFM Business that they are experiencing “enormous” recruitment difficulties.

Several sectors – incuding tourism, hospitality, construction and healthcare – have warned about increasing staff shortages.

ANALYSIS: What is behind France’s worker shortage? 

Wait-times when going through customs is also an issue, as there has been a decrease in the number of border police present at the airports.

In addition to a shortage of candidates, training delays make it difficult to fill positions quickly, especially for people working in airport security jobs that require three to five months of on-the-job training. The summer also poses a challenging time to recruit, as many would-be workers have already scheduled holidays. 

France’s Charles de Gaulle airport still advises passengers to “be at the airport 2 hours before the departure of your flight in order to drop off your luggage and complete all police and security formalities.”

However, the airport’s website warns passengers to check their boarding pass as well, because they will indicate more specific boarding time instructions, “according to the busy periods at the airport.”

Several passengers on long-haul flights, including to the USA, told The Local that they had been instructed to be at the airport three-and-a-half hours in advance – and had needed all that time to get through security and boarding queues.

“I arrived 3 hours early and nearly didn’t make it,” one reader said. “The lines were confusing. A few stations seemed to be understaffed.” 

Over the Ascension weekend British airline Easyjey cancelled many flights, blaming IT problems.

Dutch airline KLM announced on May 26th that it would be suspending ticket sales for all flights out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport until Monday because of staff shortages.

Reuters reports that in recent weeks, lines from the Schiphol airport have been hours long, stretching all the way outdoors and onto the streets. Travellers from Stockholm, Dublin and Manchester airports have also reported long queues.

Rafael Schvartzman, the International Air Transport Association’s regional vice president for Europe, told Euronews that as of March, the aviation industry was already seeing 75 percent of its pre-pandemic passenger numbers, and that “this is a sign of what is to come for this summer,” predicting heavy traffic.  

What have your air travel experiences been like in recent weeks? Did you wait in any particularly long lines while departing from French airports? We would love to hear from you – please email [email protected]

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

From pig-squealing competitions to men in bear suits, these are some of France's most bizarre traditional festivals.

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France's strangest festivals

France is home to hundreds of festivals every year, from small local celebrations to internationally renowned events such as the Strasbourg Christmas market, Nice Carnival and the Lyon Fête des lumières. But there are other festivals that are, frankly, a bit strange.

Here are France’s 9 strangest festivals;

Fête du Citron

When life gives you lemons…create a festival involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and invite about 230,000 visitors annually? That is pretty much what Menton, a town on the French Riviera did in 1928 when a hotelier in the region wished to increase tourism. Known for its delicious lemons, Menton has grown the fruit since the 1500s and shipped them all over the world.

The hotelier’s idea, which came into fruition in 1934 ended up becoming a world recognised three-week festival, where the city and its garden show off giant sculptures – some over 10 metres in height – made of lemons and oranges, amid parades, shows, concerts and art exhibits. 

Fête de l’Ours

Recently added to the UNESCO ‘intangible heritage’ list, the Bear Festival takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components: it involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans.

At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can become a person again.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

It is intended to be a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was practised in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig)

Every year the small village of Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees hosts a unique festival dedicated to pigs. Throughout the celebration, you’ll see pigs in various forms – from piglets to pork and people in pig costumes. The Pourcailhade is known for one moment in particular: the pig squealing competition, where participants get on stage and attempt to give their best pig imitation. 

The festival first started in 1975, at the former home to Europe’s largest pig market, and it usually takes place in August, though the festival had a six-year pause and made its comeback in 2018.

There are also piglet races and competitions to see who has the best pig-costume, but the cri de cochon (pig squeal) contest is something to behold, as shown below.

The Underwear festival

Captain Underpants would fit right in to this village in the south of France, located the Lot département.

Started in 2016, this festival is meant to pay homage to a reporter who made the little town of Montcuq famous across France during a nationally televised segment in 1976. During the celebration, participants can compete with one another in games from sumo-wrestling to a race (in underwear).

The sausage and pickle festival

Andouillette might be one of the French foods that foreigners find least appealing, but its cousin, andouille, is perhaps a bit more appealing…though possibly not enough to join a contest for the fastest andouille and pickle eater.

READ MORE: Readers reveal: The worst food in France

Every August 15th, the village of Bèze, located in eastern France, hosts a festival celebrating the sausage. One key moment is the competition to see who can swallow one kilo and 200 grams of tripe as quickly as possible, all with their hands tied behind their backs. The festival also crowns a queen of andouille and a king of the pickles, and the proceeds go toward helping children with disabilities.

This is not the only andouille centred festival in France. Another one, the “Fête de l’Andouille” which takes place in northern France involves a very important step where the crowd tries to catch pieces of andouille thrown at them from a balcony.

Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as France’s wildest festival, the Fêtes de Bayonne are a five-day party celebrating Basque cultural identity, and they take place in Bayonne every summer. 

Starting in 1932, the Fêtes can be controversial because they have traditionally involved bull fighting, or corrida, which some French lawmakers have been working to outlaw.

READ MORE: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Aside from the bulls, the festival consists of lots of singing, dancing, sports competitions, traditional dress, and crowd-surfing. 

Festival-goers wear red and white outfits to symbolise the northern Spanish province of Pamplona, though some purists wear the colours of Bayonne: white and blue.

One of the most notable parts of the festival is the paquito chocolatero – a type of crowd-surfing where a person is passed over a chain of people sitting on the ground. The Fêtes de Bayonne have beaten the world record for the longest chain of people several times, most recently in 2022, a chain of 8,000 people passed one person over the crowd.

The Historic Ladle Festival

In practice since 1884, the Fête Historique des Louches, this tradition takes place in northern France in Comines. The legend goes that the Lord of the town was imprisoned in a high tower, and to show his people where he was being held, he apparently threw a wooden spoon with his coat of arms from the tower.

The festival, which takes place each October, has plenty of other activities, including a pageant, but the most noteworthy part is the parade where wooden spoons are hurled at the crowd. The goal is to walk away with the most ladles, proving to everyone that you truly deserve to live in the town of Comines.

The Gayant Festival

Close to the border with Belgium, the city of Douai in France’s north engages in a festival to celebrate three large statues, representing a giant family. Called the “Gayants” – they symbolise the city and according to folklore, they helped the villagers survive battles, invasions and wars over the centuries. The procession involves a parade where the giant statues are taken around the city.

This is another French festival that was registered in the “intangible cultural heritage” list with UNESCO, specifically under the category of “Giants and processional dragons of Belgium and France.”

Festival of the Unusual Taking place in Finistère, on France’s western coast, this festival has been going on for almost three decades.

Every July 14th, villagers come to demonstrate one of their “unusual talents,” whether that be throwing an egg or demonstrating how long they can peel an apple. One highlight of the festival is the race – where contestants try to go faster than one another on bed frames with rollers. Some contestants use the festival as a way to show their prowess in the Guinness Book of World Records – one village member broke the record in bending beer caps at the festival.

While France’s many festivals might seem a bit odd to foreigners, they still pale in comparison to some festivals taking place in the anglophone world, such as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event in the UK, where participants race down a 180 metre hill to try to catch the Gloucester cheese rolling down it. 

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