Private Jets Lure Air France Flyers Grounded by Walkout

Flights booked and bags packed, the 90 tourists from North Africa were looking forward to Paris after touring Milan, when Air France threw their plans into disarray with its worst strike in 16 years.

Stranded in Italy, the group faced the prospect of a 15-hour train trip that would mess up their tight European schedule, when their travel agent called a private-jet booking service to whisk them off to the French capital on a Fokker 100 for the equivalent of the typical airfare.

Traditionally the choice of transport of the very rich, private jets have gained appeal among common travelers feeling the pain of repeat strikes at Air France and German neighbor Deutsche Lufthansa AG that are grounding thousands of passengers each day. PrivateFly competitor Victor, which arranges seats on corporate jets, said demand has doubled, and both companies expect business to increase the longer the stoppage at Air France continues.

“When there is airline disruption, it affects us positively,” said Mehdi Dialmy, the director of operations at PrivateFly, a U.K.-based private-jet charter company that organized the flight to Paris. “People look at their options for travel and they consider private jets.”

Extra Cost

The Air France pilots walkout started yesterday and is scheduled to end Sept. 22, prompting the unit of Paris-based Air France-KLM Group to cut about half its flights at a cost of 20 million euros ($26 million) a day in revenue. Lufthansa has suffered a series of strikes, disrupting operations at its main hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.

The tour group traveling from Milan to Paris paid less than 300 euros a person for a round-trip ticket, PrivateFly said. That was half the fare for the train that the travel agent was considering, according to the company.

Trying to fly on Air France from Milan today would cost more than 500 euros one way and either require a connection via the central French city of Lyon aboard the company’s Hop! subsidiary or direct with code-sharing partner Alitalia, according to the Air France website.

While opting for a private jet may prove economical when the cost is shared or when no other alternatives are available, the price is still likely to run into the thousands of euros and the customer base remains selective. PrivateFly averages about 100 bookings a month, and just over 9,500 people are registered as customers with Victor. That compares with the 52.6 million flights taken by passengers on Air France-KLM Group in the 12 months through August.

This week’s strike could have the biggest effect on travel at Air France since an eight-day walkout 16 years ago over the French government’s plan for an initial public offering of the airline. That dispute involved 3,000 pilots and forced 75 percent of flights to be scrapped at a cost equivalent to $166 million now.

Private-jet owners aren’t the only businesses seeking to attract traffic during the strike. Ryanair Holdings Ltd., Europe’s biggest discount carrier, encouraged passengers to consider re-booking onto one of its flights if traveling out of Marseille and Paris.

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