Air France to Scrap a Quarter of Flights Saturday Amid Strike

  • Travel hampered to Euro 2016 soccer tourney that starts Friday
  • Sister brand KLM calls Air France pilot strike ‘destructive’

Air France will cancel about a quarter of all flights on Saturday after pilot unions rejected the airline’s latest proposals for ending a labor dispute, hampering travel for fans attending the 2016 European soccer championship in the country.

Air France-KLM Group’s French arm will only operate 70 percent to 80 percent of scheduled services on Saturday, the start of what pilots have said may be a four-day strike. Management and unions have been meeting for days in an effort to avert a walkout. With no agreement seen soon, the airline is preparing passengers for cancellations less than 48 hours before the strike is set to begin.

The work stoppage, the second by the Paris-based airline’s pilots in two years, prompted the carrier’s KLM sister brand to take the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing it as “destructive.” The strike is scheduled to start a day after the Euro 2016 opening game on Friday between France and Romania. The tournament’s final is slated for July 10 in Paris.

“To launch a strike like this on the starting day of the Euro games, at the moment when we expect a rather happy event for France, doesn’t seem a good idea to me,” Frederic Gagey, head of the Air France brand, said at a briefing in Paris. “I infinitely regret it.”

The Air France pilots are protesting the carrier’s imposition of more work hours for no additional pay. Another point of dispute is the employees’ push for the airline to order 26 long-haul planes to ensure that the fleet is ready for capacity growth. Unions’ demands would require an 11 percent jump in the pilots payroll, currently at about 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion), Giles Gateau, the carrier’s head of personnel, said at the briefing.

In contrast to the Air France pilots, whose 2014 strike cost the company about 500 million euros in lost revenue, the full range of employees at Amsterdam-based KLM have reached agreements on spending-reduction measures without halting work.

“KLM hopes sincerely that they will arrive at a solution that prevents such a destructive strike,” the division said Thursday in a statement. “KLM is very much a part of the Air France-KLM Group, and the negative image of a strike of this kind would also affect KLM.”

The strike is part of a long-running dispute that has limited Air France’s ability to make changes to keep pace with lower-cost rivals. Hostilities were heightened after the airline won a court challenge to the extra work-hours requirement. The measures went into effect on June 1.

Other airlines, including discount carriers Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc, have already planned additional flights to France during the soccer tournament. KLM said Thursday that it will rebook passengers affected by the strike to other carriers free of charge, and devote as many planes as possible to flights to France.