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THE FRENCH DO STRIKES THEIR WAY
By Joe Brancatelli
Incensed that Air France management is attempting to start many flights at lower-cost operations like its Transavia unit, Air France's pilots unions--yes, there's more than one--launched a 13-day strike beginning on Monday, September 15. It's gone pretty much as you'd expect: Lots of Gallic arrogance, indifferent customer service and plenty of flight cancellations. Here's how we've covered developments, complete with a pilots strike at Lufthansa and a one-day job action at Austrian Airlines. Like a travel blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
10/1/14, 11:30AM ET, WEDNESDAY
THE CALM BEFORE THE NEXT STORMS
For the moment, the skies in Europe are normal, but that probably won't last long. After all, the 14-day strike by pilots at Air France settled nothing and yesterday's strike by Lufthansa pilots--their fifth this year--also accomplished little. Lufthansa is still trying to cut retirement benefits and the strike, this time aimed at long-haul runs from Frankfurt, didn't seem particularly effective.
The Lufthansa action resulted in 29 cancellations on Tuesday, but the airline juggled its routes and frequencies well and there seemed little disruption. Things seem comparatively normal today.
Back at Air France, as flight crews and aircraft repositioned worldwide, there were 413 cancellations on Monday, the second full day after the strike. Tuesday and today have been largely quiet.
And now we wait for the next round of strikes and job actions and management demands ...
9/29/14, 11:30AM ET, MONDAY
LUFTHANSA CANCELS DOZEN OF TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHTS
Lufthansa pilots have called a strike at Frankfurt tomorrow--and they are specifically targeting transatlantic flights. Lufthansa has posted a detailed list of its cancellations--see here--and it includes flights to or from almost all of the carrier's U.S. and Canadian gateways. Check the list carefully if you're due to be on Lufthansa tomorrow. And, remember, United and Air Canada code-share on many Lufthansa flights.
Back at Air France, where pilots and management arranged a cold peace over the weekend, the airline has cancelled 410 flights today compared to 462 yesterday. Things do look very much better tomorrow, however, with very few cancellations posted.
9/28/14, 10:30AM ET, SUNDAY
JUST SAY NON!
Air France's pilots struck for 13 consecutive days, from September 15 to September 27. The operational fallout will last at least two more days--today and Monday--before the airline gets back to normal. So is it safe to book Air France--and, by extension, many Delta transatlantic itineraries?
In a word (and in my opinion): Non!
Why do I say that? The underlying issues haven't been solved. Although Air France executives backed off on most of its plans to build out a low-fare operation under the Transavia name, the company is still committed to competing with Ryanair and EasyJet in some way. Moreover, it insists that doing an American-style gutting of employee wages, benefits and staffing levels is the only way to "save" Air France. On the other side, pilots seem equally committed to holding the line on the status quo and making sure new Air France operations honor existing contracts. Air France's flight attendants and other employees mostly back the pilots. You throw in the argument in French society in general over working conditions and the business climate and you have an existential Gallic crisis.
My bet is that this will take months--perhaps years--to resolve. And I wouldn't bet against Air France management reinstating some of its previous plans and pilots (and cabin crew) heading back to the picket line.
Bottom line: Book away from Air France for now, especially for connecting itineraries. Since British Airways (and, by extension, American Airlines) is tied to London/Heathrow--where connecting flights and checked luggage go to die--I can't recommend them. The next obvious choice, Lufthansa (and, by extension United Airlines), has its own recurring labor problems.
So what does that leave us? For Star Alliance customers, and depending on the route, try SAS over Copenhagen, Brussels Airline over Brussels or LOT over Warsaw. For Oneworld flyers, try Finnair over Helsinki, Air Berlin over Berlin and Iberia over Madrid. For Skyteam, your best alternative is KLM over Amsterdam. Ironically, of course, KLM is now owned by Air France and it was that merger that brought Transavia into the corporate fold. But KLM has been, and will almost surely continue to be, exempt from the labor strife at Air France.
9/28/14, 9AM ET, SUNDAY
THE LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE IS OVER ... FOR NOW
France's long national nightmare--the Air France strike, I mean, not the terrible cheapening of the baguette--is over for now. Pilots called off their job action early Sunday morning local time. Air France says the previously scheduled cancellations--a scheduled cancellation?--for today and tomorrow stay in effect. That means 463 flights are scrubbed today and 262 are dumped on Monday. With that kind of lead time, things should be back to normal--or as normal as they can be for Air France--by Tuesday or Wednesday. A grateful nation now turns its attention back to the decline and cheapening of their greatest food treasure. Next thing you know, they will stop wearing Breton-striped shirts and blouses ...
9/27/14, 10:45AM ET, SATURDAY
BOTH SIDES CONTINUE TO BEAR THE 'UNBEARABLE'
European flyers had better buckle up for an even longer strike at Air France. Talks between management and the striking pilots broke down late last night local time. The cause this time: Management refused the pilots demand for a mediator. Meanwhile, the French government, a minority stakeholder in Air France, is demanding an immediate end to the strike, calling it "unbearable." Well, obviously it's not unbearable, since Air France is willing to bear a longer strike rather than have a mediator and the pilots are willing to bear a longer work stoppage, too. Between 50 and 60 percent of Air France's network continues to be scrubbed every day. The strike began September 15.
9/26/14, 10:15PM ET, FRIDAY
STILL STRIKIN' AFTER ALL THESE DAYS
Our attention has been diverted by events in Chicago, of course, but the Air France strike continues unabated. The airline scrubbed 485 flights today, 17 of them on transatlantic routes. For Saturday, Air France has already dumped 384 flights, 13 of them on transatlantic routes.
9/25/14, 10:30PM ET, THURSDAY
LUFTHANSA PILOTS TALK STRIKE AGAIN
With no end in sight for the Air France strike--Friday's cancellations are up to 482, according to FlightStats.com--you'd think we'd be overdue for some good news. Nope. Now the Lufthansa pilots, who cancelled a strike last week, are threatening to walk off the job. There have already been four Lufthansa pilot strikes this year and talks over pensions and retirement collapsed again today. The pilots say they'll announce their decision on another strike soon.
9/25/14, 9AM ET, THURSDAY
THE STRIKE GOES ON DESPITE THE CONCESSIONS
The retreat by Air France management on most of its controversial plan to increase operations at its Transavia unit hasn't been enough to end the strike by the airline's pilots. The two sides do appear to be talking today, but the strike is now in its 11th day, longest in Air France history. At least 490 flights have been dumped today, 14 of them on transatlantic routes. Even if the strike were to end today, there'd be extensive delays and cancellations through the weekend. At the moment, however, the strike is officially scheduled to continue through September 30.
9/24/14, 9:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY
AIR FRANCE CRIES 'ONCLE!'
After taking losses of around $25 million a day due to the pilots strike that began on September 15, Air France management is crying "Oncle!" According to a dispatch from Bloomberg, Air France will scrap virtually all of its plan to build lower-cost Transavia divisions in Europe. It still wants to expand Transavia in France, however. The pilots have yet to respond. Air France has already cancelled 487 flights tomorrow.
9/24/14, 5:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY
THE CANCELLATIONS PILE UP
The Air France strike continues and the carrier's flight network continues to be decimated. It was forced to cancel 496 flights today, 13 of them on transatlantic routes. Yesterday's toll was 488 flights, 18 of them on transatlantic runs. French politicians--the French government is a minority stakeholder--are making noises that Air France can't handle the losses much longer and will throw in the towel on its planned expansion of Transavia.
9/22/14, 9:30AM ET, MONDAY
Bottom line: Do not go to France now, at least not on Air France. Not only has the pilots strike extended into a second week, there is every indication that this thing is intractable in a way that only Gallic things can.
First, the numbers. According to FlightStats.com, Air France today cancelled 538 flights, a dozen of them on transatlantic routes. It dumped 543 flights (16 transatlantic) on Sunday and 459 (20 transatlantic) on Saturday. These statistics represent about 60 percent of Air France's scheduled service.
And do be careful if you choose to book Air France (or Delta Air Lines on a code-share flight). Although AF has dumped some flights to/from North America, it has managed to keep the routes covered with at least one flight a day. It's connecting at Paris that is nearly impossible. One example: Air France's daily flight to Cairo has cancelled every day it's been scheduled during the strike. In other words, Paris/CDG and Paris/Orly are off the board for connections to short-haul flights in Europe and longer-haul flights to most African and Middle Eastern cities.
Meanwhile, the medium-term outlook is quite grim. Air France management offered what it considers a concession: It announced that it would delay the growth of its Transavia subsidiary until December. The pilots immediately rejected the announcement out of hand.
So buckle up. This strike, originally intended to end today and now extended through Friday, September 26, could last indefinitely. At the moment, it looks as if the pilots will strike through Tuesday, September 30.
For those of you asking about self-connect options: There are plenty of seats available on the niche carriers serving the New York/Metro-Paris Metro route. British Airways subsidiary OpenSkies, which flies from Newark and New York/JFK to Paris/Orly, has seats in all classes. Prices seem only a few bucks higher than normal. The start-up La Compagnie, which flies an all-business-class service between Newark and Paris/CDG, also has many seats. In fact, La Compagnie hasn't been able to raise its startlingly "introductory" prices at all. That does not auger well for its longer-term survival.
9/19/14, 10PM ET, FRIDAY
AIR FRANCE PILOTS EXTEND THE STRIKE
There's bad news in Europe's skies as striking Air France pilots have decided to extend their strike. The job action, originally scheduled to end on September 22, will now continue through next Friday, September 26.
Today was another bad day for Air France and the airline cancelled 503 flights worldwide. At least 20 of those were on transatlantic routes, the most since the strike started on Monday, September 15. Tomorrow looks little better since Air France has already scrubbed 455 flights, 17 of them on transatlantic routes.
The extended job action--the pilots are fighting Air France's plans to shift many flights to a lower-cost subsidiary--means that Air France has had to widen its travel waiver. Here is the information you need to know: http://www.airfrance.us/US/en/local/information/news/news-air-traffic-air-france.htm
And as you surely know, many Delta Air Lines flights are actually code shares on Air France aircraft. Here is Delta's updated travel waiver: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/air-france-pilot-industrial-action.html
9/18/14, 9PM ET, THURSDAY
'AIR FRANCE DID NOTHING TO HELP US'
If you're one of those who thinks the French are, well, different than us, you won't be surprised by this dispatch from a JoeSentMe member who was booked on Air France this week:
Greetings from Milano! Finally! The Air France flight from Washington/Dulles to Paris/CDG was on-time on Tuesday. We arrived to find an almost empty CDG, no lines at immigration or security. Quite eerie!
"I had spent hours on the phone with Air France on Monday, when they officially cancelled our flight from CDG to Milan/Linate. They protected us with flights from CDG to Amsterdam to Linate and promised to get us out earlier if possible. It was not to be. We had a six-hour wait at CDG, then another three-hour wait at Amsterdam. We reached Linate ten hours after our original schedule. Air France did nothing to help us with the wait, not even a bottle of water.
"The good news: The hotel had a lovely chilled bottle of Pinot Bianco waiting for us since they knew we would be in need of comfort!"
9/18/14, 8:45PM ET, THURSDAY
WORST. DAY. EVER. (SO FAR!)
As you'd expect as the Air France pilots strike dragged into the fourth day, today was the worst yet for flying on the French flag carrier. The airline cancelled 556 flights globally and about 13 to/from the United States. That is substantially worse than yesterday (Wednesday) when 536 were dumped and only a few U.S. flights were dropped. And tomorrow (Friday) could be even worse. Air France has already cancelled 488 flights and the flying day hasn't even started in Paris.
9/18/14, 1:30PM ET, THURSDAY
THE AIR FRANCE STRIKE MAY CONTINUE NEXT WEEK
Oh, boy. This can't be good. Big news outlets, including Bloomberg, are reporting that the Air France pilots may continue their strike beyond the originally scheduled end date of September 22. As Bloomberg notes, this is already the worst strike at Air France in more than 15 years. During the first days of the strike, Air France has gotten fewer than half of its flights in the air each day.
9/18/14, 7:45AM ET, THURSDAY
BILLY JOEL GOT IT WRONG
Vienna, Billy Joel's 1977 tune, suggests that "Vienna waits for you." Turns out the Piano Man was wrong. Thanks to the job action by Austrian Airlines staff yesterday, we waited in Vienna. Austrian ended up delaying 107 flights and cancelling 45 flights, all of them essentially without notice.
9/17/14, 1:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY
NO QUESTIONS ALLOWED IN VIENNA
A JoeSentMe member flying out of Vienna, where Austrian Airlines employees are engaged in a job action today, sent a snapshot of the situation there: "All intercontinental flights to United States and elsewhere except the Washington/Dulles flight are delayed 2.5-3 hours. Customer service is horrific. Customer service desk has a sign posted: 'No Questions'! I have an onward United Airlines connection and the Austrian Airlines folks say, 'You are on your own.' "
9/17/14, 1:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
AUSTRIAN AIRLINES GOES DOWN, TOO
Travel to, from, through and around Europe this week is going about as you would expect when Paris, the continent's second-busiest hub, is in the grips of a week-long strike.
And, just for yucks, Vienna is messed up today--although we dodged a bullet yesterday when Lufthansa pilots cancelled their planned strike.
First, the strike at Air France, now in its third day. On Monday, AF cancelled 501 flights, about half-a-dozen on its U.S. routes. Tuesday was worse, with 546 cancellations, about a dozen on transatlantic routes. So far today, Air France has cancelled 529 flights, again with about a dozen affecting U.S. destinations. The carrier has already dumped more than 390 flights for tomorrow. Air France operates about 1,000 daily flights, so you can see it is only managing to get fewer than half its operations off the ground.
As mentioned, the strike planned by Lufthansa pilots for Tuesday was cancelled so the carrier ran virtually all of its flights, although there were some delays and flight adjustments.
Today, however, Vienna airport is fouled up thanks to a job action by employees at Austrian Airlines. The Vienna-based carrier has already cancelled more than two dozen flights and delayed at least 60 more. All of its long-haul flights, including to the United States, are heavily delayed or cancelled.
The roots of this struggle go back to 2012, when Lufthansa technically transferred Austrian operations to its lower-cost Tyrolean Airways division. A European court ruled last week that the move did not allow Lufthansa to change its employees' work conditions, which, of course, obviated the whole purpose of the change. Today's action by Austrian employees is related to this decision and Lufthansa's vow to appeal the court ruling.
All Austrian is saying publicly (via Twitter) is that an "internal assembly" could cause "flight irregularities." And at this moment you can't even access the Austrian.com Web site.
9/15/14, 10:45AM ET, MONDAY
LUFTHANSA PILOTS SAY THEY'LL STRIKE TOMORROW, TOO
As if it wasn't bad enough that Air France is being hit by its worst strike in nearly two decades this week, Lufthansa pilots announced that they will strike tomorrow between 9am and 5pm Central European Time.
Although Lufthansa has yet to publish a list of cancelled flights, it says that long-haul flights to/from Frankfurt WILL be affected. The airline says it expects to be able to maintain its long-haul service at its smaller Munich hub, however. But since this is a developing situation, don't bet on that, either.
Lufthansa's initial information on the strike is here: http://www.lufthansa.com/de/en/Travel-information.
Don't forget that many United Airlines and Air Canada flights are actually code-shares on Lufthansa aircraft. Air Canada has posted a travel waiver, which you can see here: http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/before/operation/index.html Does it surprise you to know that United has, as of now, not bothered to post any information?
9/15/14, 10:30AM ET, MONDAY
OF COURSE, AIR FRANCE IS BEING UNHELPFUL
According to FlightStats.com, Air France today has cancelled more than 500 flights worldwide. At least five are to/from the United States. For tomorrow, Air France has already dumped more than 350 flights worldwide. France24, the global English language news network, is carrying video of the disruptions at Paris/CDG, Air France's major hub. You can watch France24 live online at http://www.france24.com/en/
Air France's remarkably unhelpful public statement (and travel waiver) is here: http://www.airfrance.us/US/en/local/information/news/news-air-traffic-air-france.htm
And do not forget that many Delta Air Lines flights are actually code-shares on Air France equipment. Delta's travel waiver is here: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/air-france-pilot-industrial-action.html
9/14/14, 6:30PM ET, SUNDAY
THE STRIKE (AND CANCELLATIONS) IS ON
Here's a quick update on the Air France strike, scheduled to begin tomorrow morning France time (September 15) and extend until Monday, September 22.
The airline originally said this morning that it would run just 40 percent of its flights. It later upgraded that to 48 percent. As of 6pm ET, FlightStats.com reports that Air France has already cancelled more than 480 flights tomorrow. That's about 50 percent of its schedule.
As you'd expect with Air France, it hasn't published a schedule, so we have to guess what flights are going to run. And, of course, the Air France US Twitter Feed has literally nothing about a strike. It does seem, however, that no transatlantic flights have yet been cancelled.
Air France is out with a travel waiver that allows a fairly liberal ticket exchange or cancellation due to the strike. You can find it here: http://www.airfrance.us/US/en/local/information/news/news-air-traffic-air-france.htm
Meanwhile, many Delta Air Lines flights to/from/through France are actually code-shares on Air France equipment. So beware if you're booked on Delta to France. Delta has also issued a travel waiver. It's here: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/air-france-pilot-industrial-action.html
Not that it particularly matters, but this strike has been launched by the pilots as a reaction to Air France's decision to transfer many of its flights--and the flights of its KLM subsidiary--to Transavia. Air France management is hoping to remake Transavia as a low-cost carrier to flight airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet.
6/20/14, 8PM ET, FRIDAY
WHAT'S FRENCH FOR 'DODGED A BULLET'?
The French don't need a reason to strike, of course. But French air traffic controllers, who are so fractious that they are represented by more than one union, think they have a reason: The EC is trying to reorganize the continent's air space, remaking it along geographic lines as opposed to the current national scheme. French controllers think that'll mean fewer jobs for them. Hence, their threat to strike for six days. Thankfully, the strike didn't last nearly that long. Here's how we covered it.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.