The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
HOME E-MAIL JOE PRINT SEND LINK 2015 COLUMNS JOE'S ARCHIVES SEARCH
April Strikes in Europe Bring ... Well, Chaos
April showers may bring May flowers, but April is also bringing a raft of strikes to the European continent. In France, the union representing about 40 percent of the nation's air traffic controllers has called for three strikes (April 8-9, April 16-18 and April 29-May 2). There is also a general strike on tap for Belgium and continuing strikes in Portugal this month. Here's how we've been covering events. As usual, like a blog, read up from the bottom for the full context.
4/22/15, 3:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
GERMAN STRIKES ARE NO LONGER 'RARE,' ESPECIALLY IN TRAVEL ...
The next time you read about strikes being "rare" in Germany, ignore the story because you know better. There were at least a dozen work stoppages last year at Lufthansa, air traffic controllers strikes and shutdowns at the crucial Deutsche Bahn rail network. I say that to remind you that the launch of the 66-hour passenger and freight rail strike today is not rare anymore. Various unions are striking for raises and better working conditions. About two-thirds of DB's long-haul trains have been dumped and about three-quarters of its regional services have been cancelled. This time, the strike lasts until late in the day on Thursday local time. DB's strike page is here: http://www.bahn.de/p/view/home/info/streik_gdl_042015.shtml You'll need to use your translator program if your German language skills are rusty.
4/22/15, 3PM ET, WEDNESDAY
IF IT'S WEDNESAY, IT MUST BE A GENERAL STRIKE
Belgium basically ground to a halt today as a general strike shut down the nationwide rail network and other train services, including Eurostar. Aircraft traffic was unaffected, however. Expect more strikes in the weeks ahead ...
4/16/15, 10PM ET, THURSDAY
NOW THE STRIKERS MAY HAVE GONE TOO FAR ...
Horrors! This could be the worst strike of all in Europe. The BBC reports that a strike of legal professionals in Iceland threatens to derail the nation's entry in the wildly popular Eurovision song contest. This year's Eurovision is scheduled for May 19-23. The two most famous songs to come out of the contest are Dominico Madugno's Volare, a third-place finisher in 1958, and Waterloo, which won for Sweden in 1974 and launched ABBA as a worldwide pop phenomenon.
4/16/15, 6PM ET, THURSDAY
THIS IS NAFF, AS THE BRITS WOULD SAY
The union representing thousands of workers at Network Rail, Britain's rail-infrastructure company, is going to a strike ballot. If the rank-and-file approves--and there's no reason to think it won't--a strike could shut down Britain's extensive and indispensible rail network. It'll also play havoc with the Eurostar between London and Europe. That's because Network Rail also operates 18 stations, including St. Pancras, the London terminal for the Eurostar train connecting London, Brussels and Paris. The BBC has the latest update on failed talks between Network Rail and the union.
4/16/15, 5PM ET, THURSDAY
HOW TO MANAGE DURING A MONTH OF STRIKES
Helen Anders, an ace former newspaper travel editor turned ace travel blogger, has some great tips for surviving on the road during Europe's crazy strike season. Click here for her terrific advice.
4/16/15, 4PM ET, THURSDAY
MEANWHILE, IN AFRICA ...
An air traffic controllers strike in Nigeria snarled domestic traffic at Lagos' two airport this morning. International flights into and out of Lagos were largely unaffected during the strike. The work stoppage, planned for six hours, was eventually suspended. But executives of the umbrella organization representing the controllers pledge to resume their work stoppages if talks with the government over wages and benefits don't make progress. The next target date for a strike would be Monday, April 20.
4/16/15, 9AM ET, THURSDAY
PLANES AND TRAINS AND STRIKES IN PORTUGAL
While all eyes have been on France, travelers in Portugal have been dealing with a nightmare. A train strike over the Easter holiday hobbled the national rail network. And a strike today cancelled half of all trains in the country.
But here's the big news: TAP Air Portugal pilots have announced a 10-day strike from May 1-10. The issue: continued strife between employees and the government over the fate of a privatized TAP. The government thought it had broken the pilot's union resolve by stopping strikes late last year with an "extraordinary measures" decree. But now pilots want a 20 percent stake in any privatized TAP in exchange for any past and (presumed) future givebacks.
4/15/15, 6AM ET, WEDNESDAY
A RAY OF HOPE FROM THE CITY OF LIGHT
The union that represents about 40 percent of French air traffic controllers has called off this week's strike, originally scheduled to run from April 16-18. That's good news especially for domestic travelers, many of whom are still returning from their Easter holidays. The strike last week basically paralyzed the two airports in Paris and other cities around the country. But we're not out of the woods yet. The controllers have kept their April 30-May 2 strike on the front burner, so stay tuned. And remember: the Belgium general strike is scheduled for Wednesday, April 22.
4/10/15, 8AM ET, FRIDAY
A VERY BAD DAY ON THE ROAD FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
It's not a good day for business travelers when a strike hits Paris and bad weather strikes Chicago. Yesterday was a textbook example of the ensuing chaos.
During the second day of the French air traffic controllers strike, Paris' two main airports were severely hamstrung. According to FlightAware.com, 20 percent of flights at Paris/CDG were cancelled. It was 30 percent at Paris/Orly. About a third of flights were cancelled in Nice, Toulouse and Lyon. The worst-hit airline, Air France, cancelled 222 flights, about 26 percent of its daily operations. Its regional carrier dumped nearly half of their flights. EasyJet, with a large operation in France, cancelled 167 flights.
It was the weather that turned Chicago's two airports, O'Hare and Midway, into mosh pits of despair. Illinois suffered an outbreak of tornadoes and wind and rain and lightning were all-day misery-makers. By the end of the day, about a third of flights at O'Hare were cancelled and another third of the daily schedule was delayed. That naturally sent ripples through the system nationwide and, according to FlightStats.com, just 68 percent of flights operated on-time. It also lead to nearly 5 percent of all the flights nationwide being cancelled. That's about three times the daily average.
4/9/15, 2:15PM ET, THURSDAY
MEANWHILE, BACK HERE ON THE HOME FRONT ...
While the French continue to work out their strike issues, miserable weather here at home is playing havoc with flights at Chicago/O'Hare. Rain and lightning have already led to nearly 600 takeoff and landing cancellations today and there are about 850 delays. JoeSentMe members stuck at O'Hare say ticket counters are overwhelmed and the airport clubs are overflowing with frustrated flyers. Ain't spring grand?
4/8/15, 11PM ET, WEDNESDAY
SO TODAY WAS NO FUN AT ALL IN EUROPE
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Wednesday was an awful day to travel to, from or around France on the first day of the air traffic controller strike. According to FlightStats.com, 310 flights were dumped at Paris/Roissy (that's CDG to us English speakers) and another 300 were scrubbed at Paris/Orly. There were also heavy cancellations in Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, Bordeaux and Marseille. By airline, Air France dropped 234 flights and its HOP! divisions cancelled about 430 more. There were also heavy dumps at EasyJet (229), a big player in the French market.
If you're a percentages person, FlightAware.com says about 20 percent of flights at CDG were off and about 40 percent were dumped at Orly.
For the day, FlightStats says more than 1,200 flights were cancelled around the continent and there were more than 5,200 delays. The British and Irish papers were filled with tales of post-Easter holidaymakers queuing in long lines around the islands. Apparently, no one told English speakers that there was a strike in France. Or, of course, they just weren't paying attention.
4/7/15, 5PM ET, TUESDAY
HEADS UP! A NATIONWIDE STRIKE IN BELGIUM IS DUE APRIL 22
Belgium's labor unions have called a nationwide strike on Wednesday, April 22. The unions say the strike isn't "political," but aimed at the government as its employer. I leave it to you to parse the statement. My French and German aren't strong enough to get the shades of meaning and I don't speak any Dutch. And call English the lingua franca all you want, sometimes the nuance is missing.
What's it mean? The Belgian rail networks will be down that day, according to SNCB, the nationwide operator. (See here: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts). Eurostar is curtailing its operations in and through Belgium on April 22. (See here: http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-information/service-information/eurostar-service-update). Thalys, the French service, is cutting trains on April 21 and 22. (See here: https://www.thalys.com/be/en/traffic-info?news=6490) No word yet from Bahn, the German train giant.
There's also no information yet on whether the strike will affect air traffic controllers of Brussels Airport.
4/7/15, 2PM ET, TUESDAY
THE FIRST FRENCH AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER STRIKE BEGINS TOMORROW
A series of air traffic controller strikes in France will affect your travel as soon as tomorrow and throughout April and early May. First, the immediate. The union that represents about 40 percent of the French air traffic controllers has called a strike for tomorrow, April 8, and Thursday, April 9. That means about half of the flights to, from and through France are likely to be cancelled and there will be substantial delays for those that do operate.
As you may know, French airspace is the busiest on the continent and that means even flights that simply overfly France could be delayed.
Air France, the largest carrier, says it will dump 60 percent of its medium-haul flights from Paris/CDG and 30 percent of flights at Paris/Orly. It expects to drop 60 percent of its flights at other airports around the country. It promises that it will run "nearly" all of its "long-haul program," which would include service to/from North America. But expect lots of chaos and confusion in the next few days.
Air France is out with a travel waiver program that is outlined here: http://www.airfrance.us/US/en/local/information/news/news-air-traffic-air-france.htm
Its code-share partner Delta Air Lines has posted its own waiver: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/french-atc-industrial-action.html
American and US Airways, which both operate point-to-point service to and from Paris, also have travel waivers. AA's version is here: http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp US Airways' version is here: http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx
Surprise! We haven't heard boo from United yet. Because United...
LaCompagnie says that its limited service to/from Paris will operate normally. No word yet from Open Skies.
Need alternatives? If you're going to Paris, try British Airways into London, then the Eurostar. (But avoid the ferries, because they'll be on strike, too, due to a separate action.) You could also use KLM into Amsterdam and train it from there. If you are using Paris to connect for other destinations in Europe, go with Lufthansa for Central Europe and Mediterranean cities. Try SAS or Helsinki for cities in Northern Europe. Eastern Europe may be best with LOT over Warsaw or Austrian over Vienna. If you are heading to Africa, try Brussels Airlines over Brussels or KLM over Amsterdam.
Now, the worse news: The air traffic controllers have laid out potential strike action during two other periods in the next three weeks. At the moment, they are scheduled to strike April 16-18 and then again from April 29 to May 2.
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.