How French air and rail strikes are affecting UK travellers

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Any type of travel strike can be a major inconvenience but when two come at once, that’s a serious problem. This was the unfortunate situation faced by travellers going to France this April when airline strikes and rail strikes coincided.  Travel to, from and within France were affected and subsequent strikes are planned for the next month or so. Both Air France and the French railway SNCF are engaged in separate long-term disputes with unions over pay or conditions and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of it being resolved soon.


How the Strikes Started

For SNCF, the problems are related to the company finding itself £40billion in debt and losses rising by £5,000 a minute. Guaranteed pay rises and great pensions for staff are seen as a major contributing factor to this loss so SNCF are gradually trying to cut back and that has caused the dispute with the union. Air France’s strikes began in February when the company reported a 42% increase in operating profit and the staff demanded a 6% pay rise but were offered 1% instead. In April, the offer was raised to 2% but the union were not impressed.


The Impact of the Strikes

Two day strikes went ahead in April by Air France and caused flights to be cancelled out of Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh. People whose flights were affected were generally offered alternative flights on Air France or KLM, which Air France own, and meant that some took different routes or left on different days. Travellers could also opt for full refunds instead. For flights booked in advance falling on strike days, Air France are giving people the option to change their travel dates. On the railways, the impact was even worse. During one day of strikes, two thirds of trains within France were cancelled, three out of five TGV high-speed trains didn’t run, 15 Eurostar trains didn’t run and no trains ran between France and Italy. Passengers were told that they could change their tickets free of charge or get a full refund for cancelled trains.



The Likely Future Situation

Future strike action is likely on both Air France and SNCF so it’s best to know what to do if flights or trains are cancelled. As French staff have to notify Air France of their intention to strike, Air France can let passengers know if their flight is going to be cancelled the afternoon before the flight. Air France are obliged to provide alternative routes if possible as well as meals and accommodation but don’t generally pay out cash compensation. Throughout May and into June, it’s worth keeping an eye on the news about French strikes and having other arrangements in the pipeline if strikes coincide with your trip.



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