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France gripped by travel chaos as rail, air strikes bite


View of the empty boarding desks taken on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at Montpellier’s airport, southern France, as air traffic controllers kicked off a three-day strike against EU plans to create a single European airspace, canceling hundreds of flights in France. France braced for another day of travel chaos on Thursday as striking workers bring the nation’s rail network to its knees after an air traffic controllers’ strike that grounded thousands of flights. AFP/PASCAL GUYOT

PARIS—France braced for another day of travel chaos on Thursday as striking workers bring the nation’s rail network to its knees after an air traffic controllers’ strike that grounded thousands of flights.

The nationwide rail strike got under way on Wednesday evening and was expected to result in less than half of normal services operating until Friday morning.

The stoppage follows two days of disruption in the skies caused by air controllers protesting over plans to create a single European airspace.

Up to three-quarters of flights from Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, the two Paris hubs, were canceled on Thursday, and Nice, the main airport for the French Riviera, was also hit hard.

The cancellations affected mainly short-haul flights within France and to and from other European countries. Flights crossing French airspace, notably from Britain and Ireland to Spain and North Africa, were also hit by delays and cancellations, leaving frustrated passengers furious.

France’s civil aviation authority, the DGAC, initially said that 1,800 flights, just under a quarter of the weekday average, had been cancelled in anticipation of a second day of strike action Wednesday.

But because of what it described as an “exceptional strike movement followed by almost 100 percent of air controllers,” it had no option but to tell airlines to make further, last-minute cancellations.

That disrupted the plans of thousands of travelers and many of them took to Twitter to vent their ire at the “bloody French.”

“Not happy—bloody French air controller strikes! Delayed 3 hours… and counting,” wrote Clare Hallet-Walsh, who was attempting to get back to Britain after a family holiday in Spain.

Another British mother, Nicole Stirrups, complained: “Bloody French don’t understand entertaining a one-year-old at an airport. If I use all my new toy tricks now I’ll have nothing for the plane!”

The strike was originally scheduled to continue Thursday but unions have decided to cancel the third day of action.

That will help ease the impact of the rail strike, which was forecast to result in only four in 10 scheduled services operating on high-speed TGV or regional rail lines.

Eurostar services from Paris to London and high-speed links to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany were not expected to be affected but one in two trains to Switzerland and one in three to Italy were set to be cancelled.

Some commuter trains in the Paris region will also be affected, including the line that serves the two airports.

Rail workers’ unions have called the strike over government plans to create a new state-owned company which will incorporate both SNCF, the company that operates rail services, and RFF, the company that maintains the rail network, while still keeping the two branches separate.

Executives say the reform will make the railways run better at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Unions fear it will lead to the current system being dismantled.

It was not all bad news on the labor front: parking attendants in Paris have also gone on strike this week, offering the capital’s motorists temporary respite from the 10,000 tickets they issue every day.—Angus MacKinnon

 


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Tags: Aviation , EU , France , Rail , strikes , Transport , Travel




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