European Strikes Disrupt Air Transport Operations

Frankfurt cancellation board
Credit: DANIEL ROLAND / AFP / Getty Images

Strikes in France and Germany are causing major disruptions for European airlines, with delays, canceled flights and airport closures. 

In France, on-and-off strikes have been leading to flight cancellations in recent weeks as the government seeks to push through a wide-ranging series of retirement reforms. The French civil aviation authority DGAC said flights were likely to be disrupted to and from Paris Orly, Bordeaux, Marseille-Provence and Toulouse airports from March 27 to the early morning of March 30. The DGAC said delays and cancellations were to be expected, and passengers should postpone their travel where possible.   

The strikes are affecting other sectors besides transportation. Refinery blockages led to a situation in which kerosene supplies to Paris airports were “under pressure” last week and airlines were urged to carry as much fuel as possible on arrival into Paris.  

Ryanair, which earlier in March launched a petition to call on the European Commission (EC) to protect overflights during French strikes, said over 25% of its 9,000 scheduled flights were delayed due to French air traffic control (ATC) disruptions over the March 25-26 weekend, and 230 flights (41,000 passengers) were canceled to comply with French ATC capacity restrictions.  

“We call on the Commission to take legal action against France and its ATC unions, to protect EU overflights,” a Ryanair spokesperson said. “Innocent EU passengers traveling from Germany to Spain, or from Ireland to Italy, are entitled to rely on the EU’s Single Market for air travel, and their overflights should not be repeatedly canceled because the EU Commission fails to take action to defend the Single Market.” 

Air France said the DGAC had asked all airlines to reduce their flight schedules to and from Paris Orly and some other French airports from March 27 to 29, because of the strike movement.  

For those days, Air France expects to operate all long-haul flights, as well as all flights to and from its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub, and almost 8 out of 10 of its flights between Paris Orly and certain French airports, the airline said. Last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out, Air France said.  

German airports are also being heavily affected by a strike by the Ver.di union, with 380,000 passengers grounded, according to German airport association ADV. While Berlin is not affected, Frankfurt and Munich were forced to cease operations March 26 while Munich airport canceled all 785 scheduled flights on March 27. Around 160,000 passengers were affected at Frankfurt, and Hamburg canceled all 147 departing flights.  

To compound the situation, Lufthansa was also hit by an IT outage that led to check-in restrictions over the weekend.

In reference to the strike plans, Lufthansa said: “For Monday, March 27, the trade union ver.di has called for a one-day strike at several German airports. This will stop flight operations at Lufthansa. For Munich Airport, these restrictions will additionally already apply on Sunday, March 26.” The carrier added that it would not be able to offer solutions to all passengers because of the high number of cancellations and limited rebooking options. Lufthansa urged that only passengers with confirmed bookings should travel to the airport. The airline also suggested passengers planning to take domestic flights in the coming days travel by train instead.  

In Austria, a works meeting of the union representing Austrian Airlines’ pilots and flight attendants will lead to more than 100 flight cancellations on March 28. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. local time and has an open-end time. Trade union vida will inform its members about the status of the collective negotiations with Austrian Airlines management and their latest offer to earn an average of 12.3% more per month for all employees. As a result of the nationwide strike in Germany, Austrian canceled more than 60 flights on March 27.

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.

Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…