April travel chaos as French air traffic controllers add to Heathrow strike disruption

·2-min read
Heathrow has sought to reassure families it is prepared for a ‘successful Easter getaway’ (PA Wire)
Heathrow has sought to reassure families it is prepared for a ‘successful Easter getaway’ (PA Wire)

A French air traffic controller strike is set to plunge British travellers over Easter and school holidays into further chaos as Heathrow security staff walk out.

French air traffic controllers are preparing to walk out every day next month, in a move that will disrupt thousands of passengers flying between Britain and Spain, because flights use France’s airspace for transit.

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Ryanair has already been forced to slash 230 flights last week because of French strikes over the pension age increase, and a further 120 flights this week, according to The Times.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said it was a “scandal” that French strikes are blocking many flights over France’s airspace, disrupting the busy tourist market between Britain and Spain.

“It is something we have to plan for, and we are doing our best to try to mitigate it, but of course it is very difficult ... sometimes you only get 24 hours’ notice,” Mr O’Leary told the Airlines for Europe summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

“It is very difficult to explain to passengers in the UK, Ireland and Spain that their flights are cancelled because of a few air traffic controllers in France walking out, even though their flight is not landing in France,” he said, according to The Times.

Airlines have to compensate passengers for long delays or cancellations under European passenger laws but are unable to recover penalties from air traffic authorities when airspace is blocked, he told the A4E Aviation Summit.

Mr O’Leary said airports were better prepared for delays this summer after widespread chaos last year but that he expected further air traffic control problems in coming months.

French air traffic controllers are reportedly striking “in solidarity” with other sectors opposing French President Emmanuel Macron’s deeply unpopular plans to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64.

This is despite the fact that air traffic controllers are exempt from the changes and retire at 57 in France.

The disruption to flights between Britain and France adds further chaos in April amid a 10-day strike by security guards at Heathrow Airport over a pay dispute.

Members of the Unite union will walk out on March 31 in a dispute over pay, with travellers warned to brace for disruption.

The strike will continue until April 9 and involves security guards employed at Terminal Five.

British Airways has also been told it must cut about 300 flights over Easter because of the strike, The Times reports.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “We will not let these unnecessary strikes impact the hard-earned holidays of our passengers.

“We are deploying 1,000 additional colleagues and the entire management team, who will be in the terminals providing assistance to passengers over the busy Easter getaway.”

They urged passengers to check their flight status with their airline before travelling to the airport and to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure.