Air France pilot strike causes major disruption
AFP - Saturday, November 15
PARIS (AFP) - - Air France passengers around the world suffered cancellations and long delays Friday as pilots began a costly four-day strike to protest new rules that will make them work until the age of 65.
The airline said it had cancelled two fifths of its long-haul flights and half of its medium-haul flights on Friday, while unions warned that even more flights might be called off over the weekend.
"Air France is maintaining 50 percent of its activity by calling on pilots who are not striking, but that cannot last because the 'stock' of non-strikers will run out," said Geoffroy Bouvet, spokesman for the SNPL main pilot union.
But the airline insisted it would manage to increase the number of long-haul flights on Saturday, bringing them up to between 65 and 70 percent of the normal schedule.
Air France said 40 percent of its pilots had stopped work, but the SNPL said the figure was as high as 80 percent.
The strike kicked off at 2300 GMT Thursday and was set to continue until Monday at midnight local time (2300 GMT).
Air France said in a statement that it "apologises to all passengers for this unacceptable situation" and offered compensation, refunds or later travel dates to all customers hit by the stoppage.
Air France, the French airline owned by the Franco-Dutch airline group Air France-KLM, says it has an average of 760 flights to European destinations and 73 long-distance flights from Paris on an average day.
Its partner airlines Brit Air, Regional, CCM and Airliner were also affected by the strike but less severely.
France's state-run SNCF rail company said it would run extra high-speed trains over the weekend to provide an extra 130,000 places to provide alternative domestic transport for strike-hit travellers.
The SNPL union called the strike to protest legislation that would effectively end the current requirement for pilots to retire at 60, and flight attendants to wrap up their careers at 55.
The legislation, tacked onto a wider bill on financing social security in 2009, was adopted by France's National Assembly on November 1.
It is currently being examined by the Senate upper house of parliament. The strikers want the Senate to withdraw the plan.
Air France-KLM chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta denounced the strike, saying Thursday it would cost 100 million euros (125 million dollars) and that four days of massive disruption would seriously damage passengers' trust in the airline.
French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau insisted that proper negotiations had been carried out with pilots who would under the new rules still be able to retire at 60 if they so chose.
A minority Air France pilot union, the USPNT, said it was not joining the strike because "the reform remained optional."
The SNPL said in a statement that the legislation was a "violation of the commitment (by the French transport minister)... that any change in the retirement age for pilots would be preceded by negotiation with the social partners."
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