Air France pilot strike amid low-cost tensions

AP News
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Posted: Sep 15, 2014 3:31 AM

PARIS (AP) — At least half of Air France flights around the world were canceled Monday as pilots kicked off a weeklong strike, angry that the airline is shifting jobs and operations to a low-cost carrier to better keep up with competition.

Air France is urging passengers to change or postpone travel, estimating that it can only ensure 48 percent of flights Monday.

The company's challenges echo those faced by flagship airlines across Europe, facing tough rivalry from budget airlines and Gulf state carriers.

French labor law makes it complex and costly for companies to fire employees or adjust contracts in times of financial troubles. Air France-KLM announced an investment plan last week aimed at saving 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) over the next several years, and said it will transfer much of its European operations — and jobs — to low-cost carrier Transavia.

Air France pilots' unions are calling foul, and called a weeklong strike starting Monday as they seek better conditions under the plan.

The Paris airport authority said only half of Air France flights were operating out of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. At Charles de Gaulle on Monday morning, crowds gathered at the Air France counter to try to change their tickets, and canceled flights were removed from departure and arrival screens.

"I thought that something was up when I saw that my flight wasn't on the departures board," said Austrian tourist Alice White. "I hope I will be back to Vienna in time to be at work."

A union representing Lufthansa's pilots says they will walk off the job at Frankfurt airport Tuesday, preventing departures by Germany's biggest airline from its busiest airport. The two sides are locked in a dispute over the pilots' demand that Lufthansa keep paying a transition payment for those wanting to retire early. The airline wants to cut those payments.

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Kristen Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.