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I remember the anxiety. My wife and I had Delta award tickets from San Francisco, California to Nice, France. All the hotels were booked. Everything was ready for our month-long adventure in Europe (except for my passport, it would turn out, SEE: How to get a passport in one day). The question that remained was: would our travel plans be disrupted by yet another French air traffic controller strike?
As things turned out, my wife and I had a wonderfully uneventful series of flights to start off our trip. We arrived in Nice tired and jet-lagged, but right on time.
That being said, 2016 was still a record year for air traffic controller strikes. Strikes occurred over a total of 41 days, resulting in approximately $1.6 billion in lost GDP for the EU.
What is the outlook for 2017?
RyanAir has already warned that we may see another summer of miserable and disrupted travel in Europe. A five-day strike is currently disrupting operations in France, prompting the budget carrier to cancel 45 flights yesterday. British Airways reportedly cancelled 46, while EasyJet had to axe 38. AirFrance grounded approximately 20% of its Monday domestic flights.
The current strike is by controllers in Brest, Aix-en-Provence and Bordeaux. There is another, separate call by air traffic control unions for French ATCs to strike today. If the current situation is any indicator, we could be looking at another rough summer for European air travel.
Strikes not only cause headache and misery to travelers, but they also cost the airlines significantly, not only in terms of lost revenues, but also because of the reimbursement they are obligated to provide to affected travelers for meals and lodging during disrupted travel periods. Strikes are considered “extraordinary action” under EU261, so you won’t be eligible for delay/cancellation compensation (SEE: Submitting an EU261 compensation claim for a delayed or cancelled flight). BUT the airline must give you the option of a full refund, if you desire it.
Both EasyJet and RyanAir are calling on the European Commission to take action on the matter. There is also an online petition Keep Europe’s Skies Open, sponsored by Airlines for Europe. Over 200 days of travel disruption have been caused by ATC strikes since 2010.
Let’s hope things turn around before we hit peak summer travel this year.