France escaped the worst of the early summer flight chaos but unions warn that strikes and staff shortages loom as the holiday season takes off.
Both Ryanair and easyJet have cancelled flights and have strikes planned – with cabin crew calling for better wages and work conditions.
Some airports, especially those in Paris, say they cannot recruit enough security staff to check passengers.
Both the low-cost airlines have some strike warnings for France and many more for Spain, which might still affect France by leaving aircraft stranded on the tarmac.
£1,215 for new tickets after flight cancelled
Connexion reader Elizabeth Cherhal-Cleverly was directly affected by an easyJet cancellation when her flight with husband Jean-Claude Cherhal back to Lyon from Gatwick was cancelled, just as they arrived at the UK airport.
“We arrived, as told, three hours before our 20:10 flight,” she said.
“We were told to go upstairs to Skybreak – a sort of travel agency. There were at least 100 people queuing. It took two hours for us to be seen.”
Skybreak arranged for them to fly the next day from Heathrow to Frankfurt and then to Lyon, on a flight leaving just after 8:00 and at a cost of £1,215. Their original tickets cost around €200.
‘One woman was crying’
“We took a taxi from my sister’s at 3:00 to get to Heathrow three hours before the flight, and it went from there as planned, finally landing at Lyon at 16.30.
Mrs Cherhal-Cleverly said the queue at Gatwick was well behaved, with only a few attempts to queue-jump.
“I was stressed but others were more stressed.
“One woman cried as she did not have anywhere to stay in London and just wanted to go home to Lyon.”
Efforts to recoup the money from easyJet took two hours online and she received acknowledgement saying the firm will consider the claim in 28 days.
Brexit effects Easyjet UK recruitment
Earlier this year, some threatened strikes did not happen after last-minute talks between unions and management.
Air France and Lufthansa have also cancelled some flights, blaming staff shortages, and have had unions warning of their intention to strike.
EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said the firm turned away 8,000 applicants from the EU because they could not get work permits for the UK.
Ryanair cabin crew based in France have a basic salary of €854, plus €8.50 per hour for every flight hour, meaning most clear around €1,200 a month.
Staff complain that they are forbidden to eat while in the air.
Hundreds of vacancies at Paris airports
At the Paris airports, only 200 posts out of 600 advertised were filled by mid-June, with the airport finding that staff it made redundant during the Covid crisis do not want to return.
There were also staff shortages for the companies running the security checks, with 500 empty posts by mid-June and warnings from unions that at least half of those will have to be filled by the peak period to avoid long queues.
Some airlines flying from Paris are asking long-haul passengers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of their flights as a precaution.
Bordeaux airport is recruiting easily
Most provincial airports in France have had few problems.
A Bordeaux airport spokeswoman said they had no difficulties recruiting seasonal staff and the company running the security checks had enough workers to run gates on two of the three terminals.
She said the number of passengers was still lower than before Covid.
Aviapartner, which runs services such as the buses from the terminal to the aircraft and the stairs to the aircraft, had a strike at the airport but managed to continue to function.
“We are hopeful that the union and the company will end the conflict – the company has said it is looking to recruit more people,” the airport spokeswoman said.
“What we cannot control are flight cancellations and we hope Ryanair and easyJet find solutions. Fingers crossed, it looks like a good summer for us.”
‘Don’t arrive too early’
A spokesman for Abta, the British travel agents trade body, said that by late June some 97% of flights had proceeded normally.
“The vast majority of people have been able to get away as planned,” he said. “Some of the longer queues we have seen have also been caused by people arriving five hours or more before their flight. It is important to follow the advice of your travel company on when to arrive at the airport.”
French tour operators were less sanguine, however, with René-Marc Chikli, the head of the Seto trade body, complaining: “To cancel flights because you do not have staff is to shoot yourself in the foot.”
Price rises and reimbursements
Ticket prices have risen for flights this year, according to the French government’s indice des prix du transport aérien de passagers, which said that by the end of May there had been an 11.9% increase since the start of the year.
UFC Que Choisir reminded passengers that if a flight is cancelled due to lack of staff or an airline strike they can have the ticket repaid or claim from the airline the cost of getting to their destination as quickly as possible by other reasonable means.