For members


Cancellations and compensation: How French strikes affect European flights

More than 10 million airline passengers were hit by strikes and cancellations due to recent French air traffic control strikes - around half of them on flights that were only passing over France. Here's how this could affect you and your rights to refunds or compensation.

Cancellations and compensation: How French strikes affect European flights
French air traffic controllers are responsible for thousands of 'overflights' each day, as well as those taking off an landing in France. Photo by PASCAL GUYOT / AFP

French strikes don’t just affect France – particularly when it comes to air travel.

As a cursory glance at the map will show you, France is geographically pretty central to Europe, so many flights within the continent pass over French airspace – in fact roughly half of the flights in French airspace are only passing through, known as ‘overflights’.

French air traffic controllers can be a fairly militant lot – and if they are on strike your flight could be affected even if you’re not going to or from France.

European air traffic control body Eurocontrol recently published research examining the impact of French strikes over the past month – air traffic controllers have been taking part in long-running strikes in protest at president Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform.

The data shows that between March 1st and April 9th, more than 10 million passengers were hit with either delays or cancellations as a result of strikes, with an average of 64,000 passengers a day impacted.

On an average day, 3,300 flights take off or land in France (of which 800 are domestic flights) and 3,700 pass through French airspace – and are therefore affected if French air traffic controllers go on strike. 

Air traffic controllers are required to give notice if they intend to strike, the French Direction Générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) then calculates how many workers will be on strike and orders airline to cancel a certain percentage of their flights. It is up to airlines which flights they cancel, and most prioritise long-haul flights and cancel the short-haul ones in order to try and minimise disruption to passengers. 

In a recent petition to the EU to change the rules on minimum strike cover, the Irish budget airline Ryanair claims that disruption disproportionately falls on overflights, saying: “It is unacceptable that France uses Minimum Service Legislation to protect French fights during these repeated ATC strikes, while overflights, none of which are operating to/from France, suffer all these cancellations.”

However data from Eurocontrol doesn’t suggest a disproportionate effect on overflights, with the March 1st to April 9th data showing that 14 percent of flights that took off or landed in France (including domestic flights) were impacted by strikes while 16 percent of overflights were affected. 

Eurocontrol added, however, that their data on strike-related flight cancellations does not include flights cancelled more than three days in advance of the scheduled departure.

There are also knock-on effects – such as planes ending up in the wrong place due to cancellations – that can force airlines to delay or cancel flights even once industrial action is ended. 

Who is worst affected?

As you would expect, the country most affected by the industrial action was France, with 30 percent of flights delayed during the report period and daily cancellations up 158 percent on a normal day.

Neighbouring Spain saw 15 percent of its departures delayed, the vast majority of which were overflights, and cancellations rise by 63 percent, while the UK, Italy and Germany saw between 6 and 8 percent of departures disrupted, again, mostly overflights.

Graphic: Eurocontrol’s report on flight disruption between March 1st and April 9th, 2023

What does Ryanair want?

In terms of numbers of delayed flights, Ryanair suffered the worst disruption during this one-month period that the report covers, with 332 departures delayed due to French strikes, representing 13 percent of its total flights. French airline Air France suffered the highest percentage of delays with 31 percent of departures delayed, or 277 flights. 

Graphic from Eurocontrol’s report into the impact of French air traffic control strikes between March 1st and April 9th, 2023

Ryanair has now launched a petition to the EU to change the rules on air traffic control flights, saying that in the whole of 2023 it has been forced to cancel 3,350 flights due to strikes, the majority of which were overflights – if you’re a Ryanair customer, you might have already received a message asking you to sign it.

In France, strikes over pension reform began on January 19th and have continued sporadically since, with 12 one-day strikes that have seen high levels of disruption and further ongoing actions from single unions like air traffic controllers. 

The budget airline believes that flight cancellations discriminate against overflights and is calling on European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen to change the rules, forcing France to apply Minimum Service rules to overflights as well as French departures/arrivals and to allow European air traffic controllers to operate in French airspace if there is a strike.

“People can understand if you’re travelling to France and there is a strike, ‘fine, I could be impacted,’” Neal McMahon, the airline’s director of operations, told reporters.

“But somebody going from Valencia to Milan won’t be able to understand that it was delayed or potentially cancelled because the French are on strike. It’s impossible for consumers to understand that and it’s not fair,” he added.

What are my rights to a refund?

Even if the EU does agree to Ryanair’s proposals, which is far from certain, it will take time to implement, so for the moment at least overflights are likely to continue to be affected by French strikes.

So if you are affected by a delay or cancellation to an overflight, what are your rights to a refund?

In terms of compensation, it makes little different whether your flight is to/from France or simply over it, as EU compensation rules apply to all flights that either arrive at or depart from an airport in the EU/Schengen zone, or are operated by an EU-registered carrier.

Find full details on your rights and how to claim refunds HERE.

You can check the latest on French strike action at The Local France’s strike section HERE.

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For members


Why the future of Germany’s €49 public transport pass is up in the air

Germany's reduced monthly public transport pass is a hit. But quarrels over the funding are heating up, leaving the future of the ticket uncertain.

Why the future of Germany's €49 public transport pass is up in the air

What’s happening?

Germany introduced the Deutschlandticket in May, which allows people to use local trains, buses, trams and the underground all over the country for €49 per month.

It’s been popular so far: about 10 million people are using it plus statistics show that passenger numbers are increasing on local transport.

But despite this success, politicians have been arguing about the future of the €49 ticket.

On Thursday this week, transport ministers in the federal states threatened to axe the offer if the federal government did not pledge more money.

After the virtual meeting, the state ministers demanded an immediate funding pledge from the government until the end of 2025.

Without this commitment from Berlin, a “significant price increase” would be necessary as early as next year, according to a resolution passed unanimously by the ministers.

They added that the continuation of the Deutschlandticket from 2024 onwards is “seriously endangered”, urging for a solution to be found as soon as possible. 

READ ALSO: Public transport use in Germany goes up thanks to the €49 ticket

Why is there an argument over funding?

Before the ticket was launched, the federal and state governments agreed that they would each pay €1.5 billion from 2023 to 2025. The aim is for the transport companies to be compensated for the losses they incur as a result of the Deutschlandticket. This is because other tickets that were previously sold and are significantly more expensive are now no longer in demand, so there is a lack of revenue.

In addition to this, it was agreed for 2023 that possible additional costs above this amount would be shared equally by the federal and state governments. But this “additional funding obligation” has not been agreed from next year onwards. According to the Association of German Transport Companies, it will amount to around €1.1 billion next year.

A regional train in Hamburg.

A regional train in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

The states want the government to continue to share in these extra costs in 2024 and beyond. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (Free Democrats), however, has rejected this so far. He’s passed the ball back to the federal states and says that they are responsible for regional transport.

So what will happen to the ticket?

The result is a political row that has been going on for months, leaving customers with no idea what will happen to the ticket.

So far, there have been threats that the price will rise from 2024 if there is no agreement between the federal and state governments, with talk of it becoming €59 per month instead of €49. It is unclear what this would mean for sales figures, however as one of the big selling points of the ticket is that it is under €50.

German broadcaster WDR spoke to transport users in Düsseldorf – and found that many people couldn’t understand why there’s an issue with the funding.

“A rich country like Germany should be able to finance this,” said Sabine Ahlers, who commutes every day from Krefeld.

Student Moritz Plenk said that if the ticket is axed it would “not send a good signal” towards the transition to climate friendlier transport options.

Meanwhile, the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Association (VBB) this week said they were set to re-introduce the €29 ticket for the AB zone in the capital by July next year at the latest.

“I see the €29 ticket as a supplement to the successful Deutschlandticket,” said Berlin transport senator Manja Schreiner of the Christian Democrats.

A few days ago, the Association of German Transport Companies demanded that the federal and state governments present a solution for the future of the €49 ticket by the end of September, but it doesn’t look like this will happen. 

The autumn session of the Conference of Transport Ministers will take place on October 11th and 12th and Volker Wissing is expected to attend. Perhaps a solution will be found then. At the moment, though, the future of the Deutschlandticket is still unclear.