Impact of French air traffic controller strikes on Spanish travellers

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air traffic controllers

The strike by air traffic controllers in France on Thursday has had a significant impact on air traffic across Europe, particularly on flights operating to and from Spain. Several major airlines, including Ryanair, Iberia, Volotea, and Air Europa, have had to cancel dozens of flights.

This has affected not only direct flights to and from France, but also flights crossing French airspace to other European destinations. The strike prompted an immediate response from airlines and travellers. For example, Ryanair reported the cancellation of more than 300 flights worldwide as a result of the strike, while Iberia cancelled 26 flights, including routes to Paris and Toulouse, as well as flights over French territory to other European cities such as Amsterdam, London and Milan.

Disruption despite withdrawn strike

Even though the largest union at French air traffic control had withdrawn the announced strike at the last minute after night-time negotiations, there was still a lot of disruption. It was too late to reorganise as the strike had already been organised. The airlines had already received instructions to cancel a large part of their flights and in a new notification, the French General Directorate of Civil Aviation has only slightly adjusted those instructions. The strike was planned in protest against an announced reform of air traffic control. Two other smaller unions also called for a strike on Thursday. Discussions are still ongoing with them.

Impact on aviation

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has called for action from the European Commission to prevent a recurrence of such situations, as the strikes affect not only French flights but also those between other European countries. He stressed that while French air traffic controllers have the right to strike, this should not lead to massive disruptions to flights that do not have France as their departure or destination point.

Passenger rights in the event of flight cancellations

In light of these cancellations, it is crucial that passengers are aware of their rights. Under European law, passengers are entitled to certain compensation and assistance in the event of cancellation:

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Right to Refund or Rebooking: Passengers have the right to choose between a full refund of the ticket or a rebooking to a later flight. This must be presented within seven days of the scheduled flight date.

Right to Compensation: Depending on the distance of the planned flight, passengers can claim compensation ranging from €250 to €600. The specific amounts depend on the distance and whether the airline offers an alternative flight that arrives within a certain time:

    • Flights up to 1500 km: €250 compensation (or €125 if an alternative is offered with a delay of up to 2 hours).
    • Flights between 1500 and 3500 km: €400 compensation (or €200 for a delay of up to 3 hours).
    • Flights of more than 3,500 km outside the EU: €600 compensation (or €300 for a delay of up to 4 hours).

These compensations apply unless the airline can prove that the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Advice for Affected Travellers

Spanish consumer organization OCU advises travellers to contact their airline directly for information about the status of their flight and their rights in the event of cancellation. If the airline does not provide a satisfactory solution, travellers can contact the national aviation authority or a dispute resolution committee.

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