French air traffic control strike: which airports and flights are affected?

French air traffic control staff are staging a walkout until Tuesday November 21
French air traffic control staff are staging a walkout until Tuesday November 21 - Getty

Numerous airlines, including Ryanair and Jet2, have warned of disruption as a result of French air traffic control strikes

After more than 60 flights were cancelled due to high winds and “staff absence” at Heathrow on Sunday, travel chaos appears to be continuing into the week. French ATC staff are staging a walkout until Tuesday, with some airlines, including BA, already cancelling and delaying flights from the UK as a result.

When are the French air traffic control strikes?

Disruption started at 6pm on Sunday November 19 and will run until Tuesday November 21. French ATC staff walked out after a new law was introduced which states bosses must be informed at least 48 hours before any planned industrial action.

Jet2 sought to reassure passengers that disruption was “minimal”, although advised customers to check the status of their flights.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the airline said: “Please be prepared for possible longer than normal waits onboard your aircraft to depart. We will board all flights and close all gates for an on-time departure, this will allow us to depart as soon as we are advised we can.”

Easyjet’s message was similar: “Although this situation is outside of our control, we would like to reassure customers that we are doing all we can to minimise any disruption to our flights that may occur as a result of the strike action,” a spokesperson said.

Airlines have been asked to cut a quarter of their flights to Paris-Orly and Toulouse-Blagna
Airlines have been asked to cut a quarter of their flights to Paris-Orly and Toulouse-Blagna - Getty

There was a stronger response from Ryanair, which called for the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to take action to protect flights using French airspace. It called for passengers to sign its Protect Passengers: Keep EU Skies Open Campaign.

A Ryanair spokesperson said: “It is completely unacceptable that there have been 65 days of ATC strikes this year which have caused the cancellation of thousands of flights at short notice, unfairly disrupting EU passengers’ travel plans.

“Despite repeated calls on Ursula von der Leyen to protect passengers and overflights during these ATC strikes, she has failed to take any action to do so.”

“As a result, even more passengers will have their flights cancelled at short notice due to this French ATC strike on 20 November, despite not even flying to/from France.”

Which airports are affected?

France’s Civil Aviation Authority has asked airlines to cut a quarter of their flights to Paris-Orly and Toulouse-Blagnac. Bordeaux-Mérignac and Marseille-Provence will see around 20 per cent of their flights cancelled.

As Ryanair notes, there is also a risk to “overflights” travelling to Spain and Switzerland. It is recommended that passengers check their airline’s website in advance of travel and check for the knock-on effects of delays.

Will there be disruption in 2024?

There will be more disruption next year as France updates its air traffic control systems. The current system, which dates from the 1970s, still relies on paper strips to represent incoming planes – a rather anachronistic way to manage air travel, although there have been regular minor upgrades to the system in the intervening years. But the major upgrade is taking place this winter.

This means two months of potential delays, with an estimated 16,500 flights expected to be cancelled. It’s thought that most of these will likely be short and medium-haul flights. Winter sun trips with layovers in Paris could be at risk, but it’s those quicker trips that are more likely to be affected.

In fact, airlines have been advised to cut planes landing at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, Orley, Beauvais and Le Bourget airports by 20 per cent between January 9 and February 14.

An estimated 16,500 flights are expected to be cancelled in the next couple of months
An estimated 16,500 flights are expected to be cancelled in the next couple of months - Getty

A spokesperson for Air France has already confirmed some 4,200 flights have been cancelled – details of replacement journeys should have been sent to those affected passengers. Those travelling with other airlines are advised to look out for more information, as more cancellations will likely be announced nearer the time.

The upgrade will cost an estimated €1 billion, ensuring that future air travel is more efficient, although that improvement will likely be met with frustration in the short term by festive travellers. Even if a journey doesn’t land in France, “overflight” airspace is likely to be affected: meaning some 2.5 million passengers flying to Europe could feel knock-on effects.

What are your rights if your flights are cancelled?

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to strike action, contact your airline immediately. Most will attempt to place you on the next available flight, or have more information about the potential length of a delay. Airlines are obliged to offer assistance such as food and drink or accommodation for extensive delays due to industrial action.

For flights which are cancelled outright, whether you are entitled to compensation depends on if the strike is considered to be something the airline could feasibly control. In the case of European air traffic control strikes, for example, this wouldn’t be seen as the airline’s responsibility. It is worth noting that not all insurance policies cover industrial action.

Those who have booked package holidays, however, may have protection from rules set by the tour operator or travel industry bodies. If you booked through a travel agency, contact them as soon as possible.

More generally, under UK and EU law, you’re only entitled to a refund if your carrier informs you that your flight is cancelled less than 14 days from the date you’re due to fly. For more information on what to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled, read our comprehensive guide.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.