French strike grounds hundreds of flights

NICOLAS GARRIGA Associated Press Published:

PARIS (AP) -- Hundreds of flights in France were cancelled on Tuesday, including 40 percent out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, as unions ratcheted up pressure on day two of a strike over labor rights.

Air France forecast that it could guarantee just 50 percent of long-distance flights Tuesday, after running 85 percent of them on Monday.

The airline, among the world's biggest, said in a statement that 70 percent of short- and medium-range flights would be maintained.

At the heart of the dispute is the right to strike itself. Unions representing pilots, cabin, ground crews and others called the walkout to protest a draft law that would require air transport workers to give 48 hours notice before striking.

A spokesman for the Paris airport authority ADP said 40 percent of flights out of Charles de Gaulle were canceled on Tuesday. Most of those were announced to passengers the day before, the official said, but the airport also saw a few last-minute cancellations. The airport sees about 1,500 landings and take-offs per day on a normal day, he said.

At Paris' Orly Airport, about 15 percent of flights were cancelled, the spokesman said. He wasn't authorized to be publicly named according to the airport authority's policy.

Red "cancelled" signs dotted the huge screens greeting passengers to Charles de Gaulle, and long lines snaked out from the Air France service desk.

Italian Carmen Devecchio reached Paris after a 24 hour journey from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo. "I hope I have a chance to go back home today," she said.

But Italian airports are struggling with unusually heavy snowfall. "Therefore I don't know if we can land in Italy," either, she said.

Transport Minister Thierry Mariani says the bill is needed to protect passengers in a country where strikes occur regularly. The bill passed in the lower house of parliament last month, and goes to the Senate later this month.

The conservative-led parliament passed a law a few years ago requiring a minimum level of service during strikes and warning time ahead of walkouts on other forms of public transport.

The Air France statement suggested frustration with the current rules, noting that last-minute changes may await because "personnel is not required to warn ahead of time of their intention" to strike.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.