Travellers heading to, from or across France face five days of chaos because of a national strike against plans for pension reform. Hundreds of flights, and 78 Eurostar trains, have already been cancelled.
Air-traffic controllers are expected to join the industrial action. The national air-traffic control organisation, the DNSA, warns of “an inter-professional social movement affecting the entire French public services and private sector”.
As part of the action, fireman at the leading French airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle, will strike from 8am to 1pm on Thursday.
While some flying will take place, the French authorities have not yet set out the proportion of flights that each airline will be allowed to operate each day. But some airlines, including Air France and easyJet, have proactively cancelled hundreds of flights.
Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, has cancelled 233 flights so far – affecting 40,000 passengers.
On Thursday, some easyJet flights from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester to Paris Charles de Gaulle have already been cancelled.
Sixty other UK departures to, from and over France have been grounded by easyJet.
One in four of the cancellations is of flights from British airports to other countries, including Italy and Spain.
Passengers whose flights are cancelled are entitled to accommodation and meals until they can be found alternative transport.
British Airways has cancelled at least 30 flights on Thursday between Heathrow and destinations in France, Spain and Switzerland. Six flights to and from Paris, and four each serving Nice, Geneva, Barcelona and Madrid have been grounded. Round-trips to Basel, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse are also cancelled.
Even for flights that are still shown as operating, BA is offering passengers booked from London airports to France, as well third countries, the option to switch dates without penalty.
It applies to bookings to Barcelona, Madrid, Basel, Geneva and Zurich, as well as French airports, for flights between Thursday and Saturday. Passengers can travel on Wednesday, or between 8 and 12 December.
A BA spokesperson said: “Yet again, French strike action will cause unnecessary frustration and disruption for customers at a busy time of year.
“We plan to use larger aircraft, wherever we can, to help customers from cancelled flights get to where they need to be.”
Ryanair has cancelled some flights on Thursady, but says any passenger who has not received an email or SMS message can expect their flight to operate as scheduled.
A spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused by this national strike. We will do everything we can to minimise your disruption, which is sadly beyond our control.”
Air France says it hopes to operate all its long-haul flights and all but 15 per cent of medium-haul services.
But around one-third of domestic flights have been grounded.
“Last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be excluded,” says the airline. Air France has now grounded Thursday’s flight to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Further cancellations will be announced as the strike goes on.
Eurostar’s 78 cancellations are mainly to and from Paris, but some Amsterdam and Brussels services are also affected. An estimated 50,000 passengers booked between Thursday and Sunday have had to make other plans.
The total of international travellers so far affected by the strike is around 250,000, a number that is expected to rise as the stoppage continues.
“Cancellations and severe delays [are] expected on trains, metros, buses and trams.
“Demonstrations by hauliers on some major roads may also cause delays or blockages.
“Additional protests may also be held linked to the yellow vest (gilets jaunes) movement.
“In all cases, you should avoid demonstrations wherever possible and follow the advice of the local authorities.”