Air France Cancels Flights, Says Strike Wilting

October 31, 2011

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Air France cancelled around 15 percent of flights on Monday but claimed the upper hand in a dispute with striking cabin staff after two unions withdrew from the industrial action over staffing on certain routes.

Air France press relations chief Jean-Charles Trehan said the decision by two small unions to quit the protest was good news.

"We're seeing the movement is petering out," he said.

The airline forecast cancellation of just three long-haul flights on Tuesday, after scrapping four on Monday. That was down from around 10 long-distance cancellations on Saturday and Sunday, the first days of a protest that runs until Wednesday.

"We expect to provide at least 85 percent of services today. We've had no last-minute cancellations," said Georges Daher, an Air France executive at Orly airport south of Paris.

The government, which has a minority stake in the carrier, has criticised the unions for staging a strike during a busy holiday period, but advance warnings from the airline have limited the number of people stranded at airports.

Despite the change of tune by two unions, four others that say they represent upwards of three-quarters of cabin staff stood their ground.

To keep as many planes in the air as possible, the airline has limited short-haul flights to 100 passengers so that numbers of flight attendants respect safety norms.

That means many aircraft were running with empty seats while people were turned away.

Unions have called flight attendants to strike over five days until Wednesday. One of their main grievances is a plan to reduce staffing on long-haul trips.

The airline has said the protest is incomprehensible and last weekend denounced being "taken hostage" during a period when a Tuesday November 1 holiday prompts many people to take Monday off and go away for an extended weekend.

Transport and Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet criticised the unions on Sunday, noting that the sector was going through a rough period.

"Air France is in a delicate position," she told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

Shares in Air France-KLM, which is due to publish financial results on November 9, took a hit this week when a media outlet said it was preparing to issue a profit warning.

(Reuters)