Air France cancels 30 per cent of Saturday flights as strike rolls into fifth day

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Air France warned that about 30 per cent of its flights across France would be cancelled on Saturday as pilots, cabin crews and ground staff pursued a fifth day of strikes over salary.

The airline said in a statement on Friday that 35 per cent of its medium-haul flights arriving and departing from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport will be cancelled. One-quarter of long-haul flights in and out of Paris will be cancelled.

Air France recommends that passengers check their flights before going to the airport and delay their trips. The company has offered to change tickets for free.

Strikers hope to pressure management into increasing wages by 6 per cent.

The strike will further disrupt transport in France. On Sunday and Monday, rail workers will walk off their jobs in the latest protest against changes to a benefits management system that effectively gives train drivers and others jobs for life.

Unions say workers deserve to benefit from years of belt-tightening that have brought the carrier back to operating profitability, after seeing their wages practically frozen since 2011.

They have already warned of more strikes to come, often coinciding with school holidays

The Air France industrial action coincides with rolling strikes by workers at the state rail operator SNCF, as well as protests by students, public servants, energy workers and rubbish collectors.

Although the various protests have different aims, they have created a general atmosphere of social discontent as President Emmanuel Macron pursues his ambitious reform drive.

Saturday’s cancellation rates are expected to be the highest of any Air France strike so far, though the company declined to specify how many flights would be grounded.

But management so far appears unwilling to budge.

“This increase is not possible”, the chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, Jean-Marc Janaillac, said on Friday, adding that it would jeopardise the restructuring efforts made in recent years,

He warned that the strikes had already cost Air France 25 million euros (US$30 million) each day, money the airline should be investing in buying planes and creating jobs.

Janaillac also claimed that with an operating profit of 600 million euros last year, its profit margin was four per cent, “the lowest of all European airlines”.

But unions have rejected those arguments, along with management’s offer of a one per cent raise this year.

“We’ve been doing our part for years,” said Gregoire Aplincourt of the Spaf union, the second-largest among Air France pilots.

“What we’re saying now is, ‘Invest in your employees’.”