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Aviation chaos continues as French air-traffic controllers strike again

After more than 60 flights at London Heathrow were cancelled on Sunday, some of the 10,000 passengers whose plans were wrecked face more problems.

A strike by French air-traffic control staff has caused dozens of cancellations to and from the UK, including overflights to destinations such as Spain and Switzerland.

On Sunday a combination of “staff absence” at Heathrow’s air-traffic control tower and high winds triggered mass cancellations, long delays and the diversion of two inbound transatlantic flights.

The Heathrow disruption continued into the early hours, with flights departing and arriving after midnight; normally operations end at 11.30pm.

One British Airways flight from Heathrow to Lisbon was further delayed after a catering truck struck the aircraft. Engineering staff and firefighters attended the aircraft, which eventually took off almost three hours late. It landed safely in the Portuguese capital shortly before 1am.

One passenger told The Independent: “Just a total joke: high winds, then finally confirming that they have shortage of staff and lastly, the catering lorry hit the plane.”

A BA spokesperson said: “We’ve apologised to customers for the disruption to their journey.”

Cancellations due to the latest French air-traffic control (ATC) strike began with the first wave of outbound departures on Monday morning. British Airways has grounded more than 20 flights from Heathrow to France, Switzerland and Spain; Iberia has also cancelled a Madrid-London round trip.

Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, has grounded at least 10 flights between UK airports and Paris, including links from Luton, Bristol and Manchester.

From online data for Charles de Gaulle airport, it appears that easyJet has been harder hit than Air France – whose hub is at the French capital.

The French national airline appears to have cancelled only four domestic round trips and no international flights.

Ryanair passengers are also hard hit. At London Stansted, the giant low-cost carrier has grounded at least 10 flights to and from France, with additional cancellations at Manchester and Belfast International.

A Ryanair spokesperson said: “It is completely unacceptable that there have been 65 days of ATC strikes this year – 13 times more than in all of 2022 – which have caused the cancellation of thousands of flights at short notice, unfairly disrupting EU passengers’ travel plans.

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

“We have no problem with French ATC unions exercising their right to strike, but the EU Commission should insist that cancellations due to French ATC strikes are allocated to French flights, not those overflying France en route to another unrelated EU destination.”

Delays are expected to build rapidly during the day as pilots wait for clearance to fly to or over France. Some Wizz Air, Vueling, British Airways and easyJet “first wave” flights from London Gatwick to Spain departed over an hour late.

Airlines that cancel flights must provide seats on alternative flights as soon as possible, including on rival carriers if necessary.

European air passengers’ rights rules require the airline to provide hotel rooms and meals, but cash compensation is not payable as the strike is beyond the carrier’s control.

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