French air traffic controllers on strike Wednesday and Thursday

The strike, called by main controllers' union in protest over working conditions, is the first of three planned during April and early May.

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Thousands of families flying home from Easter holidays face disruption later this week because of industrial action by French air-traffic controllers belonging to the SNCTA union, reports The Independent.

Controllers will strike on nine days between next Wednesday and May 2nd, starting with a 48-hour stoppage.

A spokesman for Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, told The Independent: “Like all airlines flying to and from France, we expect significant impact to our flights during this period, including cancellations.”

If the strike goes ahead, the French Civil Aviation Authority will assess how much capacity non-striking controllers can handle. By Tuesday afternoon airlines will be told to cancel a proportion of planned flights to, from or over France.

French airspace is the busiest in Europe, with an average of 8,000 flights a day.

During previous strikes, around half of planned movements have been hit - representing several hundred flights to and from Britain.

The hardest-hit airline will be Air France, whose main base is at Paris Charles de Gaulle - the second-biggest hub in Europe, after Heathrow. Every day, thousands of British travellers are booked to transfer through the French capital.

Many passengers who are simply intending to fly over France face disruption. From UK airports, the most direct routes to a wide range of southern European destinations pass through French airspace.

From London’s airports, the most direct tracks to Athens and Dubrovnik in the east and Santiago and Lisbon in the west normally go through French airspace.

Some flights can relatively easily be diverted to avoid France, but that adds to pressure on nearby countries’ airspace and increases journey times and fuel consumption.

For many destinations in Spain - the most popular holiday destination for British travellers - routes avoiding France can add an hour or more to journey times, with resulting knock-on delays.

Until the scale of the disruption becomes clear, passengers are not being allowed to amend or cancel journey plans without penalty. Airlines are set to lose millions of pounds as a result of the strike, and are unwilling to surrender ticket revenue until the impact of the stoppage becomes clear.

Read more of this report from The Independent.

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