French air traffic control strikes: ATC strike dates in September 2023 and how they affect travel to France

After the significant air traffic control (ATC) failure that affected hundreds of thousands of passengers travelling to and from the UK at the end of August, passengers are likely to see further disruption to flights this month.

The main union representing ATC workers in France, the Syndicat National des Contrôleurs du Trafic Aérien (SNCTA), has called for a strike on Friday September 15 with disruption to flights that day, as well as on Thursday 14 and Saturday 16 September. If the strike goes ahead, it is possible that airlines will be forced to cancel some flights between the UK and Europe that overfly French airspace, leading to knock-on delays. A further day of industrial action has been called for on 13 October.

Timed to coincide with the Rugby World Cup, which is being hosted by France, the strike will also see journeys disrupted to host cities such as Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, Nantes, Lyon and Paris.

France play Uruguay in Villeneuve-d’Ascq on Thursday 14 September; New Zealand play Namibia in Toulouse on Friday 15 September. On Saturday 16 September, Wales play Portugal in Nice while Ireland play Tonga in Nantes and Samoa play Chile in Bordeaux.

The SNCTA is striking over inflationary pressures on the salaries of its staff, who have previously walked out on more than 50 occasions so far this year. Irish airline Ryanair has been particularly vocal about the effect of ongoing French ATC strikes this year, which have triggered the cancelation of hundreds of flights.

Ryanair has presented a petition to the European Commission, calling on it to protect all overflights, as well as require 21 days’ notice for industrial action. It claims that France is using minimum service legislation to protect French flights exclusively during these strikes, while “overflights” that use French airspace to travel to and from destinations elsewhere “suffer from these cancellations.” Other countries such as Italy and Greece protect overflights during industrial action. Ryanair claims that it has cancelled more than 4,000 flights this year as a result of French ATC strikes.

Your rights if your flight is affected

Passengers are not due compensation if their flight is disrupted by French ATC strikes because they are beyond the control of airlines.

However, if a flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund within seven days of the date of travel, or to be re-routed to your destination either on the original airline or via an alternative route if the replacement flight offered is unsuitable. You have the right to organise this yourself if necessary, then claim back reasonable costs from the airline.

Passengers at the airport whose flights are delayed by two hours (for flights up to 1,500km) are entitled to a reasonable amount of food and drink and access to phone calls and emails, as well as accommodation if the delay is overnight. For flights over 1,500km, the delay threshold rises to three hours and for flights over 3,500km it is four hours. If a flight is delayed by more than five hours, passengers have the right not to take flight and can request a refund.