5 tips to avoid the chaos of French strikes

by Karen Fawcett on October 30, 2010

When the French strike, they can cause travel chaos and do. Their motto — Strike first and then negotiate. There have been recent transportation stoppages in some parts of the country, while the French unions have been striking against raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Here are tips from the front lines.

Some students got into the act. (After all, who wants to attend school if they can participate in what is essentially akin to a 4th of July parade, complete with marching bands and trucks selling food?) The students are unhappy over the fact that if people work an extra two years, they might have a more difficult time getting jobs.

Since I’m in Paris, I haven’t been impacted because the metros and buses have been operational. Some might have been running a tad late, but it’s been no big deal. Ironically, it’s been easier to hail a taxi since some people didn’t or couldn’t get into the City of Light. Others simply stayed away and the taxi drivers have been singing the blues.

Long haul flights haven’t been impacted. Rather, it been the internal ones that were impacted. On Thursday, October 28th, 50 percent of the planes leaving and/or arriving at Paris’s Orly airport were grounded. People weren’t happy, even though they were prepared, since it’s Paris’s school vacation time and the French tend to get up and go.

The retirement proposal has been voted into law by the French Senat. Not wanting to take no as an answer, some airline staff and air controllers may continue flexing their muscles and another strike has been called for November 6th. Some are saying that because it’s anticipated that the weather will be colder and not quite as conducive to a day off, the strike has lost momentum. Also, employees are beginning to feel the economic pinch from striking rather than working.

France does not operate in a vacuum and when flights in one country aren’t taking off as scheduled, there’s a domino effect that spreads.

What to do:

- Check with your airline to make sure the flight is taking off and landing where it’s supposed to.
- Anticipate travel delays.
- If you’re flying into Paris and proceeding to another part of France, you may need to find an alternative mode of transportation (e.g. trains, which may or may not be on schedule) or wait for your flight to take you to your final destination.
- Most long-haul flights are operating but continue checking. Avoid transferring in Paris, if possible. Many business travelers with flexible tickets have already done that.
- Remain calm. Screaming at the airport’s personnel is not going to help and might hinder your getting on an on-going flight.

Check with your airline and access The French Airport site.

Bonjour Paris has been updating its news as frequently as possible. Please be assured it’s safe to come to Paris and we hope you will.

If you’ve been stuck in a French transportation strike, please post how and what you did. Even though many people don’t understand the strikes, for the French, “c’est normale” and they’re a French tradition. Please don’t believe the press reports that France is on fire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bad news and photo opportunities sell.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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  • Grace Teshima

    Thanks for this, karen. My experience exactly: buses and metros have been running and I’ve had good luck. My new york daughter arrived yesterday and her flight was early. She didn’t have trouble getting a taxi. But doom and gloom (that might make americans think theirs is a superior system??) on the front page helps to sell newspapers.

  • Kathy

    I hate France. I was there ONCE for a layover and vowed I’d never spend another cent in that lousy country. I was lost in the Charles DeGaulle airport and approached a gate agent for directions. She refused to speak to me in English, even though I had heard her using the PA in English moments prior. I tried another gate. A man in a FA’s uniform walking through the concourse. Four other people who were employees of Air France–gate agents, customer service reps, the woman “guarding” the first class lounge.

    Same treatment. Finally, a nice lady who was a fellow traveler helped me.

    Oh, and I was only 15 at the time. Nice way to treat a kid. Might have been a decade ago, but I doubt they’ve changed much.

    If that’s how they treat you in the airport, just imagine what it’s like outside!!!

  • Len

    Don’t go to France and avoid ther whole mess.

  • http://www.bonjourparis.com Karen Fawcett

    Len: I think anyone who is watching television today MIGHT say to avoid the U.S. because of potential terrorist attacks and explosives being sent from other countries to blow up temples among other things.

    And how about the murders and other acts of violence that are considerably more prevalent in the U.S. than in other countries?

    I am an American in Paris and travel between France and the U.S. a LOT. I am not being impacted by the strikes. The flight delays from the volcanic ash cloud were considerably worse. Unless you are in France (or (want to) understand the French mentality, indeed you should stay home.

    As for someone who was in a Paris airport ten years ago (and no, the personnel should NOT have been rude), I am sorry you judge a country by that one encounter.

  • http://www.fceservices.com Bruce

    I had some clients who came back from France last week. They stayed at a hotel near to the Eiffel Tower and did not have any problems. On the way to the airport, their taxi made a slight detour to get around a small blockade. It took them an extra 5-10 minutes to arrive at the airport. The police will keep the crowds controlled and in one particular area. This is another example of extreme media hype.

  • http://BonjourParis Sadie Nachtigal

    Although the strikes in France are, indeed, long-lasting and occasionally irksome, I agree completely: buses and metros are running – and while some flights have been delayed or canceled, it’s hardly mass chaos. I flew from Paris to London last weekend without a single hiccup. The RER to the airport was nearly empty, and free as well – all the doors were open, as often happens during strikes. I would say that, apart from having to occasionally wait longer for a bus or metro or find a detour around a street of protesters, the strikes have hardly impacted the daily life of Parisians. If anything, I would encourage people to visit Paris, despite the level of uncertainty about travel plans – it’s not everywhere that you get to see people so enraged about the thought of working until the age of 62!

  • http://parisinspired.wordpress.com Paris Paul

    Thanks for the informative article, Karen! Very good tips indeed.

    As someone who’s been living in Paris for 20 years, I have very good memories of the Parisians who helped me in the coin operated laundry mat and explained how to use the fruit scales in the supermarket. It’s too bad that a couple of unfriendly people can impact the appreciation of a wonderful (though admittedly challenging at times) place.

  • http://kcomstock.com kathy comstock

    People who complain about the French will complain where ever they are. I’ve worked, lived, and travelled around France and many other countries. People are people. They have good days and bad. How about a little less judgement and a bit more light heartedness? I just spent ten days in the French countryside, no problems in spite of all the media hype over strikes. Paris is always tumultuous, as are most huge cities, and that’s why it’s fun to travel, fun to experience the happenstance of ‘being out there’. It’s the primary reason the French get out and strike anyway! Stay home and complain if you can’t be broadminded…

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