Air France Grounds 15% of Flights as Cabin Crews Strike

Air France’s 15,000 cabin crew members have disrupted flights for the third consecutive day as protests over staffing cuts continue, grounding about 15% of all services, including so-called “long-haul” trips, many of which are to the U.S.

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The French unit of Air France-KLM Group announced today that only 85% of 1,000 flights would run today. About 120 flights were grounded yesterday, and 130 on October 29, according to the airline. Unions put the cancellations at 171 and 209, respectively. Cabin-crew unions have called a strike for Saturday, October 29 through Wednesday, November 2, that will affect travel on All Saints Day holiday, one of France’s busiest travel periods.

Air France cabin crews are responding to the airline’s announcement that it would cut staff levels on Airbus SAS single-aisle jets in order to cut costs after an earnings slump forced the departure this month of CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon. Air-France KLM fell 28 cents to 5.64 euros today as of 11;30 a.m. in Paris, where the company is based. Air France, Europe’s number one airline, has declined 58% this year.

The strikes are affecting traffic through Charles de Gaulle airport, Europe’s second busiest, and Orly, as well as the terminal in Marseille. Air France is trying to restrict the cancellations to higher-frequency routes within Europe, where it’s easier to re-book seats. U.S. services were halted also halted because the company was able to shift passengers to services flown by SkyTeam alliance partner Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL).

Air France plans to cut one flight attendant from each of its Airbus A319 planes, leaving three. The carrier has already agreed to keep the number at four for trips lasting longer than three hours, and has also given ground on an issue regarding performance assessment. Air France estimates that 30% of its crew walked out, while the unions said 50-60%.

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Air France-KLM reported operating losses in two of the past three fiscal years after 11 years of profitability, and is aiming simply to break even in 2011.

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