When I left on vacation last week, Air France’s pilots were striking. When I returned on Saturday, nothing had changed. Yesterday, however, the pilots came around and decided the time to end the strike had come. Why? Because they weren’t getting anywhere. If you were stranded during the two week strike, you were probably already angry. Knowing that it was all in vain has to make it burn even more. Nothing has been resolved and the airline is suffering mightily.
Why were the pilots striking in the first place? Well, it’s France, so…. But there actually was a real reason this time and it was over the airline’s turnaround plan called Perform 2020. (This was clearly named by some consultant somewhere.)
Perform 2020 was created to follow Transform 2015 (am I the only one feeling nauseous?), and it was meant to help stem the tremendous bleeding coming primarily from the group’s short haul operation. While there were multiple pieces involved in the plan, the key issue at hand here is the growth of the group’s low cost carrier, Transavia.
If this all sounds familiar, it should. Lufthansa has a very similar plan that resulted in a big pilot strike earlier this month. Both airlines are unimaginative, thinking that the key is to copy what the low cost carriers are doing and then hope they magically can beat them. Sure, that’ll work.
Transavia has been around for ages as a more traditional leisure/charter airline. (Heck, it even had its own low cost carrier, Basiq Air, at one point.) But KLM picked up a chunk of the airline in the early 1990s and then ended up with complete ownership in 2003. After Air France and KLM merged, the decision was made to make Transavia the company’s low cost carrier.
As of today, Transavia has 40+ airplanes with most in The Netherlands. There are a few in France, however, and the powerful pilots at Air France really don’t like that. So you can imagine how unhappy they were to find out that the new plan is for Transavia to grow to at least 100 airplanes by 2017.
The Dutch operation isn’t changing much, but the original plan called for growth in France and the creation of other bases around Europe. Transavia was expected to “rank amongst the leading low cost carriers in Europe.” Riiiiight.
This may surprise you, but the French pilots were all for the growth of Transavia. After all, there have been so many cuts lately, pilots always like to hear about opportunities for growth. Oh, but they had one demand. They wanted Transavia pilots to be on the same pay and work rules as mainline Air France pilots. You can guess how that went over.
The strike was inevitable, and the impact was huge. Flights were canceled, passengers were stranded, and it was just miserable for everyone. As the strike dragged on, Air France backed away from its plan for bases outside France and The Netherlands, but that wasn’t enough. The pilots would not budge on their insistence that Transavia France pilots be on the same terms as Air France pilots, especially since some Air France pilots would be transferring over as Air France shrunk.
Now the strike is over, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the pilots get right back at it again. This isn’t an issue that’s going to be easily resolved. The pilots don’t want to recognize the reality of the European market. Meanwhile, Air France/KLM is delusional if it thinks it can build a low cost leader in the market.
What really should happen is that the pilots should agree to be paid less on short haul routes across the board. That would make Air France more competitive and it could be done under its own brand. But the chances of that happening are about as good as the chance that Air France pilots never strike again.
While the squabble goes on, both sides can just enjoy watching their airline burn.
[Original duel photo via Shutterstock]