‘French airports will be understaffed this summer,’ warn unions

Unions are warning that understaffing is likely to cause long delays at French airports over the summer, echoing problems seens at airports around Europe in recent weeks.

'French airports will be understaffed this summer,' warn unions
Travellers queue during Ascension weekend in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam (Photo by Jeroen JUMELET / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT

“We should not be under any illusions, we will be understaffed to get through the summer. Clearly, there will be additional expectations at the controls and elsewhere,” warned Thomas Juin, president of the Union of French airports to Le Figaro

There have been chaotic scenes at airports around Europe in recent weeks, and unions warn that France is likely to face similar problems this summer.

In the Paris region, travellers at Charles de Gaulle were already reporting long queues at the beginning of May.

So far, Orly airport has not seen its capacities “overflowing” but it is already “under tension.” The airport’s director, Sandra Lignais, told Le Figaro, she is attempting to stay “vigilant” on the situation. 

Juin expects that at some airports in the Paris region, such as Beauvais, traffic will be “even higher than in 2019.”

The Paris region appears to be most impacted by longer than average wait times, with fewer complaints being registered in France’s regional airports. However, the shortage of airport staff is industry-wide, so it would still be recommendable to arrive early. 

Since 2020, French airports have lost “15 to 20 percent of their staff,” explained Juin. During the height of the pandemic, many airline workers were either let go, left the industry, or were given part-time work options.

National airline Air France cut almost 20 percent of its workforce during the pandemic – the equivalent to 7,500 jobs.

The Paris airports of Orly and Charles de Gaulle alone need to fill about 4,000 positions. However, the Airports of Paris group told BFM Business that they are experiencing “enormous” recruitment difficulties.

Several sectors – incuding tourism, hospitality, construction and healthcare – have warned about increasing staff shortages.

ANALYSIS: What is behind France’s worker shortage? 

Wait-times when going through customs is also an issue, as there has been a decrease in the number of border police present at the airports.

In addition to a shortage of candidates, training delays make it difficult to fill positions quickly, especially for people working in airport security jobs that require three to five months of on-the-job training. The summer also poses a challenging time to recruit, as many would-be workers have already scheduled holidays. 

France’s Charles de Gaulle airport still advises passengers to “be at the airport 2 hours before the departure of your flight in order to drop off your luggage and complete all police and security formalities.”

However, the airport’s website warns passengers to check their boarding pass as well, because they will indicate more specific boarding time instructions, “according to the busy periods at the airport.”

Several passengers on long-haul flights, including to the USA, told The Local that they had been instructed to be at the airport three-and-a-half hours in advance – and had needed all that time to get through security and boarding queues.

“I arrived 3 hours early and nearly didn’t make it,” one reader said. “The lines were confusing. A few stations seemed to be understaffed.” 

Over the Ascension weekend British airline Easyjey cancelled many flights, blaming IT problems.

Dutch airline KLM announced on May 26th that it would be suspending ticket sales for all flights out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport until Monday because of staff shortages.

Reuters reports that in recent weeks, lines from the Schiphol airport have been hours long, stretching all the way outdoors and onto the streets. Travellers from Stockholm, Dublin and Manchester airports have also reported long queues.

Rafael Schvartzman, the International Air Transport Association’s regional vice president for Europe, told Euronews that as of March, the aviation industry was already seeing 75 percent of its pre-pandemic passenger numbers, and that “this is a sign of what is to come for this summer,” predicting heavy traffic.  

What have your air travel experiences been like in recent weeks? Did you wait in any particularly long lines while departing from French airports? We would love to hear from you – please email [email protected]

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Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers’ paradise

Every year, thousands of day-trippers make the short boat journey from France's northern coast to the island of Cezembre, marvelling at the spectacular maritime views and flourishing wildlife.

Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers' paradise

But they better tread carefully and stick to the path, as almost all the island remains perilous due to unexploded munitions from World War II.

Cezembre opened to visits only in 2018, over seven decades after the end of World War II, after extensive de-mining efforts allowed the opening of a marked path for visitors.

However, the area safe for visitors makes up just three percent of the island, which experts say was the most bombed area of all of World War II in terms of the number of hits per square metre.

“It’s magnificent!” enthused Maryse Wilmart, a 60-year-old visitor from the southwestern town of La Rochelle, contemplating the sandy beach with turquoise waters and looking out to the ramparts of the port city of Saint-Malo beyond.

Tourists pass by signs reading “no trepassing – Danger” on Cezembre Island, Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

“But when you see all that behind us… Can you even imagine what happened here?” she asked, pointing to the barbed wire and signs warning “Danger! Ground not cleared beyond the fences!”

A visitor needs to go back 80 years to understand what happened on this usually uninhabited rocky outcrop.

In 1942, the occupying Nazi German army seized the strategically important island and installed bunkers and artillery pieces.

On August 17th, 1944, Saint-Malo was liberated by the Americans but the Nazi commander of Cezembre, leading some 400 men, refused to surrender.

There then followed a devastating bombardment from the air by the Allies.

“It is said that per square metre it sustained the greatest number of bombardments of all the theatres of operation of World War II,” said Philippe Delacotte, author of the book “The Secrets of the Island of Cezembre”.

A beach on Cezembre Island, off Saint-Malo’. Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

“There were between 4,000 and 5,000 bombs dropped”, some of which contained napalm, he said.

On September 2nd, 1944, the white flag was finally raised and some 350 exhausted men surrendered.

“Some survivors claimed it was like Stalingrad,” Delacotte said. The island was completely devastated, to the extent that its altitude even dropped because of the bombs.

After the war, the island became the property of the French ministry of defence and access was totally closed, with the first de-mining efforts starting in the 1950s.

It was handed over to a public coastal conservation body, the Conservatoire du Littoral, in 2017.

The path of about 800 metres lets visitors wander between rusty cannons and bunkers, with breathtaking views towards Cap Frehel and the Pointe de la Varde.

Since the opening of the path, “there has been no accident” even if “there are always people who want to go beyond the authorised section,” said Jean-Christophe Renais, a coast guard.

Over time, colonies of seabirds have reappeared, including seagulls, cormorants, razorbills and guillemots.

“Biodiversity is doing wonderfully, everything has been recolonised and revegetated, birds have taken back possession of the site,” said Gwenal Hervouet, who manages the site for Conservatoire du Littoral.

“It’s just a joy.”

Because of the focus on restoring wildlife, the trail was partially closed in April “to maximise the chances of success and the flight of peregrine falcon chicks,” said local conservation activist Manon Simonneau.

Some walkers say they hope the trail will be lengthened to allow a complete tour of the island, but according to the Conservatoire there is little chance of this — the cost of further demining would be astronomical, so it is now birds and nature that are the masters of Cezembre.