Air France Employees Protest Overbooking Ploicy

Old Aug 12, 00, 9:06 am
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Air France Employees Protest Overbooking Ploicy

From International Herald Tribune of August 11, 2000

PARIS - Ground workers with Air France are demanding that the company review its overbooking policy as they increasingly face verbal and physical attacks by passengers bumped off flights.

About 200 employees stopped work Tuesday to protest the ''extreme tension'' of recent months. They say the situation results from an overbooking policy that is helping Air France to fill record numbers of seats but often means that the police have to be called to intervene in scuffles.

Flights were not affected by the walkout, said Air France, which brought in workers from headquarters to replace strikers. The strike is a sign that Air France's increasing focus on overbooking puts at risk the loyalty of both customers and employees. The only major European carrier to report improved profit in 1999, Air France pushed almost 40,000 passengers off flights last year.

''Last week, someone threw a computer at an agent,'' said Sylvain Chazal, the secretary-general of USAF, the union repesenting ground workers. ''Every week it's getting more violent.''

The company said it planned to charter five planes this month to ensure that 1,000 more passengers are able to board flights.

Air France acknowledged that it had problems with passengers upset about missing flights, though it also attributed the disruption of summer traffic to bad weather and European air traffic delays. The company said it expected to meet with ground agents about their concerns.

Overbooking helped Air France to add 137 million Euros ($130 million) to its bottom line last year, filling seats that otherwise would have gone empty. The carrier has a 20 percent no-show rate, double that of some rivals. At Charles de Gaulle Airport the overbooking has left ground workers struggling to cope with a boom in traffic that partly stems from Air France's
partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Connecting passengers, who account for 60 percent of Air France passengers, up from 40 percent two years ago, have priority under
international law over those starting their journeys in Paris. If the latter cannot get on their flights, they ''feel cheated and say they haven't been warned,'' Mr. Chazal said.

The employees are urging the airline to forge agreements with other carriers to ensure that passengers get to their destinations. The protesters also propose increasing compensation to passengers. Airlines are required by law to pay compensation of as much as 300 Euros for delays of more than four hours.

In addition to overbooking, the union said, there is an insufficient ratio of employees to passengers, inadequate check-in equipment and a lack of human and material resources to handle irregular services.
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