Air France managers flee after staff storm meeting

Protesters break into meeting planning mass job cuts at airline forcing executives to escape

Air France managers fled a meeting on Monday about mass job cuts after angry staff waving banners and flags stormed the room, according to Reuters journalists at the scene.

The airline’s human resources and labour relations head Xavier Broseta had his shirt ripped off and his tie hanging from his neck as he battled through crowds of workers, some of whom shouted “clothes off”.

Mr Broseta and Pierre Plissonnier, the head of long-haul flights, scaled an eight-foot high fence to escape shielded by security guards.

Two security guards, one of whom was knocked out and did not recover consciousness for several hours, were hurt in the fracas, an Air France spokesman later said.


Mr Broseta and Air France chief executive Frédéric Gagey had been outlining a drastic cost cutting plan, described by the company as “Plan B” after it failed to persuade its pilots to accept a less radical one earlier this year.

Violent protests such as Monday’s are not unusual in France, where the population has a long tradition of taking the law into its own hands.

This year, as the country struggles to come out of an economic downturn, has seen several, with traffic disruption, damage to public property and injuries to police officers features of a spate of demonstrations by farmers, taxi drivers, ferry workers and tobacconists.

Lack sympathy

However, unlike the headline makers in some other disputes, pilots lack sympathy among the general public and the Socialist government.

Ministers have queued up in recent days to put pressure on pilots to strike a deal, and a September 26th opinion poll for Le Parisien newspaper found 71 per cent of people see them as a privileged group, with 64 per cent believing they complain too much.

Ground staff trade unions long ago accepted the company’s original, less draconian, cost-saving regime, in contrast to the pilots, who staged a strike a year ago that cost the company €500 million.

Mr Gagey had already left the room on Monday before the works council meeting near Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris was interrupted about an hour after it had begun.

Parent Air France-KLM said it planned to take legal action over "aggravated violence" carried out against its managers.

The main airline industry union FNAM also condemned the attack on Mr Broseta, calling it “outdated behaviour”.

Air France later confirmed the details of the “Plan B” it had been outlining in the interrupted meeting.

By 2017 it plans to cut 2,900 jobs and shed aircraft from its long-haul fleet by retiring some Airbus aircraft early and cancelling orders for new Boeing planes.

Air France-KLM has 19 Boeing 787-9 and six 787-10 jets on order. Industry sources said Boeing would be keen to keep the order on its books, possibly by agreeing to defer delivery.

The job cuts include 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots. The long-haul business would be reduced by 10 per cent, with the fleet down by 14 aircraft to 93 and with the closure of five of its most heavily loss-making routes, mainly those serving Asia and the Middle East.

Air France has never recently fired workers outright, relying on attrition and early retirement packages to reduce the payroll by 9,000 over three years. The last time it sought to dismiss staff, in 1993, weeks of walkouts cost the job of chief executive Bernard Attali.

Air France-KLM faces tough competition.

Like Europe’s other big flag carriers, such as British Airways owner IAG and Germany’s Lufthansa, it has been squeezed between low-cost competition inside Europe and fast-expanding long-haul airlines in the Gulf, as well as Turkish Airlines.

Turkish Airlines is set to become the largest carrier on routes to and from Europe by the end of this year, ahead of British Airways, aircraft financiers gathered in Prague were told on Monday. Dubai’s Emirates would be in third place.

The data treats Air France and KLM separately.

Lufthansa, which is also battling with union opposition to cost-cutting, has managed to push forward plans for a revamped low-cost unit, Eurowings.