Expat Magazine

Anomalies of French Life: Transport Strikes During the Holidays

By Sedulia @Sedulia

The airport of Lyons is closed. Planes are taking off from Paris CDG three hours late. Lines at the security checkpoints are madhouses.

It must be Christmas in France! 

This year and last year, it was the agents de sécurité, subcontractors hired by Brink's complaining that salaries are higher in Marseilles than in Paris. Another year, it might be Air France, or as threatened this year, by the cheminots of the SNCF or French national trains, who have issued as many as 400 strike threats a year, almost always during holidays and school vacations.

But their technique is always the same. Make the crowds of travelers suffer to put pressure on their bosses to give in.

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The French are extraordinarily tolerant of this misery. Maybe they're just used to it, or can put off their travel more easily. Not so the foreigners taken hostage by this craziness that they have nothing to do with.

In the early 1990s, I knew a foreigner in Paris who loved France so much that he got his company's board to consider moving their headquarters there. The day the men arrived, there was a huge transport strike and the roads to Paris CDG were blocked by demonstrators. The board members had to drag their suitcases all the way to the autoroute to get a taxi. Needless to say, the headquarters went elsewhere.

Yesterday I spent five hours at CDG in lines and waiting on the plane for the missing passengers still in line. The lines were very well managed and the crowds for the most part civilized although you can always count on a few obnoxious people pushing their way to the front, harangued by the Americans and Brits. Passengers were called forward in the order their flights left, but there was still an advantage to getting to the airport very, very early. 

Once I was on the Air France plane, it was a haven of calm. The flight attendants were kind and attentive, the food was good, the entertainment system excellent. On Air France, your first glass of champagne is free and they still hand out pillows, blankets, eye masks and earplugs even in economy. I fell asleep in my comfortable seat with its supportive headrests and slept all the way to the U.S. It was a good example of the two sides of French life. 

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