France

Do French ATC Unions Strike Too Much?

On one of my past flights to France, I was impacted by a strike with the French Air traffic controllers. In my case, I was fairly minimally impacted, but it was enough to cause frustration, and had it been a later flight I might have missed my bus to my hotel. So when exactly does going on strike go to far?



While the reasons that strikes first came to pass are very well defined and were definitely something that was needed at that time, the French Air Traffic Controllers have taken things to a new level. As of March, the French ATC Unions had gone on strike a total of 42 times since 2009. Those number start to run into a range that is out of the realm of justifiable. Striking that often means that ATC employees walk away more than once every 2 months!

Strikes or industrial actions have started to be used for all manner of things outside of pay complaints. In March, ATC employees went on strike to speak out against the lack of employees coming into new ATC positions. This makes little sense as the world has begun to deal with a massive shortage of incoming ATC employees.  Going on strike doesn't seem like it does anything except financially impact airlines, passengers and all manner of things dependent on travel. Industrial actions in these cases don't really bring in new employees, it just causes problems and animosity. 

The deeper issue is that many people started retiring all at once. In the US this was a direct result of baby boomers entering retirement age. In France, the situation is likely similar. The solution needs to focus on encouraging people to enter this field of work, not anger travelers and airlines. These are the people that are needed for these positions, interrupting their travel plans isn't going to win any points with incoming recruits.

Maybe the overall problem is that industrial actions have become the way to deal with every problem. "Don't like this, then go on strike", and rarely is that a good solution. Strikes have a away of severely impacting more people than intended. As people, we need to take up grievances with those who cause them, but there is a world around us we need to consider. Strikes have their place in the world, but France is riding the line of the boy who cried wolf. Strike over every little thing and everyone stops taking it seriously.

Destination: Aix En Provence, France



Three to four times a year, I make a work pilgrimage to Southern France. Located in the hills south of the alps is where we are building a new plant. Almost every time that we make this trip, the preferred place to stay during our time in France is the town of Aix-En-Provence, well known for the landscapes and focal point for many impressionist painters.

Today Aix En Provence is the known as the judiciary city of this area of Southern France, as well as a major arts town for college bound students. Aix forms an interesting mix of a fairly young population, old architecture, and a travel destination for many foreign travelers. Since I do spend a lot of time in Aix, I've gotten to know it fairly well over the past few years.

If you goal is to purely visit Aix, then you'll want to get there by one of two methods. France's high speed train system, the TGV, stops about 10-15 minutes outside of the city at the Aix TGV Station. Your other option is to make use of the Marseille Airport, which is my preferred option. Both the airport and the TGV station are serviced by the same bus. Extra buses run to the TGV station, but you can easily grab a bus from the airport every 30 minutes. If you plan to visit more than just Aix, you may want to rent a car. In this case, I suggest going to the airport where rental cars are available.

Once arriving in Aix by bus or other means, you'll want to get settled in. The city boasts many options for lodging. Personally my preferred place to stay is the Renaissance Hotel, this is pretty much the only major hotel chain located in the center of the city. Other options exist outside the city for major chains, but are rarely have easy access to downtown where most people would like to explore. If you don't mind giving up your hotel points, there are some small boutique hotels to try.

I often stay at the Hotel Rotonde when my first option is too expensive. Hotel Rotonde is small, and wouldn't be a good option normally in my opinion. The problems start with cleaning staff who rarely are consistent on the way rooms are cleaned, or even if you get soap refilled. Secondly, and my most major grip, is that you are required to leave your room key with the front desk... though they ask for no identification when you return and ask for the key... this doesn't make me exactly feel safe about my belongings in the room. One the positive side, there is a breakfast setup every morning in the lobby.

If any of this doesn't sound appealing, there is another option in the Hotel des Augustines, which is a converted chapel. Personally I have not stayed here, but I will consider it on my next visit since the Rotonde has not been a good experience lately. Hotel des Augustines is a place many of my co-workers stay at and with the old stonework throughout the building, it is supposed to be a beautiful place to stay inside and out. 

Downtown Aix is beautiful, starting at the main roundabout at the center of the city. A huge fountain graces the center of the roundabout, while busy this fountain looks amazing during the winter when water is replaced by Christmas lights mimicking the flow of water.

Surrounding the fountain is a plethora of restaurants. The French are well known for their food, and with good reason, it is incredible. Almost any option is offered in this area. Explore the side streets and alleys here as they continue on like a labyrinth, continuing off in all directions, but still full of shops and restaurants. From hamburgers in crepes, to tapas, to pizza, just walk in any direction to find amazing food.

On the east side of the foutain is a street called Cours Mirabeau. During the evening hours, be sure to get there before 7pm though, the streets are lined with wooden booths where vendors sell anything from incredibly detailed chocolate, to Russian nesting dolls. This is where you can buy from local vendors, and some very unique items. Really this is the place to go at least one night to see all of the wares.

The 7pm thing has held very true over the many times I've visited. Now I tend to go around the winter, so I'm not sure if the longer days bring later hours, but almost every store is closed by 7pm. Grocery stores stay open a little later, but make sure you check the hours since these hours are nothing like what you would see in the United States. Restaurants are also open late as French dining is filled with conversation and often stretches more than 2 hours.

Aix promises an experience for any visitng southern France. Alps to the north, museums in the city, old arcitechture and amazing back street alleys. If you are thinking about southern France, make Aix a stop on the trip, or even the place you come back to every night. 

Gearing Up For France

Roughly one week out from my first trip of the year and it will be quickly followed by a trip to Argentina, and then shortly after, some time in Hawaii. Being that we are only one week away from my work trip and my first time back in the seat with Delta. Feelings about Delta are oddly mixed right now.

Up until this point, experiences with Delta have been less than impressive. When living in Kansas, there were a number of trips with Delta, and every single one of them ended with Delta losing my luggage on my return trip… every single trip, no exaggeration here. Needless to say, the idea of returning to them for any reason, is not something I embrace with open arms… they did even manage to steal a company laptop out of my luggage once too and refused to take responsibility for it. You might be getting an idea now of why I dislike their company so much.

On the other hand, that was a different time, when I actually checked luggage. Likely some of my good experiences with US Airways and American have come from the fact that by not checking my luggage, there is little chance of losing it outside of things that are my own fault. Food is another point that has received good reviews in the past few years regarding Delta. In flight meals have received much higher praise on the Delta side than on American. Being that I’ve requested the vegan meal, we’ll see how well Delta does on this front. Vegan meals out of PHL have been awful… not to mention not vegan at all. Here’s to hoping that meal service out of EWR is far superior to service out of PHL. We shall see how that pans out.

Seating is another point of concern for me. Delta is not a company I have elite status with, and my travels over the past few years have always taken my status into account so that even when flying in economy, I’m able to choose the best seats for my long legs, not to mention their tendency to get painful when immobile for long periods of time (past surgery has caused this issue). So when I see the option to upgrade to Comfort + for $100, It’s a bit tempting. While on one hand it’s an international flight, so getting alcohol is standard… also, I don’t drink. What are the other advantages to their Premium Economy seating? Uhhhh… leg room seems to be about it. Seems a bit weird in my opinion, Delta sells this like a Premium Economy seat, but American’s announcement of Premium Economy shows far better advantages to the seat. Better service, and food for one… yet Delta doesn’t seem to have better food. Do I go with it or not, seeing as I will get no return for the upgrade?

Not sure yet, I’m in two places, first is that I really don’t want to spend money on something I’d get for free on American because of my status. Second is that my company won’t reimburse me for the upgrade so this is a loss for me… but it gains me space and comfort and that might just be worth it. We’ll see what is decided in the next week. Either way, look forward to a review in the near future.

The 2016 Flight Plan

It's barely 2016, and already my flight schedule is filling up quickly. For the first time, I have flights booked on 6 different airlines this year, likely to add a 7th in the next few weeks. So what are these airlines?

France:

  • Delta
  • Air France

Argentina:

  • United
  • Turkish Airlines
  • American

Hawaii

  • Alaska Airlines

The last and probably most exiting for me is the one I'm trying to pin down right now for the end of the year - Emirates

France

A lot has happened in the last few weeks with regards to flights in 2016. My work trip to France has taken a bit of a course change that is going to fairly significantly impact how I qualify for Platinum Status this year on American Airlines. My company decided to book me on Delta in place of American Airlines who usually takes me to France. This was a bit of a frustration for me as I have status with American and One World airlines. Delta is like starting from scratch. I do not have status with Delta and cannot properly choose the seats with the leg room I want/need. 

This was not something I was happy about for many reasons. First, I lose elite qualifying miles on American Airlines, which are important for hitting my goal of 50,000 flight miles that allow me to renew my Platinum Status. Second is the fact that I live in Philadelphia, American flies from Philly, Delta flies from Newark... this is a huge problem with getting to and from the airport, requiring an additional 1.5 hours of driving on both ends of the flight. Third is the inability to chose seats that fit my not so up to par knee which has had surgery in the past and subsequently can become painful in a standard economy seat. Forth, flying Delta requires tight connections in France and Amsterdam. Really the only up side here is contributing miles to my mile bank.

Argentina

I've spoken about this trip in the past, my first major award flight. United is flying me from PHL to IAH to GRU. Turkish Airlines picks up the final leg to EZE. All of that is business class on a 787-8 and a 777-300ER. A few days spent in Buenos Aires at an SPG hotel. On the way back, I pick up a flight on American in a 777-200 first class. Look for the review in the middle of February.

Hawaii

This was just booked a week or so ago when I was able to nail down a half priced room in Hawaii. Alaska Airlines is being flown because I have a $99 companion fare from my Alaska Airlines credit card. This is a $900 fare for $160 after taxes, an amazing deal if you ask me. This is a great chance to explore a state I have not yet added to my list of visited places. Cannot wait for this trip.

Cape Town/Dubai

This one is a long way off, but one I think is close to being nailed down for at least one direction. The leg leaving Cape Town, South Africa is very close to being booked. The plan right now is to leave Cape Town and jump to Johannesburg where I catch a flight to Dubai in business class on Emirates. In Dubai, I'll take advantage of Alaska Airlines stopover to stay in Dubai a few days before continuing to Dallas in First Class in the amazing A380-800 product... yep it has an in flight shower. This is the most exciting leg for me.

Getting to Cape Town is yet to be figured out, but I am excited to see what I can pull off there as well.

 

To all of my readers, Happy 2016, get out there an visit the world!