PARIS (AFP) - Half of Air France's long-haul flights out of Paris were cancelled on Thursday (Feb 22) due to a strike over pay by pilots, cabin crew and ground staff.
"No cash, no planes," staff chanted as they marched noisily through Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle airport, wearing flourescent jackets and waving union flags.
Riot police twice used tear gas outside the terminal but the demonstration by hundreds of staff was otherwise peaceful and had finished by mid-afternoon.
Managers estimated that 28 per cent of staff took part in the strike, allowing it to maintain 75 per cent of its service but only 50 per cent of long-haul flights out of Paris.
The airline had earlier advised travellers to postpone their trips until Feb 27 at no extra cost.
"Air France regrets this situation and is making every effort to minimise the inconvenience this strike action may cause to its customers," a statement said.
Salaries at Air France have been frozen since 2011, but the airline group reported an operating profit up 42 per cent at €1.49 billion (S$2.4 billion) for last year.
After years of job cuts and other cost-cutting measures the staff are demanding a six-percent pay increase.
Management has said that such an increase would be "irresponsible" at a time when it is attempting to lower its costs to compete with low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
It is offering a basic increase of 1 per cent and a top-up for ground staff.
"For years management have capped our salaries because of the crisis," said Stephane Perez, a member of the FO union. "Today they've made 1.5 billion euros in profits and are offering us just a one percent raise."
A dozen trade unions representing various categories of workers have dismissed the 1 per cent raise offer as "small change" and threatened more strikes.
The Air France-KLM group, Europe's second-biggest airline which is 17.6 per cent owned by the French state, has been plagued by strikes and labour disputes in its French operations in recent years.
Two French company executives had their shirts torn off in 2015 by workers protesting its plans to cut nearly 3,000 jobs.
Air France CEO Franck Terner said Wednesday that despite the improvement, the company's results still paled beside those of British Airways or Lufthansa.
Despite the strong operating profits, the Franco-Dutch group made net losses in 2017 of €274 million due to the costs of a new retirement deal with KLM pilots and cabin crew.
Terner called for a "realistic balance" between rewarding staff for past sacrifices and setting aside money for ongoing investment.