BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — European airlines caution that ongoing air traffic controller strikes in France may lead to additional travel disruptions for passengers this year. French air traffic controllers have joined a series of union-led strikes this month to protest President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reforms.

The strikes have created a ripple effect throughout Europe, as air traffic controllers manage flights within their airspace and oversee takeoffs and landings at French airports. On Wednesday, EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren shared that the airline has been severely impacted, with UK flights often traversing French airspace to reach other European destinations.

Lundgren explained that although they try to mitigate the effects of the strikes, it is difficult due to the short notice often provided, sometimes as little as 24 hours. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary commented that summer 2023 would likely be better than 2022, when staff shortages resulted in an unprecedented number of delays and cancellations. However, he acknowledged the ongoing challenge airlines face due to the strikes, describing the situation as a "scandal."

European skies are already congested due to the closure of Russian and Ukrainian airspace. In January, Eurocontrol, the EU's air traffic management organization, warned of significant pressure as airlines approached pre-pandemic flight schedules. O'Leary expects strikes to persist into April, affecting the Easter travel season. He disclosed that Ryanair had to cancel 60 flights scheduled for both Wednesday and Thursday at short notice. Additionally, Europe's largest low-cost airline canceled 230 flights over the past weekend.

The French civil aviation authority, DGAC, indicated that domestic and regional flight schedules are more likely to experience disruptions than long-haul flights due to the increased complexity of rescheduling the latter. The authority also noted a lack of visibility into upcoming strike actions, as unions only need to provide brief notice before initiating strikes.

DGAC requested airlines to cancel more flights during the weekend, including 25% of those scheduled at Paris-Orly on Sunday. Ryanair has urged the European Commission to implement minimum service rules to prioritize flights over France during labor disputes.

An EU official stated that the commission is monitoring the strikes closely as it balances the proper functioning of its internal market with workers' right to strike. The official added that the commission is addressing several complaints filed against France regarding this issue.

Lundgren expressed hope that the strikes would diminish if Macron's government successfully implements its reforms by mid-April as planned. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr revealed that his airline faced similar challenges, including a one-day strike in Germany last week.

Heathrow Airport security staff are scheduled to commence a 10-day walkout on Friday, prompting British Airways to cancel approximately 300 flights. These warnings arise as airlines gear up for the peak summer season, anticipated to be the busiest since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

The industry is under pressure to enhance operations following last summer's chaotic scenes due to staff shortages. All three CEOs, speaking at the Airlines4Europe conference in Brussels, confirmed their readiness to address these challenges. Lufthansa's Spohr emphasized the need to prevent a few bad days from tarnishing the industry's reputation.