04 August 2016

Dealing with the French Strikes

As I mentioned in this blog earlier, I was in France recently for a conference. I have to say that it wasn't the smoothest trip I have done. Mostly because there were strikes all over the place, and so even though one would want one's trip to be planned and wrinkle-free, sometimes that isn't the case.

See, when I booked my flight, I already had the premonition that it would be strike season. After all, my trip was in June, and strikes typically happen during the summer. So I preemptively avoided booking my flights with Air France. I booked on Air Berlin instead. And sure enough, on the day I was supposed to travel and fly from Berlin to Paris, Air France was on strike.

So I flew from Berlin Tegel Airport to Paris Orly Airport. Guess what? There was another French strike that affected us. The French air traffic controllers were also on strike. So we were slightly delayed, and had to wait at the tarmac in Berlin for more than half an hour before we received clearance to proceed. After all, there were less people controlling French airspace, so the aircraft that needed to get inside French airspace had to wait.

So I got into Paris Orly. I had to take the suburban rail to get from the airport to Paris Saint Lazare Station. The easiest way would be to take the Orlyval (a driverless train linking Orly Airport with Antony Station on the RER B), followed by the RER. Of course, SNCF (the French Railways) were on strike too, so the RER was super crowded. I finally reach Saint Lazare Station after standing all the way in a cramp sardine of a train, for about half an hour.

I didn't buy my train ticket to Caen in advance, after all, I didn't know what time I would get into Paris from the airport, and I didn't know if I would be able to catch a train previously bought or not. So I just bought a ticket at the station. The next train to Caen was not until three hours later (usually there's one every hour). So I just waited it out at the station.

While I was waiting in the station, there were people, workers, members of the CGT union, protesting, making loud noises. I suppose this is the reason why my train was not running.

Anyway, I reached Caen, finally. It wasn't the smoothest ride, and days before, I kept following the French news, reading the French media, following whether the strikes would escalate or calm down. There was a part of me that even wanted to cancel the trip, though I kept weighing my options, since there were aspects of that trip that were already paid and cannot be reimbursed. In the end, I went. But I wouldn't mind not having the stress that accompanied it.

The thing is, sometimes I wonder whether strikes are productive at all. While I have nothing against strikes (I do believe that workers have the right to protest), sometimes I think that in France strikes happen before negotiations, instead of going to strike when the negotiations break down. Correct me if I'm wrong, but sometimes the image an outsider gets is that France just loves her drama.

Oh well, I came and went, and while there were a few delays, and a few surprises, overall the trip was fantastic.

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