Historically Air France’s single biggest challenge has been with their labor groups.
Management and unions simply haven’t been able to see eye-to-eye, and various labor groups have collectively been on strike for months (and some of these strikes were even violent), costing the airline hundreds of millions of Euros.
This is just so dumb. No, not necessarily that the unions went on strike, but rather historically how stubborn and arrogant Air France’s management has been. They haven’t shown good faith, and they’d rather lose hundreds of millions of dollars through strikes than give in to some terms that would end up costing them significantly less.
It’s a new era for Air France
Times are changing at Air France, and I’d say the best thing imaginable happened to the airline last year, when Ben Smith was appointed CEO of Air France-KLM.
For those of you who don’t know who Ben is, he was the former President & COO at Air Canada, and in my opinion he did an outstanding job there.
He’s simply one of the most competent guys in the airline industry. He understands every aspect of the airline business, from product to planes to people, and that’s something that can’t be said for most executives in the airline industry.
He did a great job negotiating with unions at Air Canada, and I knew he’d do a brilliant job in his new role at Air France-KLM.
What Ben Smith has done so far
Just weeks after joining Air France-KLM, Ben successfully reached labor agreements with five of Air France’s seven labor unions. This represented 76% of the employees who voted in the last union elections.
The catch was that at the time management wasn’t yet able to negotiate anything with pilots, and historically relations between pilots and management have been most strained. I was confident Ben would be able to figure something out, but I figured it would take time.
On top of that, Ben decided to end Joon, Air France’s low cost carrier that was essentially trying to cut costs by hiring employees under cheaper contracts.
Ending Joon was a huge good-faith gesture on his part, since existing Joon flight attendants would be brought to Air France and would be paid more.
Air France has tentatively reached a pilot agreement
This is pretty incredible. It has just been announced that Air France management and the two unions representing pilots, SNPL and SPAF, have reached a tentative agreement.
The draft agreement proposes “changes in pilot remuneration and introduces the necessary flexibility on certain rules of use to support Air France’s strategy.”
The SNPL board voted in favor of a consultation with all pilots on this agreement, the results of which are scheduled for mid-February.
So while this isn’t finalized, this is incredible progress, if you ask me.
If this goes through, that means agreements will have been reached with all seven Air France unions. Under Ben’s leadership something will have been done in months that otherwise couldn’t be accomplished in years.
Both sides deserve a lot of credit here
I was confident Ben would be able to get something to work here, and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for this. He’s a completely different leader than anything Air France has ever had before.
I imagine rather than taking the approach of “these employees are ridiculous and I’m not going to negotiate with them,” he has instead taken the approach of “I love planes, you love planes, let’s work together to make this company as good as we can.”
That sounds obvious, but it’s all too rare to see that kind of leadership in the airline industry nowadays.
Similarly, I think Air France employees deserve credit for giving Ben the benefit of the doubt. When it was first announced he’d be the new CEO, there was a lot of outrage at the prospect of having a non-French person run the airline.
But they’re showing good faith here, and good on them for doing that. This will be in their best interest long term, because I don’t think the company has ever had a CEO as open-minded as him.
I’m genuinely so excited to see the transformation at Air France. For the most part I find airline CEOs to be so disappointing, whether it’s in regards to the passenger experience, the lack of motivation they provide employees, or how misplaced their priorities are.
I know Ben is one of the most competent people in the airline industry, so it’s really exciting to watch an airline that has so much potential transform under his leadership.