PARIS (AP) — Air France officials sat down for talks with striking pilots Thursday, hoping to break a deadlock that has become a public relations disaster for France ahead of the World Cup.
Several hundred striking pilots, their arms crossed and dressed in full uniform, stood outside the airline’s Paris headquarters as officials arrived for the session, which was expected to continue well into the night.
The pilots have been off work for four days, and are prepared to strike for at least 11 more — coinciding with the start of the June 10-July 12 soccer championship, which is expected to attract an estimated 1 million visitors.
With the opening games just six days away, France faced widening labor disputes.
Few members of the public showed sympathy for the pilots, whose average salary of $160,000 a year makes them among the world’s highest-paid pilots. They are striking to protest a company plan to give them stock in exchange for $83 million in pay cuts.
Despite the strike, Air France, the World Cup’s official carrier, has guaranteed transport for the 32 nations taking part.
Air France said 17 percent of its usual long-distance flights took off Thursday, along with 30 percent of its short and medium-distance routes from Charles de Gaulle Airport and 40 percent from Orly.
The carrier, which managed to report a profit in the last two years, says it is losing $16.7 million a day during the strike.