Long lunches, long holidays, and myriad trades unions were all part of the steep learning curve facing Canadian Ben Smith when he took the helm of Air France-KLM in 2018, the affable 48-year-old told the Anglo-American Press Association.

And he had to work hard on his French, he said during a wide-ranging discussion held in the offices of Bloomberg near the Paris Opera on Friday 17 January, as a lengthy strike in France against pension reform was slowly fizzling out.

When Smith became the airline’s CEO, a pilots’ strike had just cost the company €335 million. But during the latest anti-reform work stoppages nationwide, not a single Air France flight was cancelled due to a strike by airline staff, although some were affected by air traffic control industrial action, he noted.
Greta Thunberg, greenhouse gas emissions and how to lower them, labour deals, the troubled Boeing 737 Max, Airbus, Transavia, and the €120 million Air France spends to finance its comité d’entreprise, were among the many topics touched upon in the meeting with the AAPA