Under the Prime Minister’s authority, interministerial coordination was established immediately. In this framework, we worked continuously with the Ministries for Transport and Tourism, the Direction générale de l’Aviation civile [DGAC – French civil aviation directorate general] and main airlines serving France. We relayed the difficulties encountered by their customers to the tour operators who, in return, focused on getting home those of our compatriots in greatest difficulty.
Mobilized within hours of the grounding of air traffic, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs concentrated its efforts on two priorities:
1. Abroad: informing and supporting our compatriots at airports
Abroad, in embassies and consulates, priority was given to dealing with the French nationals in difficulty and providing them with information.
Our diplomatic posts opened crisis centres in the countries and cities where the situation was most critical (Turkey, Morocco, Cyprus, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and New Delhi in particular). Our embassies received several hundred calls and dozens of emails and had to identify the most urgent requests.
Concurrently and liaising closely with the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, embassies made huge efforts to urge the airlines to schedule extra flights and/or increase passenger numbers on their regular services. When necessary, our embassies sought and organized alternative ways of returning to France (including chartering buses for French people and negotiating with railway companies).
Our embassies were also actively involved in working with local authorities on getting visas extended and facilitating overflight and landing authorizations for the additional flights put on by the airlines.
Overall, embassies and consulates did their utmost to offer better facilities for our waiting compatriots. An airport presence was also ensured by many officials to assist French nationals in their dealings with the airlines, etc.
Finally, a total budget of €1 million was released so that embassies could give financial assistance to our most hard-up compatriots.
We should also pay tribute to the major efforts made by businesses, French voluntary organizations and French residents abroad who, liaising with embassies, established support mechanisms at the first signs of the air traffic disruption.
A few examples among many others illustrate the ways embassies and consulates mobilized:
Berlin, Tallinn – chartered buses;
New York – provided medical care and accommodation in the homes of the expatriate French community and the French lycée gymnasium;
Jeddah – distributed food vouchers to needy pilgrims and mobilized charities;
Seoul – organized accommodation in the French lycée, transport between the town and airport, and distribution of meals and snacks;
Cyprus – organized the return of over 500 compatriots by airlines.
2. In Paris: identifying the most serious individual cases, analysing the main sticking points and relaying requests
On 15 April, the crisis centre received 1,250 calls concerning nearly 100,000 stranded French nationals trying to get home and endeavoured to update in real time all the travel advice notices for the 30 or so most affected countries. It is still helping to resolve the last-remaining individual problems.
Thanks to all these efforts the number of our compatriots affected by the airspace closure fell from over 100,000 to under 1,000 in the space of a week.
The last-remaining crisis situation involves around 40 compatriots stranded in Nepal. This is being resolved and our compatriots are scheduled to return to Paris very shortly.
Throughout the crisis, priority has been given to identifying and supporting serious medical cases and the complex situation of groups of minors. Our embassies were instructed immediately to take care of those concerned. Thanks to the help of our embassies’ medical officers, consular services were mobilized to provide medical assistance when this proved necessary and to deal with medicine shortages. Priority return flights were negotiated with airlines and alternative solutions (buses and trains) used whenever necessary. Similarly, in specific cases, efforts were made to find accommodation and many school groups on foreign trips were accommodated in French structures abroad (particularly French lycées)./.