A warning from Air France-KLM

Sometimes blog posts just write themselves:

A clash of national cultures and an inability to understand each other’s languages threatens to make the merged Air France-KLM group of airlines unmanageable, according to a leaked internal company report.

Surely not!

“The French have the impression that the Dutch think only of money and are always ready to fight for profit. They are not afraid of anything,” the researchers reported.

“The Dutch think that the French are attached to a hierarchy and political interests which are not necessarily the same as the interests of the company … The extent to which employees are disillusioned is shocking. People are pessimistic, frustrated and burnt out because they feel that this is not listened to.”

But this is consistent with crude national stereotypes! How can it be true?

Okay, a little more serious now:

Air France managers are also said to feel that they look more at what is best for the whole company, while KLM managers only worry about what is good for KLM.


KLM managers, on the other hand, think that their French colleagues only worry about keeping jobs at Air France.

So each party thinks the other is looking out for themselves? It being a near-certainty that this is the case, my only questions are how many top managers are surprised by this and when are they being fired?

Among the petty grievances, there is irritation that a KLM employee working in Paris is charged €10 for lunch in the canteen, while an Air France colleague pays only €4.

The reason for this is French companies are obliged to provide their employees with a subsidised canteen (or lunch vouchers), but secondees and visitors don’t get the subsidy and have to pay full price. We have the same issue in my office when people are seconded from outside, and it’s actually more serious than it sounds.

Some years ago I had an Australian boss who was a very smart chap, particularly so considering he was a Queenslander (I think he might read this blog occasionally). He was also a very good boss, partly because having come up through the ranks himself, he knew that small niggles can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s happiness way out of proportion to the actual problem. If left unchecked, seemingly minor issues cause all sorts of discontent in a department which results in a bad atmosphere and reduced productivity. If your staff are spending half the day bitching about free coffee being stopped, you’re better off just reinstating it.

A decent manager like this Aussie would have spotted immediately that the unequal canteen charges would create a rift in the organisation which would cost the company a lot more than €30 per person per week. He would have been on the phone sharpish to get approval to reimburse the Dutch, and if that were refused he’d run a little wheeze to do so anyway. Managers like this are like hen’s teeth in a modern corporation, and seemingly absent altogether from Air France-KLM.

The Dutch managers don’t trust the French economy, and see Air France as a “time bomb”.

“One questions whether the alliance can survive given the long-standing mutual incomprehension between the Dutch and French camps within the group,” one researcher was quoted as writing.

If two airlines cannot merge without divisions opening up along national lines amid a clash of cultures and widespread mistrust, one wonders how much truth there is in the EU’s claim that all 27 members unanimously agreed on the Brexit negotiation strategy in under 15 minutes. I think the whole Brexit negotiation process will put the unity between the member states under considerable strain, and I’m expecting to see plenty of leaked memos full of similar sentiments to those in the Air France-KLM report.


9 thoughts on “A warning from Air France-KLM

  1. The seconded person however presumably gets a generous and tax free per diem. But Yes, minor unfairnesses, even imagined ones, create the biggest problems.

  2. Both Shell and Unilever seemingly learnt to rub along. I suppose Air France wouldn’t deem such examples relevant.

  3. On the subject of cultural differences, I recommend a fascinating book “The London Observer” written by the US military attache in London during the first couple of years of The War. For example he’s impressed that in meetings of British officers the junior people present are allowed to speak and argue, and their points are considered. His experience in the US Army was quite the opposite. There the job of the junior chaps in a meeting is either to say nowt or say “Yes, Sir”. He’s fascinated that the British use NCOs to fly aircraft while the Yanks insist that only officers may. And so on. Note how the stereotypes that would be favoured by Americans were, in his view, demonstrably wrong.


  4. I agree I don’t think both cultures are suited to each other and nor can I see the Dutch sucking up to the French sooks. They should just forget the arrangement now, the Dutch are more suited to collaborating under German orders and that suits the Germans as well. Plenty of track record with some crack Waffen SS Squads and now their only airborne regiment surrendering its sovereignty over to German rule.

    Apparently the current collaborators are not much chop compared to their predecessors, laying down their arms and standing by and allowing the men that they were sent to protect being marched off to their certain death in Srebrenica. They say that the Dutch military has been affected by too many gays and untested troops these days. The French probably like that side of them as well but the Dutch couldn’t physically report to a French poodle, their pride would not allow this.

  5. Private enterprise KLM merged with State owned Air France – is any further explanation required?

  6. Bardon, maybe I miss the point but what does Srebrenica have to do with this? And gays in the army? Are you French and just trying to sugarcoat the appalling performance of Air France? Or have the Dutch done something terribly wrong to you personally?

  7. I was using the example of the only Dutch airborne regiment surrendering to German rule as an example of the rightful order of things and also to shoot down any notion that any self respecting Dutchman could suck up to a Frenchman. There may be a touch of irony here on the airborne surrender for any of the older surviving Dutchmen that remember the last armed mob that were jumping out of aircraft above them but its probably lost on the current cohort.

    As for Srebrenica, I was making an observation as to the operational fitness of the collaborating Dutch airborne regiment in comparison to the two war time tough as fuck Waffen SS Dutch collaborator divisions, the Benelux ones were effective as well. The Dutch UN military forces (including their airborne regiment) in Srebrencia were lucky not to be tried for cowardice for laying down their arms and allowing their opponents to march the men that they were sent to protect of to their certain deaths, weak as piss in my books, never to be trusted again. Most of this weakness and cowardice in the current Dutch forces is due to the high proportion of gays and females in their ranks, the other problem is young male greenhands.

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