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.
French staff in the Franco-Dutch company complain their colleagues from the Netherlands are money-grubbing, while the Dutch regard the Air France staff as aloof, according to the report.
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.
Such is the state of relations, according to the 100-page report, compiled by unions acting for staff within the group, that there are fears for the company’s future.
“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.
The embarrassing insight into the company emerged after a French and a Dutch researcher spoke to nearly 50 managers at the airline, which was formed 13 years ago through the merger of its constituent airlines.
“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.”
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. Air France staff accuse KLM managers of thinking that they are more professional and “super cool”, the report leaked to a Dutch broadcaster says.
KLM managers, on the other hand, think that their French colleagues only worry about keeping jobs at Air France. The Dutch managers don’t trust the French economy, and see Air France as a “time bomb”.
The airline group’s chief executive, Jean-Marc Janaillac, said in response to the leaked report: “There is a common interest and the will to find solutions in the interests of the Air France-KLM group and the airlines concerned.”
Air France-KLM had a difficult 2016, but it has recently claimed that its sales are recovering from the collapse in travel that followed terrorist attacks on cities including Paris and Nice.
Air France-KLM said: “The conclusion of this study identifies cultural differences and different visions leading sometimes to difficulties but also a common interest and the desire to find solutions in the interest of Air France-KLM group and each airline. During the coming period, we will see within Air France, KLM and Air France-KLM how we can learn together and bring about improvements wherever necessary.”