British Airways has cancelled at least 40 flights today because of the first French air-traffic control strike of the year.

The travel plans of tens of thousands of airline passengers this week have been wrecked as industrial action intensifies across Europe. British Airways has cancelled at least 40 flights today because of the first French air-traffic control strike of the year, plus a further six departures because of a week-long stoppage by some cabin crew.

A strike by staff at control centres in Brest and Bordeaux runs until Friday 10 March, with controllers at the south of France centre in Aix-en-Provence stopping work between Tuesday and Thursday. The air-traffic controllers are taking action over a range of issues, including rostering and pay. They say their counterparts in Germany earn much more for less work.

The French Civil Aviation Authority, the DGAC, has asked airlines to reduce their flight schedule in west and south-west France, affecting many services between the UK and the Iberian Peninsula. BA says it will be using larger aircraft, where possible, to help cope with cancellations. It is allowing any passenger booked to fly to or from any French airport, as well as Madrid and Barcelona, to reschedule their flight for the following week without penalty. The airline also warns: “There may also be some disruption on roads and public transport to/from airports on some days so customers should allow extra time for their journeys.

Air France has grounded many more services, mainly domestic flights to and from Paris Orly. Cancellations include 20 flights to and from Toulouse, 12 serving Brest and 10 to and from Bordeaux. Passengers heading further afield, including to Bilbao, Lisbon and Casablanca may also be affected. In addition, Air France is facing a strike by its own staff on Tuesday.

The UK’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, says it expects to cancel between 30 and 40 flights today, which will be mainly on French domestic services. Ryanair, which flies more passengers in Europe than any other airline, has not yet revealed its plans. But the airline’s marketing director, Kenny Jacobs, said: “We call on the French Government and European Commission to take immediate action to prevent thousands of European consumers from having their travel plans disrupted by a tiny group of ATC unions going on strike.”

The stoppage will cost airlines millions of pounds in lost revenue and extra costs. Passengers are not entitled to cash compensation for delays and cancellations. But airlines must provide meals and accommodation to disrupted travellers, and in the event of cancellations re-book them on the first available flight – even if it is operated by a rival carrier.