This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

As of Thursday, the flag carrier of France has a new, non-French CEO – a situation French trade unions find “inconceivable.”

The Air France board of directors appointed Canadian Benjamin Smith, the current COO of Air Canada, as the beleaguered airline’s latest CEO Thursday with the full support of the French State, which owns a 14.3% stake. Smith’s mission, now that he’s chosen to accept it, will be to revitalize Air France’s executive structure and leadership out of its current slump – no easy feat for the inaugural foreign head in Air France’s 85-year history.

The carrier’s fate has gone into a tailspin in recent months following a series of recent employee strikes beginning in early February, which strongly influenced previous CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac’s resignation in May. Employee unions were unsatisfied with Janaillac’s negotiation proposal of a 7% wage increase over four years, beginning with a 2% increase in 2018. The continued strikes cost Air France around $359 million in lost revenue, led shares to drop by one-third of their value since January, and left millions of travelers stranded and frustrated with the carrier’s operations.

Smith, who has been credited with helping Air Canada expand its international reach to more than 200 destinations, also has previous negotiation experience with pilot and flight attendant unions, which led to long-term labor deals. But the writing may already be on the wall for Smith even before the official transfer of duties takes place, as French unions have been vociferous in their public dissent over the choice of leadership.

“Other countries and governments show fierce protectionism when it comes to their airlines. How … could we allow Air France to fall into foreign hands?” nine out of ten unions said in a joint statement released Thursday. The president of French pilot union SNPL, Philippe Evain, disparaged Smith’s “limited knowledge.”

“We don’t understand why they couldn’t find a competent French person,” Evain said in a public interview. “We know that there were completely competent people who were sidelined from the selection process.”

Current plans have Smith commencing his new role by September 30 at the latest; in the meantime, airline leadership will still fall to Anne-Marie Couderc, non-executive Chairman of the Air France-KLM and Air France Boards, in conjunction with the three-member interim management committee established in May after Janaillac left office. The board will announce restructuring plans as soon as they are finalized.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

Know before you go.

News and deals straight to your inbox every day.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.