Angry Air France staff hit with pepper spray at pay protest

French riot police fired pepper spray at angry Air France employees who tried to storm a terminal at Paris' main airport Thursday amid a strike over pay that has grounded flights.

Hundreds of noisy Air France staff demonstrated at the French airlines' headquarters at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris' largest, brandishing flares, French tricolor flags and posters.

Around 50 staff protesters got past police to enter one of airport's terminals, where they marched and set off horns before leaving.

The protesters want the day-long strike to pressure management to increase employee salaries by 6 percent.

"We've been making an effort since 2011 and gotten a 30 percent rise in productivity and no increase in salary," said National Air France Group union chief Patrick Henry-Haye.

"Last year, our top managers raised their salaries by 67 percent. Us: zero percent," he said.

Air France said that half of its long-haul flights departing from Paris will not operate Thursday. A quarter of medium-haul flights are cancelled as well as 15 percent of its short-haul flights.

In a statement, Air France said it would be operating 75 percent of its total flights and would be "making every effort to minimize the inconvenience."

But it acknowledged that almost one third of its staff would be participating in the day's action.

Customers with a Thursday flight reservation have been encouraged to change their ticket "at no extra cost."

"Our goal is not at all to generate discomfort but unfortunately, today, it's impossible to even begin to engage in a dialogue with top management and our meetings are totally fruitless," said Eric Faliu, spokesman for the Cabin Crew union.

Thousands of passengers saw their travels plans disrupted, with many left waiting at Charles de Gaulle airport.

French national Yannick Dacosta-Neto, who was heading on vacation, had to take extra time off work to leave earlier after his flight was canceled.

An engaged pilot from Panama, Frias Bock, said he had been "greatly affected" as his wedding plans will be affected by the cancellation of his flight from Paris.