Air France cancelled around 15 percent of flights Monday but claimed the upper hand in a dispute with striking cabin staff after two trade unions withdrew from the industrial action over reorganisation of staffing on certain routes.

The airline said in a statement it expected 90 percent of flights to go ahead Tuesday.

It forecast cancellation of just three long-haul flights, after scrapping four Monday. That was down from around 10 long-distance cancellations Saturday and Sunday, the first days of a protest that runs until Wednesday.

Air France press relations chief Jean-Charles Trehan said the decision by two small unions to quit the protest was good news. We're seeing the movement is petering out, he said.

However, four other unions that say they represent upwards of three-quarters of cabin staff stood their ground.

The government, which has a minority stake in the carrier, has criticised the unions for staging a strike during a busy holiday period, but advance warnings from the airline have limited the number of people getting stranded at airports.

To keep as many planes in the air as possible, the airline has limited short-haul flights to 100 passengers so that numbers of flight stewards respect safety norms.

That means many aircraft were running with empty seats while people were turned away.

Unions have called flight stewards to strike over five days until Wednesday. One of their main grievances is a plan to reduce staffing on long-haul trips.

Transport and Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet criticised the unions Sunday, noting that the sector was going through a rough period.

Air France is in a delicate position, she told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

Shares in Air France-KLM, which is due to publish financial results on November 9, took a hit this week when a media outlet said it was preparing to issue a profit warning.

Air France-KLM, Europe's largest airline when measured by revenue, was formed by the merger in 2004 of Air France and Dutch carrier KLM. The industrial action concerns only the French side of the operation.

Another major world airline, Australia's Qantas Airways , grounded its entire fleet Saturday and Sunday in a bitter labour dispute but started to resume operations on Monday.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Brian Love)