Airport walkouts threaten holiday chaos for millions
Millions of airline passengers face months of disruption after Spanish airport workers announced plans for a series of strikes.
The walkouts, starting in the run-up to Easter, would ground hundreds of flights and wreck the holiday plans of families hoping to grab some spring sunshine.
Twenty-two days of strikes are planned, starting on April 20 and continuing through May and June until the end of July.
The dispute involves 12,500 ground staff employed by Aena, the state-controlled airports authority, which has been earmarked for privatisation.
It threatens to shut down nearly every airport in the country, including those in the Canary Islands, a particularly popular destination at Easter.
While some airlines believe they could cope with a stoppage by baggage handlers, a strike by firemen would bring airports to a standstill.
Should air traffic controllers join the dispute, it would hit travel to countries reached through Spanish air space, such as Portugal and Morocco.
Any walkout would hit low-cost carriers particularly badly, Ryanair said it faced having to cancel 300 flights over Easter, hitting the holiday plans of 57,000 people.
Last year the Spanish government declared a state of emergency to head off a strike by its air traffic controllers. Pressure was mounting last night for similar action.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s outspoken chief executive, called on the Spanish government and the EU to block the stoppages.
“Europe’s airlines and passengers suffered at the hands of air traffic control throughout 2010 and now, ahead of yet another Spanish strike,” he said.
“Ryanair is calling on the EU to take action to prevent further strike action. Ryanair will not allow its passengers to be inconvenienced further by the selfish strike action by Aena workers.”
Rochelle Turner, the head of research for Which? Travel, pointed out that strikes did not even have to take place to cause disruption to holidaymakers.
“Just the threat of strikes is often enough to spoil people’s holidays,” she said. “People who have already booked worry that they might not get away, while people who have yet to do so think 'Is it worth it?’ and might end up not going at all.”
He added that Spain was expected to be particularly popular this year due to the disruption in the Middle East.
The strike threat follows a difficult 12 months for airline passengers, who have seen travel plans hit by industrial action, volcanic ash, snow and ice.
Last year, there was a series of strikes by air traffic controllers across Europe, with thousands of passengers being stranded by a walkout by air traffic staff in France in protest at plans to merge European air space.
In late September, there was further disruption caused by a walkout by Belgian air traffic controllers.