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Eoghan Corry: Spanish strike will ruin our holidays -- and our travel firms

Spain's air traffic controllers are about to pull the plug on our well-earned holiday getaway.

They are angry. Very, very angry, if the turnout is anything to go by. Out of the 2,000 air controllers, 92pc took part in the ballot. Of these, 98pc voted to strike.

But they are not as angry as we will be when we find out our lost holiday is not covered by insurance and the airline won't give us our money back.

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This will be a big one for us, much bigger than any strike action by an Irish union.

Spain is our favourite holiday destination. More than 1.4 million of us go there every year. And August is our biggest month. If they strike as planned on August 18, more people will be affected by the three-day stoppage than were affected by a month of uncertainty during the April ash cloud and its reprise in May. Each week in August 40,000 Irish people are heading off to Spain -- 10,000 of whom go to the Canaries, 8,000 each to the Belearics, Andalucia and Valencia and 6,000 to the rest. They don't have any sea-ferry alternatives.

Some airports might help those flying to northern Spanish resorts or Daurada, but it is a long journey from Carcassonne to Malaga if you want to travel by land.

If you've booked through a travel agent, you are covered. It is the travel agent's job to get you there and back. The charter planes that carry many of us at this time of the year will be rescheduled and new accommodation will be found.

Not so if you have booked the holiday yourself. Ryanair have posted a notice on their website assaying their passengers are not eligible for compensation if flights are cancelled due to the strikes: itemising what it WON'T stump up for.

"Political instability," it says, "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety problems" and (the sting in the tail) "strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier".

They are quoting the provision in EU legislation which has been used by airlines to avoid paying compensation for five years.

It has never been tested in law. So, unless you are prepared to go to the European Court, your chances of getting any money back look slim.

The chances of a deal between strikers and their bosses look even slimmer. The controllers have had their salaries, among the highest in Europe, cut by 40pc. Spain is facing into the sort of cost-cutting spree that we faced two years ago, so there is very little wriggle room.

This is unlike the French air traffic control strike, which is an ongoing affair and basically a dispute between different unions. It is also a departure from Spanish tradition which forbade strikes in key industries.

Staggering

What to do? If we move our flight it will be at the expense of our own money and time. Even in those few travel insurance policies which cover a time cancellation, the policy is null and void if you take it out for a period that the strike is expected. Even though we do not have a definite date for the strike, insurance policies will rule any bookings made since Monday out of order.

Travel agents and tour operators already staggering from the double hit of the recession and the ash cloud are also going to have to pay money out of their own resources to bail out holidaymakers hit by the strike.

For some of them, it could be the difference between survival and spinning out of control.


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