4 Dec 2010

Spain air traffic control strikes: thousands stranded

Wildcat strikes by Spanish air traffic controllers have disrupted the travel plans of 250,000 people across Europe. A UK businessman stranded in Menorca tells Channel 4 News he feels “very unlucky”.

Spain strikes: thousands of passengers stranded across Europe. (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of air passengers, many of them British, are stranded because of a massive walk-out by air traffic controllers in Spain.

Airlines EasyJet, Iberia and Ryanair cancelled all Spanish flights until Sunday morning and a state of emergency had to be declared by the Spanish government earlier because of the wildcat action. The disruption is beginning to ease as some flights take off but the disruption could last for days.

We had no advance warning of this action in Spain. Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary

The country’s airspace was taken over by the Spanish military on Saturday morning, with the government shutting down Madrid’s large hub and seven other airports.

EasyJet cancelled all flights to and from Spain, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Portugal and Morocco for the day.

A spokesman said: “It is likely that there will be further disruption into tomorrow. A further update will be issued later today regarding tomorrow’s schedule.”

Iberia and Ryanair also cancelled all Spanish flights. In a message posted on its website, Ryanair said: “Spanish Air Traffic Control walked off the job (Friday) evening…

“Ryanair has been forced to cancel all flights to and from all Spanish airports (including the Canary Islands) and all Portuguese airports.”

Only around 15 of 77 controllers scheduled to begin a shift at Madrid airport turned up for work earlier.

British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said that the industrial action had not been expected.

He said: “We had no advance warning of this action in Spain. Clearly the airports are in any case suffering from delays and disruption due to bad weather.”

'We feel very unlucky'
British businessman Graeme Barnett was delayed trying to travel back to London from Barcelona. He spoke to Channel 4 News from Menorca where he's currently stranded with colleagues.

"It all went wrong really when we discovered there were a lot of snow issues in London.

"Our flight was originally was due to leave Barcelona yesterday to London City Airport morning. That got cancelled. The only option for us to get back to anywhere in and around London was to route back via Menorca, which we did.

"We were then in a long queue at Menorca airport and you could just tell that something wasn't quite right when news reporters started to come in and through conversations in Spanish people started to get a bit agitated.

"We found out our (Monarch) flight had left the UK but had been turned round mid-air to leave us all stranded in Menorca. It was turned back when it was discovered that the Spanish air traffic controllers had gone on strike.

"Obviously Menorca is a relatively small island in the Balearics so there's not many international flights coming in or going out this time of year.

"We have a travel management company working for us but the problem is they don't even know when the strikes going to end. We've got a flight booked at the moment to take us back to London on Monday, which means we're going to be in Menorca for two days.

"All we can do is follow the news, online or on TV in the hotel. To be honest, there's not an awful lot we can do.

"We feel very unlucky. It was very unlucky for us to be one of the only flights that didn't make it out on Friday. For us to be re-routed to a relatively small destination like Menorca, and then face the strikes - I think we've had our share of unlucky events for the last few days."

Graeme Barnett is Exhibition Director for Reed Travel Exhibitions.