'Thousands' of UK passengers await flights out of Spain

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Thousands of Britons remain stranded in Spain despite air traffic controllers there ending a wildcat strike.

Up to 20,000 UK passengers are thought to have been affected by the unofficial walk-out which led to flights in and out of the country being cancelled.

Ryanair, Easyjet and Iberia have scrapped all Spanish flights until Sunday, but British Airways has reinstated its schedule.

Passengers are being advised to contact their airline before travelling.

Flights to and from Spain were cancelled at a number of London airports including a total of 70 at Gatwick, 42 at Stansted, and 22 at Heathrow.

Easyjet has since said it has put up 6,000 passengers in hotels - of which around half are thought to be Britons.

The airline added it planned to operate a full programme on Sunday as well as 13 additional "rescue flights" to bring stranded passengers home.

Earlier, the Spanish government declared a "state of alarm" and threatened workers with prison terms after they called in sick en masse.

'No warning'

The Spanish military was ordered to fill the gap left by the walkout as the government shut down eight airports, including Madrid.

Four airports in the Canary Islands were also shut as well as airports in Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Menorca.

Spanish air traffic control agency Aena confirmed airspace had reopened on Saturday afternoon. Around a third of staff are thought to have returned to work.

WHAT DO I DO?

  • If you are stranded in Spain your airline is obliged to provide you with food and accommodation or reimburse you for the cost of it
  • If you are due to travel to Spain speak to your tour operator
  • If your tour operator offers you an alternative you are not happy with then you can just ask for a refund
  • The only people who stand to lose out financially are those who have booked flights and accommodation separately

Source: Abta

An Aena spokesman said strikers who walked out on Friday had returned in sufficient numbers to make it safe for planes to leave.

Travel association Abta said thousands of British passengers were stuck despite it being a fairly quiet time of year.

"There have been widespread cancellations. Customers due to travel out today need to keep in contact with their airline or tour operator," spokesman Sean Tipton said.

He said customers yet to travel to Spain would be given the option to rebook their flights or offered a refund.

Tour operators were making efforts to reschedule flights for those on package holidays, he added.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the industrial action had been unexpected.

"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," he said.

Passenger, Keith Beevor, from Penrith in Cumbria has been stranded at Alicante since last Thursday.

He told the BBC: "We have no idea how long we will be waiting for."

He said he and his wife checked into the Alicante airport on Thursday evening but were later told to take their bags and check into a hotel.

He returned to the airport on Friday but has still not got on a plane.

He said: "People are quite calm at the moment. But things might change if it's a long time before we can get away."

Paul Wileman, who has been working on a telecommunications contract for the last nine months, was due to fly back to the UK from Madrid.

He said: "I was actually sitting on the plane ready to push back when the captain announced there would be no flights in or out. Obviously the plane was full of passengers, some with their young children.

"We waited for over an hour before the flight was cancelled. There was no accommodation left in Madrid, and we have no idea when we can get out.

"Fortunately, a family member back home booked a hotel room for me so I am fine."

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice on Spain and a spokesman said anyone planning to travel there this weekend should check with their airline before travelling to the airport.

The walk-out came after Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero approved a plans to partially privatise airports, which followed an existing dispute about working hours.

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