Britons warned to expect Spain flight strike delays

Tenerife airport Airlines and tour operators are legally obliged to provide assistance to stranded passengers

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Thousands of Britons are returning home from Spain after a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers but travellers are being warned to expect more delays.

Up to 20,000 UK passengers are thought to have been affected by the unofficial 24-hour walk-out from Friday. Flights to and from Spain were cancelled.

Ryanair and Easyjet have laid on extra services after cancelling hundreds of flights on Saturday.

Passengers are being advised to contact their airline before travelling.

Ryanair put on three extra flights from Lanzarote, Las Palmas and Tenerife to Stansted and Luton airports, allowing their passengers to transfer onto the flights free of charge.

Easyjet operated 14 "rescue flights" to collect stranded passengers but warned of delays.

Iberia, which had also cancelled flights, said services were "gradually resuming".

Workers return

The Spanish government declared a "state of alert" and threatened workers with prison terms after they called in sick en masse ahead of the weekend.

Staff walked out after the government approved a package of austerity measures - including a move to partially privatise airports and hand over management of Madrid and Barcelona airports to the private sector.

By lunchtime on Sunday, Spanish civil aviation agency Aena said all airports in the country were functioning normally. Of the 296 workers due to work, 286 reported for duty.

But it is estimated that more than 600,000 passengers faced disruption because of the strike.

Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) spokesman Sean Tipton said things were slowly returning to normal, adding: "If people are flying out today, and to some extent on Monday, they should be checking with their airline or tour operator.

"There is still a knock-on effect that could mean flights are delayed."

Paul Maher was one of the many British passengers affected and hoped to fly back to the UK on Sunday after a three-day delay in Barcelona.

He had been at a software conference and said he was the "last man in town" after his 10 colleagues made it back to the UK via France.

"I was due to fly out on Thursday but the weather at Heathrow stopped that from happening," he told the BBC. "I tried to get on flights on Friday and Saturday but obviously that didn't work out.

"I have two kids at home and I'd love to get home to see them. I'm also a small businessman and I'm totally out of pocket. I would like to know who is going to recompense me - is it British Airways or the Spanish air traffic controllers?

"The sense I'm getting is that people are incredibly frustrated here. They understand the importance of tourism to the economy. It turns out some of these people on strike earn 500,000 euros (£424,000) a year, which is more than the UK prime minister."

Destination optimism

Tim Jeans, managing director of Monarch Airlines, told the BBC the disruption had cost his airline many hundreds of thousands of pounds and that about 5,000 passengers were affected.

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

"Fortunately we managed to operate seven flights last evening so we've managed to get over 1,000 people back," he said.

"It's back to a normal day, so I'm optimistic that by close of play tomorrow we'll have everybody back where they should be: pretty much at the destinations they wanted to go also."

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

A total of 70 flights were cancelled in and out of Gatwick, 42 at Stansted, and 22 at Heathrow. Manchester suffered 10 cancellations, while 16 flights failed to leave Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

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

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