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News & Advice

Simon Calder: Spanish airport strikes Q&A


Millions of British holidaymakers heading for Spain in spring and summer could have their holiday plans disrupted by a series of strikes by airport workers. Ground staff at Spanish airports are planning industrial action starting in April and continuing into the summer season. What are the likely effects if you are planning a holiday?

Q. Who’s planning to strike – and why are they unhappy?

Workers from maintenance staff to airport firefighters who work for Aena, the state airport authority. They are protesting against the government’s plans to sell off the airports, fearing it could hit their jobs. And they’re probably right: at present they enjoy relatively benign conditions. If their workplaces were sold off to big infrastructure companies, such as those who run most of Britain’s biggest airports, they would face demands for much higher productivity.

Q. What impact could strikes have?

The dates specified are 20, 21, 24, 25 and 30 April; 2, 14, 15, 19 and 20 May; 13, 23 and 30 June; 1, 2, 3, 4, 15 and 31 July; and 1, 15 and 31 August. At busy times, such as during Easter, over the Royal Wedding weekend, over the early summer half-term and in July and August, as many as 100,000 people a day could be expecting to fly to or from Spain. As a worst case, the big holiday airports such as Alicante, Malaga, Palma and across the Canary Islands could grind to a halt. There could also be repercussions for other travellers if planes and pilots are stranded out of position. However, the government in Madrid signalled last September – when air-traffic controllers walked out on a lightning strike – that it will take a hard line with any group of workers threatening to disrupt tourism, and of course the travel plans of Spanish people themselves. It is believed to be drafting plans to bring the military in to provide emergency cover.

Q. If you have a holiday booked – what are your rights?

Very few. At this stage all you can do is watch and wait to see what happens. No airline or tour operator will cancel flights at this stage, and anyone seeking to cancel their holiday could find they lose some or all of their money.

If your homebound flight is delayed because of a strike, the airline has a strict duty of care towards you: it must provide meals and accommodation as necessary until it can bring you home. If, however, you decide to find some other way home - for example because of work or family commitments - then the airline's only liability to you is to refund your fare.

Q. And if you haven’t yet booked?

Many will no doubt avoid Spain, not least because travel insurers may reject claims arising from strike-hit flights if you booked after the industrial action was announced. But with holiday companies having cut back on flights to Egypt and Tunisia after the political unrest, this could increase prices for destinations such as Cyprus and Malta.