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Stranded Britons hoping to return

British tourists hit by travel woes caused by striking Spanish air traffic controllers are returning home, but have been warned of further delays caused by a backlog of flights.

Airlines including Ryanair and Easyjet laid on extra flights in a bid to get passengers back to the UK today after thousands were stranded in Spain.

The chaos began on Friday when the wildcat strike began in a row with the government over working conditions and pay. It eventually ended after the government stepped in by calling a state of alarm, threatening striking workers with prison terms.

It is thought about 20,000 British travellers in Spain were affected, with others stuck in the UK unable to take their flights as planned.

Spanish civil aviation agency Aena said all airports in the country are now functioning normally. Of 296 workers due to work today, 286 reported for duty. They estimated more than 600,000 passengers faced disruption because of the industrial action.

Ryanair put on three extra flights from Lanzarote, Las Palmas and Tenerife to Stansted and Luton airports, allowing their passengers to transfer on to the flights free of charge. Easyjet operated 14 "rescue flights" to collect stranded passengers but warned of delays, urging passengers to check their website for details.

Both had cancelled flights on Saturday, along with Iberia, who said they were "gradually resuming" their flights.

Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) spokesman Sean Tipton said: "Things are slowly returning to normal, but 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."

Professional cyclist Magnus Backstedt, who lives in south Wales, was one of those stranded. He took to Twitter to say he was making alternative travel plans today, telling followers: "Bus from Barcelona to Toulouse. Hope flights do leave from there. Roadtrip! All I want is to make it home for my little one's b-day on Mon."

The walk-out took place after Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his ministers approved a package of austerity measures - including a move to partially privatise airports and hand over management of the Madrid and Barcelona airports to the private sector.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Aena will investigate all air traffic controllers who failed to show up for work without due justification. A prosecutor is also determining whether they could be punished, and travellers are filing complaints.

It came in a week when passengers scheduled to fly in and out of British airports faced travel chaos as a result of the widespread snow that has hit the UK.