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Spain's airports start four-day strike as negotiations break down

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
Spain's airports start four-day strike as negotiations break down
There is another strike at Barajas involving ground movement controllers, but it hasn't called problems to travellers. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

A four-day strike by airport ground service staff begins on Friday January 5th, with possible disruptions for more than 90 airlines at 29 airports in Spain, over 400 flights cancelled and doubts over baggage handling.

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Hundreds of flights (not just those cancelled by Iberia) which are scheduled to arrive or depart from Spanish airports on Friday January 5th, Saturday 6th, Sunday 7th and Monday 8th will be affected by the strike.

Those striking belong to Iberia Airport Services - the airline's subsidiary that provides ground services, including passenger transfer, loading and baggage collection and ramp services to planes - and which crucially handles ground services for 90 other airlines in Spain.

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These employees work across 29 airports in Spain, including the busiest ones, such as Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia and Málaga. 

It was believed that the main focus of the strike will be Madrid’s Barajas airport, as the 444 cancelled Iberia, Iberia Express and Air Nostrum flights were scheduled to either fly to or from the Spanish capital.

However, Barcelona, Málaga and Bilbao airports have so far experienced the majority of disruptions on January 5th, according to the Spanish press. Some flights have reportedly taken off without any baggage from these airports. Iberia is resolving the matter with domestic flights by loading passengers' luggage onto lorries which are then taken by road to the destination airports.

Around half of Iberia's cancelled flights are domestic ones, whilst the others are to or from European destinations like London Heathrow, Dusseldorf, Rome, Paris, Milan, Zurich, Venice or Lisbon.

Over 90 percent of the more than 45,000 affected passengers had already been offered alternative flights or opted for a reimbursement before the strike ban.

Iberia's Corporate Director Juan Cierco had previously warned the strike would cause "very significant" disruption to thousands of travellers, without specifying if he meant only Iberia passengers or the thousands more flying with other airlines that use Iberia Airport Services for baggage handling.

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However, according to a statement by Iberia early on Friday January 5th, 17 percent of Iberia Airport Services employees are taking part in the strike and therefore flights and baggage handling are operating "normally", with minimum services being met.

"The attendance of the scheduled staff amounts to 95 percent and there is no travel disruption related to the conflict," the airline stressed.

Unions have denied Iberia's optimistic claims. 

The stoppage coincides with the Three Kings celebration in Spain, which extends from Christmas until January 6th, meaning a very busy travel period across the country on those dates and after as people return home.

There is another strike at Barajas involving ground movement controllers, which was called with almost immediate effect on December 31st 2023 and which is ongoing, although there are no reports of it causing disruptions. 

Unions have called both strikes for practically the same reason - fears that the outsourcing of workers to new service operators will negatively impact their working conditions and rights.

CCOO and UGT unions met with Iberia representatives on Wednesday and Thursday, but on neither occasion were they able to reach a deal. The strike was initially scheduled to coincide with Christmas Eve and Day but was postponed at the last minute until the current dates. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Spain's January airport strikes

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