Baggage 'chaos' at Spain's airports as unions threaten more strikes

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Baggage 'chaos' at Spain's airports as unions threaten more strikes
Thousands of bags piled up around Spanish airports over the weekend. Photo: MARIO TAMA/Getty Images via AFP.

The final day of strike action by ground service staff begins on Monday, and though delays haven't been as bad as first feared, several airports around Spain have suffered 'baggage chaos' as flights left behind thousands of pieces of luggage.


Monday 8th January sees the final day of four days of strike action by Iberia Airport Services staff that has caused 'baggage chaos' at several Spanish airports over the weekend.

The walk-outs, which were strategically called to coincide with Spain's Christmas 'Reyes' weekend for maximum impact, were called by Spanish trade from Friday January 5th until today, Monday January 8th.

The strikes have caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights and affected more than 45,600 passengers, yet over the weekend it emerged that the real impact of the industrial action has not been cancellations or delays, something Iberia maintains has been kept to a minimum, but rather that thousands of suitcases have piled up around Spanish airports as flights have been forced to depart without their bags.

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

Throughout the weekend, Iberia claims that its punctuality rate has stayed above 75 percent.

The real problem for passengers has been with luggage, something described as 'chaos' in the Spanish press.

This is because the Iberia ground staff on strike 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 several other airlines.

On Saturday and Sunday, the problems with processing and loading luggage were particularly bad at airports in Bilbao, Barcelona and Gran Canaria.


Spanish Union CCOO's air sector boss in the Canary Islands, Antonio Sánchez Santana, said on Sunday morning that at Gran Canaria Airport there were between "3,500 and 4,000 suitcases'' backed up at the airport.

Sánchez Santana added that "there are no major delays, but flights are taking off without baggage."

"We are working with minimum services that we consider abusive, so luggage is taking a long time to be taken to the planes, to be loaded and stowed. However, the planes could leave with the luggage loaded, but Iberia, once again, prioritises punctuality rather than the well-being of passengers," he said.

Trade union sources told Spanish press agency EFE that there were "delays of more than two hours and luggage chaos" at Bilbao airport over the weekend.

The dispute started because Iberia, unions claim, refuses to create a "self-handling" service (ground services provided by the company itself) at airports where it failed to win a public tender for services called by Aena, the Spanish airport operator.


Unions claim the outsourcing of former Iberia workers to new operators will be detrimental to their working conditions and rights. Around 8,000 staff employed by Iberia Airport Services subsidiary would be affected. These employees work across 29 airports in Spain, including the busiest ones, such as Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia and Málaga.

Last minute negotiations between Iberia and unions to avert the walk-outs broke down, meaning the strike went ahead, and unions have already said they will call further strike action if Iberia does not take action.

On Sunday morning, the head of the UGT air sector, Chema Pérez, and his CCOO counterpart, Paloma Gallardo, told EFE that "if there is no movement on the part of the company, we will call a new strike."

Iberia responded in a press release: “In response to the unions' threat to carry out new ground services stoppages in the coming days, Iberia reiterates that strike action is not the solution," the company stated.

"The only way to find a solution that does not harm passengers or workers is through dialogue."


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