Holiday weekend starts on Madrid airport floor
Tens of thousands of passengers began a holiday weekend stranded by a wildcat air strike at Madrid airport Saturday, lounging on the floor in yellow army blankets instead of lying on the beach.
"Due to the Spanish air traffic controllers' illegal industrial action, all the flights will be cancelled until 10," said a strike update on an airport screen.
But the list of cancellations grew as airlines including Iberia, Air France, KLM, Thai Airways, called off all flights for the rest of the day.
"We got here at 5:00 am," sighed Isabel Pastor, 47, who had planned to depart to the Canary Islands with her husband, daughter and friends for a long weekend.
Monday and Wednesday are public holidays in Spain and many people will take off Tuesday too, giving themselves a five-day break.
"Our flight is not cancelled yet. But the travel agent told us to go home because there probably won't be a flight before 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm," Pastor said.
Others had planned longer trips.
Luis Garcia, 41, said he was trying in vain to get to Shanghai for a week-long car accessory show.
He drove from Asturias in western Spain to Madird when a domestic flight was cancelled but was unable to complete the next leg via Zurich. "Now I have missed the flight and the connection," he said.
About 100 passengers were waiting at the entry to the boarding gates, blocked to all passengers.
"I have got my boarding card," said Consuelo Sayd, 49, who had turned up at 5:00 am for a flight to Florence in Italy.
"Just before boarding they told us that the flight would leave at midday but now I am not sure of anything. There is no information so I am calling my family who are watching television."
Airport screens were not trustworthy in the morning, only showing one in three flights as cancelled even though Spanish air space at that time was still completely shut.
"I don't get it," said Sayd.
"The government took steps yesterday to militarise operations so today it should be working."
Most tourists denounced the strike.
"It is not right they should be demanding wage increases when there are so many people out of work, they are privileged," said 31-year-old Nouria Sanchez waiting for her flight to Tenerife to be officially cancelled so she could demand a refund.
Even if they had the right to strike, the methods were wrong, said her friend Felipe, 32.
"It is not a strike, it is a disgrace," he said.
Later Saturday most striking air traffic controllers turned up for their evening shifts, reopening all air space after the government declared a state of alert and warned of criminal prosecutions.
But by then most major airlines had aleady announced the cancellation of flights until Sunday.
© 2010 AFP