Thousands of people remained stranded Saturday at this northeastern city’s international airport following a wildcat strike by ground staff of Spanish flagship airline Iberia, according to EFE news wire. The job action was staged Friday by hundreds of Iberia employees, who suspended billing services and occupied a runway to protest the decision by the Spanish Airports and Air Navigation (AENA) authority to withdraw the airline’s license to manage passenger baggage handling services at El Prat airport.
On Tuesday, Iberia was granted most of the licenses for these operations at Spanish airports, but the airline lost the one it previously held for the service at the Barcelona airport, the country’s second largest in terms of air traffic.
According to union officials, representatives of the striking employees on Saturday reached a preliminary agreement with Iberia and AENA whereby the airline and its affiliates will conduct their own baggage handling service.
Iberia, however, has told passengers that resumption of normal service at El Prat will be a difficult task given the volume of air traffic that was suspended by the strike.
Disruption of flight operations affected some 100,000 passengers on 550 cancelled flights Friday, the first day of summer vacations for many and one of the busiest travel days of the year. The job action caused unprecedented chaos at El Prat, with thousands of stranded travelers forced to sleep overnight at the airport, many on the floor.
Hundreds of passengers who remained at the airport with the hope that they would be able to board their flights Saturday were forced to suffer through another day of long lines and waiting.
Authorities, meanwhile, came down harshly on the protesters Saturday.
Speaking at El Prat, Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said the government would hold accountable “all those whose conduct has not been legally admissible,” both “from the perspective of public order” and because the workers “are obligated to provide their services under contract.”
AENA officials, for their part, told EFE that, between midnight and 2:00 p.m. Saturday, 77 out of a total of 526 flights scheduled to arrive at and depart El Prat had been cancelled.
Medical personnel attended to several passengers who suffered from anxiety or fainting spells, while the Red Cross was distributing free sandwiches and water to those stranded.
Responding to the criticism, a labor representative said Saturday that “we didn’t stage the protest to hurt anyone, just to defend our jobs.”