Christmas Airport Strike –  Can the Timing Be Any Worse?

Traveling from Valencia this Christmas and New Year? Brace for an impending airport strike alongside the looming challenge of securing your refund.

In the middle of the festive season, the UGT and CC OO unions have called for an eight-day airport strike that would affect passenger ground handling services and planes. Thousands of travelers who have flights booked during these significant dates—the busiest period of the year for air travel—will be impacted by the airport strike. These are the main points of contention and how travelers will be impacted by them.

When does the airport strike begin?

There will be eight 24-hour airport strikes on December 29th, 30th, and 31st, as well as January 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The strikes have been called in by the 8,000 employees of Iberia Airport Services, the airline’s business that offers ground services such as passenger transfer, loading and luggage collection, and ramp services to planes.

What is the cause of the strike?

The battle began in September, following the conclusion of an Aena tender. Except for Madrid-Barajas, Iberia lost all of the large aerodromes where it was present for passenger business in this contract. Once the contracts are signed, other businesses such as Groundfource, Aviapartner, Menzies, and Swissport will supply the handling service in 2024.

As a result, and by law, the approximately 3,000 Iberia Airport Services employees who worked at those airports will be hired by the new concessionaires. The unions are concerned that this subrogation may result in the loss of labor and salary rights, and they have asked Iberia to keep them on the payroll, even if merely for auto-handling activities.

Which airlines and which airports are impacted by the airport strike?

The 29 national airports that currently receive service from Iberia Airport Services are impacted by the strike; these include the busiest airports, including Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona-El Prat, Palma de Mallorca, Málaga, Alicante, Gran Canaria, Tenerife North and South, Ibiza, Seville, Valencia, and Bilbao. 

Regarding the airlines, even though the Iberia subsidiary called for the airport strike, it affects many other airlines that it offers services to third parties at the aforementioned airports, including the majority of international companies, in addition to the flights operated by this company and those of the IAG group to which it belongs (Iberia, British Airways, Level, Vueling, Air Lingus, and Air Nostrum). 

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How many flights will be affected?

It won’t be known which particular flights would be affected until the ministerial order with the minimal services is published by the Ministry of Transportation. 

It is anticipated that flights covered by these minimum services will achieve a meaningful percentage, which may reach 100% in connections with the Canary and Balearic Islands and in foreign flights, as these are particularly significant days because of the volume of people engaged. lacking a substitute mode of transportation. 

This directive is currently being prepared by the department; however, it is not yet clear when it will be published.

What claims might affected travelers make?

In contrast to previous strikes, it’s unclear to whom the claim should be addressed this time. As per the report by the consulting firm Airhelp, travelers who are impacted by the airport strike would not be able to file a financial claim with the airline since Aena, the company that contracts the service with several organizations, is in charge of this service. 

In this way, the airline is released from its obligation to reimburse individuals impacted by delays or cancellations when they happen for causes outside of its control.

A version contrary to that maintained by the OCU and Aena itself, which state that affected passengers may request a refund of the ticket price (which must be made within seven days) as well as additional compensation depending on the distance and whether or not an alternative flight is offered from the airline (Iberia or those that subcontract the handling with it and are affected). 

This compensation is 250 euros (125 euros if the alternative trip does not take more than 2 hours); between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers (or flight within the EU of more than 1,500 kilometers: 400 euros (200 euros if the delay does not exceed 3 hours); and flight of 3,500 kilometers or more leaving outside the EU, 600 euros (300 euros if the delay does not exceed 4 hours).

However, regardless of the reason for the strike, all passengers will have the right to take alternate flight. If the customer declines this option, he may obtain a full refund of the ticket price. Furthermore, if additional expenses incurred as a result of the flight disruption, such as food, lodging, or those resulting from lost luggage, European standards require the company to cover these.

Is it possible that the airport strike will be called off?

Although the airport strike has officially been declared, there is still the possibility that the firm and the unions will reach an agreement through the Interconfederal Mediation and Arbitration Service (SIMA), whose necessary meeting has yet to be scheduled. 

This occurred with the previous airport strike at Aena airports on December 5 and 10, coinciding with the December long weekend, which was eventually called off by that mediation authority.

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