Monday, December 06, 2010   Zilhajj 29, 1431 A.H.    ISSN 1563-9479
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Desperate passengers clog Spanish airports
 Monday, December 06, 2010 
 MADRID: Hundreds of thousands of passengers packed Spain’s airports on Sunday as flights resumed after the military forced air traffic controllers to end a 24-hour wildcat strike under threat of jail.
The strike hit an estimated 300,000 passengers on a long holiday weekend, whipping up the most chaotic scenes since an Icelandic volcano erupted in April and halted 100,000 flights worldwide.
Controllers had called in sick en masse on Friday, rapidly shutting down the nation’s airspace.
The government then declared a state of alert for the first time since the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, putting controllers under military command with the threat of jail terms for refusing orders.
Public Works Minister Jose Blanco said 97 per cent of controllers who were scheduled to work on Sunday had turned up and 162,000 passengers had been able to fly since the nation’s airspace reopened on Saturday.
‘We are re-establishing normality bit by bit and now it is time to do justice,’ he told a news conference before adding that airport operator AENA had opened disciplinary proceedings against 442 controllers.
Traffic controllers told the press that troops forced them to work ‘at gunpoint’ in Palma de Mallorca control tower, but there was little sympathy for the staff who earn an average 200,000 euros a year.
The state of alert will last 15 days and the government is ready to extend it if needed, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.
‘The government is absolutely determined this will not happen again,’ the minister said, warning that Madrid had the powers to stop the strikers over Christmas and afterwards, and it would not hesitate to use them.
A total 4,000 flights were scheduled, said AENA, but many people gave up long weekend plans. Monday and Wednesday are days off and many Spaniards take Tuesday off too so as to have a five-day break.
Newspapers ran photos of military trucks parked outside the main airports and personnel distributed yellow army blankets to passengers forced to spend the night on the floor.
Dozens slept in the corners of Madrid-Barajas airport on Sunday, some lying on cardboard, others using bags as pillows. Long lines formed at check-in counters and customer service desks, all merging into a crowd.

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