MONDAY JANUARY 8TH UPDATE: Baggage 'chaos' at Spain's airports as unions threaten more strikes
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.
FRIDAY JANUARY 5TH UPDATE: A four-day strike by airport ground service staff begins today, with possible disruptions for more than 90 airlines at 29 airports in Spain, over 400 flights cancelled and baggage handling up in the air.
READ MORE: Spain's airports start four-day strike as negotiations break down
However, according to a statement by Iberia early on Friday January 5th, 17 percent of Iberia Airport Services employees are taking part in the strike and therefore flights and baggage handling are operating "normally", with minimum services being met.
"The attendance of the scheduled staff amounts to 95 percent and there is no travel disruption related to the conflict," the airline stressed.
After postponing walk-outs when the government stepped in as an intermediary in negotiations, Spanish trade unions soon reinstated calls for strike action by Iberia workers over key January travel dates at airports across Spain.
Unions UGT and CCOO preferred not to wait for a calmer period of travel to resume its strike calls, as it is still technically Christmas in Spain until January 6th.
Though it is Iberia ground staff in dispute with the airline, those striking 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.
Iberia Airport Services operate at airports across Spain, which could therefore be affected by the stoppage, but the main focus of the strike will be Madrid’s Barajas airport.
Negotiations between Iberia and the unions broke down on Wednesday and Thursday, meaning the strike will finally go ahead, starting on January 5th.
There is another airport strike in the Spanish capital which was called with almost immediate effect on December 31st 2023 and which is ongoing as of January 2nd.
It involves ground movement controllers, who assist air traffic controllers at Spain’s biggest airport by coordinating the flow of aircraft and other vehicles on taxiways and runways.
When are the strike dates?
The Iberia Airport Services strike dates are January 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th.
The renewed stoppage coincides with the Three Kings celebration in Spain, which extends Christmas until those dates, meaning a very busy travel period across the country.
Therefore many flights (not just those cancelled by Iberia) which are scheduled to arrive or depart Spanish airports on Friday January 5th, Saturday 6th, Sunday 7th and Monday 8th could be affected.
The ground movement controllers' strike at Barajas began on Sunday December 31st and currently has no end date.
So far, there are no reports of delays or disruptions at Barajas due to these workers’ stoppage.
However, the strike by Iberia Airport Services paints a different picture as they work across 29 airports in Spain, including the busiest ones, such as Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia or Málaga. Delays and travel disruptions are expected but not necessarily flight cancellations.
According to the Spanish airlines' management team, Iberia Airport Services handles baggage and passenger transfers for more than 90 airlines.
How many Iberia flights have been cancelled?
Iberia has announced it will cancel a total of 444 flights operated by Iberia itself, Iberia Express and Air Nostrum as a result of the Iberia Airport Services strike. All the cancelled flights were scheduled to either land in or leave from Madrid.
These are both national and international flights, including to and from London Heathrow, Dusseldorf, Rome, Paris, Milan, Zurich, Venice or Lisbon.
Spain’s flagship airline has offered alternative flights or travel options to relocate the 45,641 affected passengers.
Customers with flights that are not directly affected by the strike can also change the date of travel or request a voucher instead.
If you want to find out which flights have been cancelled, you can check Iberia's list here.
On January 3rd, 91 percent of affected passengers had been presented with an alternative (81 percent opted for a new flight whilst 10 percent asked to be reimbursed).
What are the strikes about?
The ground service dispute first arose because Iberia, unions claim, will not create a "self-handling" service (ground services provided by the company itself) at airports where it recently lost a public tender for services called by Aena, the Spanish airport operator.
Unions fear that the outsourcing of former Iberia workers to new service operators will negatively impact their working conditions and rights. In total, around 8,000 staff employed at the Iberia Airport Services subsidiary would be affected.
As for the ground movement controller strike at Barajas, the cause is similar. UGT called the stoppage as these workers have reportedly seen their work conditions deteriorate since they became employees of a company called Skyway which won its tender by drastically cutting costs.
Will the strike actually take place?
Yes. A last-ditch meeting on Thursday January 4th, a day before the Iberia Airport Services strike is due to begin, failed to produce an agreement.
Unions and Iberia representatives also met on Wednesday in an attempt to reach an agreement, but neither side has budged on either day.
CCOO and UGT slammed Iberia, saying they "really don't want to carry out" a negotiation to solve the situation for their ground service staff, whilst the airline criticised the unions and its 'handling' employees for causing "enormous problems" to thousands of passengers by just calling the strike in the first place.
The fact that Spanish law guarantees minimum transport services during strikes and that Iberia has offered alternative flights to affected passengers with considerable time should mean less travel chaos than feared.
However, Iberia's corporate director Juan Cierco did say the strike would cause "very significant" disruption to thousands of travellers, warning that even if it was called off at the last minute, it would be impossible to reschedule the flights.
Madrid's Adolfo Suárez Barajas airport is likely to concentrate by far the majority of the strikes' travel disruptions.