Iberia strike to ground 1,200 flights
Spanish airline expects 70,000 passengers to be affected by first strike.
Workers at loss-making Spanish flag carrier Iberia were set to begin a five-day strike at midnight today, grounding over 1,000 flights.
Staff, including baggage handlers, pilots and air stewards, will hold three five-day strikes in February and March to protest management plans to axe 3,807 jobs and cut salaries at the airline.
Iberia has cancelled 415 flights between this week, although a total of around 1,200 flights operated by various airlines will be grounded because of the lack of handling services at Spanish airports.
The airline said 70,000 passengers would be affected by the first strike and that it had placed some customers on different flights, including those operated by different airlines, while proposing refunds and alternative travel dates for others.
Iberia, which merged with profitable British Airways in 2011 to form the International Airlines Group, reported a loss of €262 million in the first nine months of 2012.
The first strike, from February 18 to February 22, coincides with school holidays in Britain, Spain's biggest source of tourists.
Transport minister Ana Pastor pleaded last week for the airline and labour unions to strike a deal, warning of the damage the strikes could do to the Spanish economy.
"We can't allow Spain to lose more than €10 million a day because that kind of hit is going affect all of us" Pastor said.
Tourism accounts for around 11 per cent of Spanish economic output and is one of the country's very few growth sectors in a prolonged recession that has pushed the unemployment rate above 26 per cent.
Spain's Transport Ministry has guaranteed skeleton services to cover the strike. Iberia said 90 per cent of long-haul flights would take off and domestic services would be worst affected, with almost half grounded this week.
Iberia workers will stage an 8-kilometre march round Madrid's Barajas airport this morning. Two further strikes are planned for March 4 to March 8 and March 18 to March 22.