Barcelona airport crisis worsens as security staff plan 24-hour strike | World news

After two weeks of chaos, Barcelona airport faces a worsening situation as security staff begin a continuous 24-hour strike.

The private security workers have been staging go-slows and rolling one-hour strikes since late July and on Sunday voted for a second time to reject the company’s offer, paving the way for 24-hour strike action. The workers voted by 150 to 36 to reject the offer and to go ahead with the planned industrial action.

Spain’s minister for infrastructure, Íñigo de la Serna, said on Sunday that this was the strikers’ “last chance” and that he would send in Guardia Civil officers to ensure that the airport continued to function if they voted to walk out.

De la Serna said he had no option but to send in the police because the strike action “not only affects passengers and the country’s image, as well as being a problem for Catalonia and Barcelona, but also security and public order”.

After the vote to strike, De la Serna said that he had asked the court of arbitration to rule that the security staff have an obligation to work because they provide an essential service.

Leopoldo García Quinteiro, the lawyer representing the strike committee, said the minister’s threats were disproportionate. Puri Infante, a member of the committee, said: “This could have been settled sooner, but now De la Serna wants to break the strike, which is a constitutional right.”

Waits of up to three hours have led to more than 1,000 passengers missing their flights over the past two weeks. Travellers have been arriving several hours early for fear of missing their planes, compounding the problem.

On Thursday, security staff voted to reject the company’s offer and instead voted in favour of one that wasn’t on the table. They complain that in addition to being poorly paid (€800-€1,100 a month/£731-£1014), understaffing means they often have to work 16-hour days.

They are demanding an increase of 15 monthly payments of €250, paid over a 12-month period, while the company is offering 12 payments of €200, which workers have again rejected.

The regional Catalan government, which has been trying broker a deal, has now pulled out. “We tried to bring them together,” said Dolors Bassa, the local employment minister. “Now it’s up to the employers and the workers to negotiate.”

From next Sunday, strike action is expected to spread to airports in A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of the country.

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Air travellers in Europe delayed by security checks and strikes | World news

Soaring temperatures, new security checks and the resumption of industrial action at one of Europe’s busiest airports are challenging passengers on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Travellers in many cities were taking heed of advice to arrive early on Saturday in order to allow extra time to pass through security following the introduction in March of European Union regulations in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks.

The new rules demand both entry and exit checks on passengers from countries – including Britain – outside the 26-nation border-free Schengen zone.

Delays have been particularly bad at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, where passengers missed flights on Friday as security workers checking carry-on luggage began partial strikes at the beginning of one of Spain’s peak summer holiday weekends.

There were no strikes on Saturday, but passengers were still reporting long waits. Luke Hansell, who was travelling to Birmingham with his mother, said they had been prompted by news reports to arrive four hours before their morning flight.

He said: “The queue for security was around 90 minutes to pass. It was functioning but seemed like there wasn’t many staff. There were far more manning the security at Birmingham airport for example.”

His experience of passport control was better than expected though, with little sign that the new checks were causing staff to take longer when checking documentation.

Robert Emerson, another passenger, said the airport was a mess, with many disgruntled passengers and few or no staff. He had barely reached the departure gate before a 10.30am boarding time following his arrival shortly after 8am, and the aircraft was then left sitting on the runway for an hour due to overbooking, with no passengers willing to get off.

After the failure of mediation on Friday evening, the series of hour-long strikes by staff who operate scanners, search passengers and control the queues at the airport will resume on Sunday. Others are scheduled for Monday, Friday and next Sunday.

A spokesperson for the travel trade organisation, Abta, said its members on the ground had yet to report travellers being adversely impacted by the new security checks, but it was still advising travellers to leave extra time when departing from Schengen countries.

“People should also bear in mind that this is a particularly busy weekend and we have record numbers of Britons who are out in Europe at the moment,” she said. “People do need to factor in time. If they are concerned, then they should speak to their airlines. Certain ones will open check-ins three hours before but at some airports they will only open them two hours beforehand, for example.”

In the UK, the Home Office announced that the process of filling in a landing card before arriving in the country will be scrapped for more than 16 million non-EU travellers.

The paper-based system was described as outdated by officials and will be replaced with a digital system. It is hoped the new process will help speed passengers through airports upon arrival while ensuring that security and immigration checks continue to be performed.

Non-European travellers have been required to fill out a landing card with basic information about themselves and their travel since 1971, a process which costs £3.6m a year.

This weekend also marks the start of three weeks of disruption on Britain’s railway network. Major stations in London, as well as services in Wales and in the north of England, are due to be affected by engineering work.

An £800m revamp to increase the capacity of Britain’s busiest station, Waterloo in London, is already under way and will result in fewer trains running from this weekend until 28 August. Services in south Wales and in England’s north-west and Midlands are also expected to feel the impact of engineering works this month.

Thick cloud and thunderstorms also led to long flight delays at London’s Gatwick airport on Saturday. A spokesperson said that a departure restriction had been put in place for a short time during the afternoon, which had a knock-on impact. Passengers told of being stuck on planes waiting to take off for up to two hours.

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Heatwaves and airport queues make for holiday season from hell | Travel

August has seen holiday dreams turn into nightmares across much of Europe by a combination of a heatwave so bad it has been named after the devil, protests against tourists, and airports transformed into overcrowded traps.

High temperatures have claimed lives in Italy and Romania, and across the continent there has been a rise in hospital admissions, concern about wildfires and a threat of water and power shortages.

From Kiev to Rome, people were spotted jumping into public fountains to beat the heat, even defying new fines in the Italian capital in a bid to cool off. Across the country hospital admissions have leapt 15% and at least three people have died as a result of extreme weather, leading Italians to brand the hot spell Lucifero. Authorities in several countries have brought in temporary restrictions on working hours and traffic as the mercury climbed above 40C, and people have been urged to stay inside and avoid alcohol. In Belgrade, a public health institute said householders without air conditioning should put wet towels over their windows.

The heat is so intense that it buckled train tracks in Serbia, adding to travel chaos, and largely alpine Slovenia reported its first “tropical night”, with temperatures that never dipped below 20C even at 1,500 metres above sea level.

The misery was intensified by chaos at several airports, particularly Barcelona’s, where a combination of stronger EU border controls and a strike left both Spaniards and tourists queuing for hours. Some travellers waited so long they missed their flights.

And in a further blow to tourism, some disgruntled locals in regions where holidaymakers are an economic mainstay have turned against an industry they say now brings more harm than good to their communities. “Tourism-phobia: the worst message at the worst time,” Spain’s El Mundo said in an editorial.

Only weeks after thousands of Venetians took to the streets for a peaceful demonstration against mass tourism, activists in Spain launched a more violent protest. Anti-tourism group Arran vandalised tourist bikes and a bus in Barcelona, slashing tyres and daubing slogans on the bus windows. In Palma de Mallorca, members of the same group burst into restaurants and boarded boats in the harbour with flares, carrying banners saying “tourism is killing Mallorca”. There have also been protests in Valencia, and one has been called in the Basque city of San Sebastián.

The Spanish tourism minister, Álvaro Nadal, has warned against “tourism-phobia”, saying that Spain “can’t allow itself to be perceived as a country that is hostile to tourists”. After a decade of misery, the country’s economy has finally returned to pre-crisis size, and an attack on tourism threatens one of the most lucrative strands of its income.

Europe had already been hit by drought and an extended July heat wave, contributing to wildfires in Portugal that killed 60. The return of high temperatures has stirred memories of Europe’s disastrous summer of 2003, when intense heat caused 15,000 extra deaths.

At least four deaths have been linked to the heat wave so far: two pensioners killed in wildfires in Italy and two Romanians who died from heat-related conditions. And the economic impact will last long after the heat fades, with olive oil production in Italy expected to be down by nearly a third, and vineyards also affected.

Researchers warned however that last week’s misery may become routine, with a report in speciality journal the Lancet Planetary Health warning that by the end of the century heat waves in Europe could cause 50 times more deaths than at present. There could be as many as 151,500 “heat-related fatalities” each year, compared with an average of 2,700 annually in the 30 years to 2010.

Adding to the misery of sweltering locals and visitors, airports were struggling to cope with high numbers of travellers and new security rules on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Changes made in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks demand more checks on passengers from countries outside the 26-nation Schengen border-free zone, which includes the UK. Many airports have struggled to cope, and in Barcelona’s main hub a strike has exacerbated travellers’ misery.

Despite heeding advice to arrive early, several passengers said they nearly missed their flights. Luke Hansell, flying to Birmingham with his mother, said he arrived four hours early after reading warnings in news reports, then spent 90 minutes in the security queue.

After the failure of mediation, more hour-long strikes by the staff who operate scanners, search passengers and control the queues at the airport resume on Sunday. Others are scheduled for Monday, Friday and next Sunday.

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Passengers facing hours in queues at some European airports | World news

British passengers flying to and from continental Europe for their summer holidays face the prospect of “devastating” delays because of tougher Schengen area border controls, Europe’s largest airline lobby group has warned.

Aage Duenhaupt, a spokesman for A4E, which represents airlines including BA’s owner, International Airlines Group, Ryanair and easyJet, said thousands of flights had already been delayed because of tighter checks at some EU airports.

Duenhaupt warned that this coming weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for departures from UK airports, there could be delays of up to two hours, with 200,000 passengers arriving in and departing from Mallorca, for example.

“Unless Spanish border control puts in place an emergency plan to avoid queues and help passengers to get through faster, there will be a lot of devastating delays for passengers,” he said.

“It’s a crazy situation. When arriving, at least delayed passengers don’t miss their flights, but when returning, you need to queue up again and could miss your flight. You need to make sure you are on time at the gate.”

However, airlines and tour operators suggested the problems were not widespread, and delays were not always due to immigration issues. Thomas Cook said the border control changes had briefly affected flights in Mallorca in May, when the tour operator briefly brought forward the times for its transfers.

IAG, which also owns Iberia and Vueling, said none of its airlines had delayed flights because of the issue, while Monarch said it was “monitoring the situation” and Ryanair said operations were “running as normal” – although the airline is asking passengers to check in three hours before takeoff.

An easyJet spokesman said: “Like all other European airlines, easyJet wants European governments to take necessary measures to reduce unnecessary passenger disruption.”

The intermittent delays follow the introduction in March of new EU regulations in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks. The new rules demand both entry and exit checks on passengers from countries – including Britain – outside the 26-nation Schengen border-free zone.

Passengers’ details are checked against several databases – such as the Schengen information system and Interpol’s record of stolen and lost travel documents.

Member states are not obliged to check every non-Schengen passport until October, when regulation EU 2017/458 comes into full force, but several airports are already doing so and others are carrying out spot checks on selected flights.

Reports from passengers suggest the delays are not universal and depend on the airport, the time of day and the number of border control staff on duty.

“I’ve flown through Lyon airport several times in July and the time to get through customs and security etc has been no different from normal,” one traveller commented on the Guardian website.

Another said they had experienced long lines at Palma but “the carrier had advised us by text the day before to get there early and the delay was probably 30 minutes maximum”. Others said Amsterdam could be “pretty horrific” and reported a one-hour wait at Bergerac in France.

A4E said in a statement that the problems had been caused “because EU border controls are significantly understaffed to comply with tightened immigration checks”, adding that some passengers had missed flights as a result.

It said it had called on the European commission and member states to find a “swift solution” to the problem, citing “shameful pictures” of long queues in airports such as Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris-Orly, Milan and Brussels.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Palma in Mallorca and Paris-Orly airport have been particularly affected. “In Paris it has been a disaster in recent weeks,” Duenhaupt said. “UK passengers in Palma have also been complaining and some have seen three- to four-hour delays in Amsterdam.”

A spokesman for Aena, a Spanish state-owned company that runs 46 airports, including Palma, said passport borders were the responsibility of the national police corps, with which it was working to introduce the new checks.

He said the police had increased the number of employees working at airports, while Aena had provided more equipment at the facilities, with extra staff to inform and assist passengers before going through passport control.

The spokesman said Palma de Mallorca airport had hired seven extra staff at arrivals and three for departures. He said it had also opened two more counters in departures, bringing the total to five, and one more at arrivals, bring the total to three.

Aéroports de Paris plans to install 87 automatic passport reading machines at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports but has been held up by delays at the interior ministry which has yet to approve facial recognition.

Last month Marc Rochet, the president of Air Caraïbes, lambasted Orly-Sud for the waiting time at passport control, saying delays had exceeded 60 minutes every day since mid-June, causing “numerous public order problems” with angry passengers.

“In this summer period with heavy traffic, the situation has reached a critical level … with 320 hours of delays [at passport control] for international flights leaving Orly airport’s southern terminal,” Rochet said, adding that passenger frustrations had led to “near riot” situations.

PNC Contact, a French forum for airline stewards, said the situation at Orly was “from another era” or reminiscent of “queues in Soviet shops during the height of communism”. France “shows a very negative face as soon as tourists get off their plane”, it said in a report.

The interior ministry said 100 more border control staff would be on duty at both the French capital’s main airports, with new passport verification systems expected to “significantly reduce delays” from the end of July.

Passengers have aired their grievances over passport control queues on Twitter from destinations across Europe. “Schiphol, is this the norm at your international airport?? Random blocks halfway to the baggage hall?” tweeted one user.

One passenger, Andy Bryant, reported:

Andy Bryant

Huge slow snaking queues to get thru passport control before flying from @lyonaeroports. Never seen it this bad. Leave min 2 hours.

July 22, 2017

While the ITV news journalist and presenter Alastair Stewart wrote:

Alastair Stewart

Toulouse airport: definitely not ‘Jeux sans frontieres’ – more ‘Frontieres sans jeux’… bonkers queues at passport control…

July 23, 2017

A spokeswoman for the travel agency and tour operator association Abta said: “New, stricter passport checks are resulting in longer queues at some airports, including Palma, which is already busy due to a significant increase in passenger numbers.

“Tour operators will ensure that customers get to the airport in plenty of time. However, independent travellers will need to check with their airlines and, where necessary, ensure they factor these longer queuing times into their travel plans when flying in and out of the airport.”

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Balearic Islands plead for alcohol ban on flights | World news

Authorities in the Balearic Islands, home to the party resorts of Ibiza and Mallorca, have asked Spain and the European Union to ban alcohol on flights and in airports as they battle “anti-social tourism”.

The plea comes after recent, much-publicised reports of drunken brawls or alcohol-fuelled sexual antics on flights to an archipelago that attracts millions of visitors every year – with many flocking to resorts notorious for their sex and booze excess.

“We ask the central government and the European commission to ban the consumption of alcoholic drinks on flights and in airports,” said Pilar Carbonell, in charge of tourism for the local government of the Balearic Islands.

In a statement, she said authorities were asking that these measures be taken “to guarantee security … and tackle anti-social tourism.”

The statement did not say if the local authorities were asking for alcohol to be banned on all EU flights, or only those going to the Balearic Islands.

“The aim of the measure is to improve passenger security and also that of security forces in planes and airports in our islands, who are often faced with drunk passengers,” it said.

The Balearic Islands have long been a magnet for visitors looking for sun and fun on a cheap budget, but some of its resorts have now become notorious for drink and drug binges which have at times proved deadly.

But tourists sometimes get the party started before they even get to the resorts, while still on the plane.

In May, Spain’s Guardia Civil police force had to board a Ryanair flight in Palma to drag away three drunk men who had brawled all the way from Manchester in the UK, according to the Manchester Evening News.

The newspaper published a video of the police agents marching on to the plane to applause from the rest of the passengers.

Other flights have had to be diverted because of rowdy passengers.

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