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Thousands left stranded after Spanish airline collapses

An estimated 22,000 passengers were left in the lurch when Spanair announced a sudden shutdown on Friday.

Passengers wait at a Spanair desk at Barcelona airport yesterday
Passengers wait at a Spanair desk at Barcelona airport yesterday
Image: Manu Fernandez/AP/Press Association Images

SPANISH AIRLINE SPANAIR has ceased its operations without warning, leaving an estimated 22,000 passengers in the lurch after they booked seats on flights this weekend that now will not operate.

Spain’s government has launched legal action against the now-defunct airline Spanair for allegedly violating the country’s aviation regulations by suddenly ceasing operations, a minister said yesterday.

Around 500 people were due to fly into Dublin on Spanair flights this weekend, RTÉ reports.

Passengers who had booked seats on more than 220 cancelled flights have been left looking for alternative arrangements and instructions on how to seek reimbursements. Spanair, owned by a consortium based in the northeastern region of Catalonia, shut down its operations late on Friday because of a lack of funding.

The legal proceedings begun by Spain’s government could lead to Spanair being fined €9 million for two “serious infringements” of aviation security legislation, Development Minister Ana Pastor said. The alleged infractions related to obligations linked to continued service and passenger protection.

Chairman Ferran Soriano said the airline had failed to attract inward investment and consequently the regional government of northeastern Catalonia took the decision to stop providing funds. Spanair, whose hub was Barcelona airport, employed around 2,000 people and used the services of about 1,200 ground staff.

Spanair’s financial woes were exacerbated by a 2008 crash that killed 154 people. Eighteen people survived what was Spain’s worst aviation disaster in 25 years. The airline, which also ran a commuter service between Madrid and Barcelona, was in trouble financially before Spanair Flight JK5022 – an MD-82 jet – crashed on takeoff on August 20, 2008 as it tried to leave Madrid bound for the Canary Islands.

In 2010 Spanair, which was Spain’s No 4 airline, reported an operating loss of €115 million and had survived thanks to finance provided by the Catalan government and some private investors.

The Catalan government cited the “current economic climate” and “European legislation concerning competition” as the major factors influencing its decision.

In Brussels, the European Low Fares Airline Association said those of its members flying overlapping routes with Spanair would offer specially discounted fares to enable stranded passengers to return home. Offers are subject to seat availability, said the organisation of budget airlines – which includes Ryanair.

The association’s secretary-general, John Hanlon, said in a statement the aim was to assist Spanair passengers who were experiencing difficulties with travel plans. National carrier Iberia Spanish Airlines SA said it had also offered to help.

- Additional reporting by Michael Freeman

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