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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Airline collapse dents Swiss pride
By the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Geneva
A man sits on his suitcase, in the middle of Geneva`s airport lounge and looks around him sheepishly.
"I know I should have followed the news," he says. "But I didn't - and now I'm stuck here with a ticket for an airline I'm told doesn't exist anymore.
"If I'd known that Swissair was heading for the dogs, I'd have cancelled my ticket last week."
Most people do seem to know that Swissair has grounded all its flights.
Geneva airport, normally teeming with passengers catching connecting flights or flights to Europe, is practically deserted. Those who were expecting to catch a Swissair plane tonight have largely stayed at home, knowing that the company, which for 70 years was the symbol of class and quality, is now bankrupt.
On the runways and in the hangars, there are still planes which proudly bear the Swiss national flag on their tail. But the logo is redundant now and the planes are going nowhere.
A small trickle of people queue patiently at the Swissair desk.
"For the moment, I'm stuck" says one woman, fanning herself with a crumpled Swissair ticket.
"This might as well go in the bin. It's supposed to get me to Stockholm but its not even going to get me a refund. Swissair is bankrupt I've just been told; they can't compensate me."
The strain is beginning to show on the faces of the Swiss air staff. "Stop filming us," she shouts at a camera crew.
"Can't you see we've had enough?" The staff are unsure whether they will have jobs tomorrow.
Swissair has already announced that 2,560 jobs will be cut in light of its collapse, but there are estimates that up to 10,000 posts could be lost.
"I went to the check in desk really just to wish all the staff good luck in finding a new job," said a businessman trying to get back to London.
"It's inconvenient for me - I don't know where I'll be able to fly to in Britain at the moment or what time I'll be able to fly, but at least I'll have work to turn up to when I finally get back."
Outside the airport, an American lady is fighting back tears. Her son is graduating from college in New York and she needs to get to there by the end of the week.
"I have a Swiss air ticket to fly later this week,"she says. "But they tell me there won't be any flights later this week. I need to see my son. But they just say they can't do anything."
It looks unlikely the American woman will get to New York with Swissair.
Fuel suppliers have refused to deliver kerosene to the Swissair fleet and foreign airports say unless they are paid prompt landing fees, Swissair planes will not be granted permission to land.
A few businessmen shout instructions to secretaries down their mobile phones: "Get me on any Rome flight if the London ones are all booked - I'll change at Fiumicino!"
But for those passengers without corporate connections and reserves, who are still hoping to fly Swissair tonight from Geneva airport, it is going to be a very long night.
But the demise of Swissair is more than just the end of an airline to the Swiss people, it is a big blow to national pride.
"Today Swiss people are waking up without their national company," says the Swiss daily newspaper, Le Temps.
In the Tribune de Geneve, the editorial says: "Swissair's pride is dead and Swiss pride has take a huge blow: It's catastrophic, both symbolically and economically."
In the streets of Geneva, everyone seems to be affected by the news.
Many say they cannot believe the 70-year-old company which epitomised quality and efficiency has declared itself bankrupt.
"It's disgraceful that this should have been allowed to happen," says one man who declined to be identified.
"The bosses of Swissair were totally arrogant about their expansion plans. Thousands of people will lose their jobs now, but I bet the bosses on the board will all still walk away with their fat cat salaries."
The news from Swissair has sparked alarm in the cosmopolitan city of Geneva.
"Its a disaster for those of us who work in international business," said a woman coming out of the PricewaterhouseCooper's office building.
"This will have a huge impact on our long haul flights. Now there is no Swissair, we will have to take short flights to Paris or London and change."
"I'm due to fly Swissair to London next week," said her colleague.
"I honestly don't know what the procedure will be now. Maybe they've already had to sell the plane I'm meant to board! What was the company playing at?"
The Swiss newspapers have been asking the same question.
They accept that last month's attacks in the US acted as a catalyst in the grounding of the Swissair fleet, but they want to know why no one saw this mess coming a long time ago?
"Let's hope we don`t forget to ask those responsible for this chaos to explain themselves," says the Tribune de Geneve.
"Because it's unthinkable to imagine that someone can kill one of the symbols of a nation without being brought to justice."
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