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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Thousands stranded in airline crisis
Stranded passenger at Zurich
Around 39,000 people are thought to have now worthless tickets
Thousands of people were left stranded in airports across Europe on Wednesday as two national carriers teetered on the verge of collapse.

Swissair planes did not leave the tarmac for the second day running, as the airline failed to find cash to pay for fuel. Its shares plunged 97% at the opening of trading.

Swissair chairman Marti Corti announced late on Wednesday afternoon that a cash injection from the Swiss Government would allow some flights to start again on Thursday, although full capacity would not be achieved.

Meanwhile, Belgian airline Sabena - in which Swissair held a big stake - filed for bankruptcy protection, though its planes still took to the air.

Up to 39,000 people are said to have bought what are now worthless tickets for 470 Swissair flights scheduled to depart on Wednesday.

Chaos

"Due to financial reasons, Swissair is no longer able to run your flight," loudspeaker announcements at the airline's home airport, Zurich, told them.

Guy Verhofstadt
Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt hopes to save Sabena
Queues formed as increasingly angry passengers tried to book onto other airlines.

Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways have increased their capacity flying into Switzerland to help those trying to leave.

Others were still trying to retrieve luggage which had been checked through onto the 200 flights which were grounded on Tuesday.

Some hotels provided free or cut-price rooms while ground staff handed out food and drink to those waiting in airports.

Tens of thousands of people are thought to have Swissair tickets for the coming weeks.

Wednesday's announcement of resumed flights gave them new hope of reaching their destinations, but no details were immediately available of which flights might leave.

Mr Corti said the $278m cash injection from the Swiss Government would allow a "large number" of flights on Thursday, and would secure operations until the end of the month. Job cuts

Sabena - whose service has been frequently disrupted by industrial action in recent months - has continued to fly while the Belgian Government - which owns 50.5% of the airline - tries to save it.

Stranded couple at Zurich
It is not clear when Swissair will resume flights
Swissair owns the other 49.5%, and had promised to give the Belgian airline a multi-million dollar cash injection this week which - struck by its own problems - it could not honour.

As the 11 September impact continued to be felt elsewhere in the European airline industry, the UK firm British Midland announced it was cutting 600 jobs.

British Airways has already shed 7,000 workers while Virgin has axed 1,200.

Sabena is expected to make around 1,400 people redundant as part of its rescue plan.

National shock

Swissair's crash has shocked Switzerland, which saw its national carrier as a symbol of the country's values.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Zurich on Wednesday, waving placards of protest against the two biggest Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, involved in Swissair's finances.

"It's like a coup d'etat in a banana republic," said one demonstrator, Heinz Bieri.

A rescue package negotiated by the banks - transferring most of Swissair into its subsidiary Crossair - has been sharply criticised in the media and by the public and politicians.

"Such an attitude demonstrates an astonishing lack of political understanding by the banks. Switzerland's image is at stake," said Swiss Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
reports on the deepening crisis for Europe's national airlines
Kevin Lyne Smith, Bank Julius Zurich
"Sabena suing Swissair is like launching an unguided missile"
See also:

03 Oct 01 | Business
Sabena files for bankruptcy
03 Oct 01 | Business
Swissair shares wiped out
02 Oct 01 | Business
Swissair: Proud past, grim future
02 Oct 01 | Business
Q&A: Swissair in crisis
02 Oct 01 | Business
Swissair grounds all flights
02 Oct 01 | Business
Q&A: Booked on Swissair?
02 Oct 01 | Business
Airline collapse dents Swiss pride
02 Oct 01 | Business
Swissair accepts rescue plan
26 Sep 01 | Business
Aviation firms axe 26,000 jobs
30 Aug 01 | Business
Swissair cuts 1,250 jobs
09 Aug 01 | Business
Sabena flies into jobs storm
02 Oct 01 | Europe
Swissair passengers stranded
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