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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Travellers cope with flight chaos
Passengers at Heathrow Airport
Heathrow was quiet due to cancellations
Thousands of British passengers have spent the day coping with severe flight disruption caused by a European traffic control strike and the worst could be yet to come.

On Wednesday air traffic controllers in France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Hungary staged a 24-hour walkout, leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled or delayed.

Flights to France were worst hit, with British Airways cancelling 122 of its 126 daily flights to France, and Air France running no flights at all.

There will be further disruption on Thursday when Spanish workers stage a 24-hour general strike.

BA cancellations
France 122
Spain 12
Italy 10
Switzerland 8
Germany 4
Belgium 2
Luxembourg 2

Most passengers had prior warning of Wednesday's industrial action and made other arrangements - leaving parts of many airports eerily deserted.

However, some passengers were told to turn up on time in case their planes left on schedule - and then had to wait.

"We're going to Kos - there's a four-hour delay at the moment. We can't go through to the departure lounge, we've just got to wait for further information," said one traveller at Gatwick airport.

"We were told to check-in as normal and we got here on time, and we only found out when we got to the check-in."

Spain fears

The strike action was in protest at an EU plan to replace national air spaces with new zones of control, based on international air corridors.

Passengers lounging around on grass at Stansted airport, Essex
Passengers waited in the sun at Stansted
Up to 80,000 British holidaymakers could be affected by Thursday's action in Spain.

About 400 flights into Spain have already been cancelled in preparation for the 24-hour walkout, and Palma Airport on Majorca will be closed.

British Airways said it had cancelled 28 flights between the UK and Spain on Thursday - about half its normal schedule.

These include flights between London and Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao and also one flight between Manchester and Madrid.

The airline said that, where possible, it would be operating larger aircraft to accommodate those passengers from cancelled flights.

Frances Tuke, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said anyone planning to fly to Spain on Thursday should ring their tour operator or airline before heading to the airport.

"There should be a lot of changes to tomorrow's flights," she said.

A spokesman for package holiday company JMC said it expected some delays with its flights to Lanzarote, but had brought in items such as nappies, blankets and refreshments to help its clients cope.

Thomson Holidays, the UK's biggest tour operator, which has 48 flights to Spain on Thursday, said it hoped to get all clients to their resorts without cancelling any flights.

It has brought in six extra planes, including a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, while many flights have been rescheduled to Wednesday night or Friday morning.

UK talks

Meanwhile, members of the UK air traffic controllers' union Prospect will meet NATS management in London on Thursday, to seek an improved pay offer.

Last week controllers voted by more than four to one to reject a pay offer worth 6% over two years.

Should a new deal not be reached, there is the possibility of a strike ballot which could result in stoppages that would hit flights during the peak summer holiday period.
Sign warning of cancellations and empty queuing area, Heathrow Terminal 2
Air France's check-in desk at Heathrow was deserted

At Heathrow on Wednesday BA also dropped a further 38 flights to Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

At Gatwick, 40 flights were cancelled and others were delayed.

Sixty flights out of 500 were cancelled at Stansted airport, Essex, although others were delayed.

Passengers at Manchester Airport faced delays of between two and three hours, although 19 flights to and from France were cancelled.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel in Paris
"The unions are threatening to step up their actions"
The BBC's Simon Montague at Stansted
"It looks like things could get even worse"
ABTA's Frances Tuke
"It's important to get hold of your tour operator"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Air strikes
Will you be affected by the industrial action?
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