Spanish Carrier Iberia Curbs Timetable After Biggest Strike

Iberia, the Spanish unit of British Airways owner IAG, cut almost 40 percent of its scheduled timetable as 18,500 staff began the carrier’s biggest-ever strike. Remaining flights are operating as planned, it said.

Some 85 of 135 services still due today had left by 4 p.m., Madrid-based Iberia said in a statement. While 415 flights have been scrapped during an initial five-day action, 85 percent of 70,000 passengers affected have been accommodated with other Oneworld alliance carriers, it said. The rest will get refunds.

“Minimum services are being met and there’s calm in terminals,” Iberia said. About 90 percent of long-haul trips will operate this week, together with 61 percent of European and African services and 47 percent of domestic flights, it said.

Iberia’s unions have called 15 days of strikes for this month and next as Willie Walsh, Chief Executive Officer of IAG, as International Consolidated Airlines Group SA is known, seeks to shrink the unit’s operations by 15 percent and eliminate 3,147 jobs to cut costs and restore profitability. Walsh has previously faced down walkouts to pare positions and pay at British Airways and as CEO of Ireland’s Aer Lingus Group Plc.

Shares of IAG, Europe’s third-biggest airline after Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, fell 1.6 percent to 224.2 pence in London, paring the gain this year to 21 percent. The company, based in the U.K. capital, said it hasn’t yet got an estimate for the cost of the walkouts.

Pilot Plans

Iberia’s 1,500 pilots plan to join the second series of walkouts on March 4, Sepla union spokeswoman Ana Serrano said, extending the dispute to all of the company’s 20,000 workers.

Spanish labor laws require unions to provide a minimum level of service, and almost 100 percent of staff not required to comply with that rule are on strike, said Manuel Atienza, a spokesman for the UGT labor group. Workers convened for a demonstration at Madrid airport’s Terminal 4 at noon, he said.

“The check-in area at T4 is slowly regaining normality, once demonstrators that had occupied it are abandoning the facility,” Iberia said in a separate statement.

Flights involving other Spanish carriers including Vueling Airlines SA, which is 46 percent owned by IAG and subject to a takeover bid, and Iberia affiliate Air Nostrum were also disrupted today, partly because of the lack of ground-handling services usually provided by some of the striking workers.

Spanish airports operator Aena Aeropuertos declined to comment on the level of disruption.