On Strike in the Air & on the Ground

So when I was returning to Chicago from Madrid recently on Iberia Airlines, I had the unique experience of being on the only flight back to the U.S. that was not cancelled due to a two-day planned strike (you know how those Europeans like to announce a planned labor strike).  I was prepared for a packed plane as those who were on the cancelled Miami and New York flights tried to cram onto anything that would get them to the U.S.  But no!  It was empty!  Everyone got an empty seat next to them – which was awesome.  I can only assume they were all re-booked on other airlines or other days.

But then they announced there would be some, uh, service alterations due to the strike.   Huh.  What did that mean?  Well it meant this: no beverage service, except the plastic cup of water they gave you with your “meal” (a term I use loosely as the coach-class “meal” did not live up even my lowest expectations – blech).  No alcohol (which was okay, since I’d drunk enough vino tino over five days to last me a while), no soft drinks, no coffee service.  And only four trips up and down the aisle:

1) Distribute meal #1

2) Pick up meal #1

3) Distribute second meal

4) Pick up second meal

I asked one of the flight attendants why HE wasn’t on strike and he explained that the Spanish Royal Ministry of Supreme Air Travel or whatever it’s called sets “bare minimums” at which airlines must operate while on strike to avoid being in violation of something or other – and the consequences for that must be serious enough that they obey, keeping one flight open to each country to which Iberia flies (thank God they picked Chicago for the U.S. destination).

Two years ago, I arrived in Paris during a ground-transportation strike – no Metro, no RER trains.  So a cab was the only option from DeGaulle Airport.  This cab ride was the longest of my life, as traffic was EPIC!!  (The tab was also epic, coming to about $75.) 

Since there were no trains running, EVERYONE was in their car on the highways, trying to get to work, school, etc.  It was 90 minutes of frustration, but thankfully, I had a good-spirited taxi driver and got to practice my French for an hour and a half.  He tried to take every shortcut he could think of and was foiled every time.  At one point, snarled just outside the ring road that circles Paris, we sat in a suburban street and he ran into a little shop and returned with two cups of coffee – one for me and one for him.

There you have it – live accounts of those famous European super-strikes that I’ve always been curious about. 

I can only imagine how bummed I’d have been if I’d paid for business or first-class and NOT been treated to the usual glass of Champagne or Cava and the rest of the swank amenities you get up there.

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