Monday, March 07, 2011

Roll Out The Barrel: Oil and airport strikes

Just when you thought that all those nice Arab sorts, running around causing a spot of bother, were helpfully attempting to pack Mallorca with wall-to-wall tourists, along come ... . Well, along come some other Arab sorts, those standing smugly in their sunglasses in front of some giant desert derricks. And, just to make things really ducky, along also come some airport-worker sorts.

As one door opens, so several close. Airlines, motorists, bus operators, taxi-drivers; all held over an oil barrel. Airport workers, rather than rolling out the barrel in greeting the Easter holidaymaker, threaten anything other than a barrel of fun. The gang's all there, waiting to get all aboard to jet off to sunny Spain, but rather than being able to enjoy the oom-pa-pa of an Arenal or to throw their cares away in Alcúdia, they end up sleeping on a bum- and back-breaking plastic bucket of an airport-lounge seat.

You knew that something had to go wrong. All we need is for Iceland to get in on the act again. It was all looking so good, all a bit too good. It couldn't last, and it hasn't.

Thomas Cook, Air Berlin, Air Europa and British Airways all started the ball rolling. Thomson and First Choice have followed. A family of four now faces forking out an extra 60 quid for its flights to Palma, assuming they can get on a plane. The Spanish airport workers intend to turn what is known as "jueves santo" (holy Thursday) into bloody Thursday, followed by Bad Friday, as airplanes will all be in the wrong places. Bloody airport workers, moan the families of four, already a couple of ponies and a brace of Godivas more out of pocket, having to hand over excessive cash in a refugee-camp-style departures lounge, while they wait for the workers to clock back in.

The airport workers plan a strike because they're unhappy about proposals for the part privatisation of AENA, the national airports authority. AENA reckons the strike won't happen, but then it probably would reckon this. Even if the strike were not to take place at Easter, the brothers are holding their sword of Damocles over the rest of the tourism season. They haven't quite got the Spanish Government over a barrel, but they're readying their staves and metal hoops just in case.

The uncertainty about oil supply is proving to be even less a barrel of laughs than the airport workers walking out. While the airlines are slapping on surcharges left, right and centre, the local buses and taxi-drivers have got their own worries. The price of petrol and diesel is now at a record high in Spain, so all those transfers and excursions and cabs back to the hotel after a night on the razz might also start attracting some extra charge.

The bus operators, and these include those for public transport, are hoping that they can prise a subsidy out of the government and create a so-called "professional" fuel price, as opposed to an unprofessional one for the suckers who have to drive cars. It might help them, the bus operators, out, and it might help in preventing surcharges, but at the same time as the government is hoping to claw back God knows how many millions of euros by reducing the motorway speed limit, it would be handing it out again to the coach firm transferring tourists to and from the airport.

And with the rise in the price of petrol, might we also anticipate a new addition to the moaning car-hire noises? "I've had to pay 700 euros for a tatty old Focus and now they expect me to pay 1.3 euros a litre as well. The authorities must do something." If it's any consolation, petrol in Spain is still cheaper than in many other European countries. But it won't be a consolation. It'll just be another stick with which to beat the local tourism industry.

There is, though, some good news. The fifteen quid per person Thomson surcharge is a lot less than that for long-haul and it is also less than the surcharge for travelling to Greece and Turkey. And Egypt. "Ha-ha-heh-ha-ha, you're more expensive." "And you started it." Which they did, give or take the odd Tunisia. And it was all really, really nice of them to have done so. We could have settled back and contemplated a fine summer, tourism money rolling in, staring out at a serene, calm sea. Until someone woke us from the dream and there was a ruddy great oil slick washing over us.

Any comments to please.

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