Spanair Collapses So Quickly, Boarded Passengers Forced to Deplane

Spanair ClosingA passenger needs information from a Spanair ticket booth in Barcelona El Prat Airport. Photo by Carles Ribas.

Spanair Grounded by Grave Financial Problems
The end of a dream for an airline under the Catalonian flag
Its search for investors failed
The Generalitat declined to use more public money to save the company
22,771 affected by cancellations of this weekend’s flights

El País: Spanair se queda en tierra por sus graves problemas financieros
Cristina Delgado reporting from Barcelona January 28, 2012

Spanair could not convince Qatar Airways to support it, so at ten o’clock last night, it ran its final flight. Finding a new investor was its final hope to escape its financial problems. The Qatari company did not have a clear view of the business, and according to the Generalitat [Legislature] of Catalonia, a joint proprietor with the City of Barcelona of the majority of company shares, it feared that the European Union would demand the return of all public funding injections in the future. The failed search for investors precipitated the most feared outcome yesterday: the administrative council of Spanair met at about six in the afternoon, and from then they began preparing the annulment of all company operations. Up to 22,771 people will be affected by flight cancellations this weekend alone – 212 flights for that time frame have been cancelled.

At eight in the evening, a flight arrived to Barcelona from Bilbao. When passengers deplaned, company workers informed them that their return tickets would be annulled. “They’ve told us they won’t fly anymore, but they haven’t explained anything,” complained Martina Jiménez. She was directed to company counters, where the scene began to heat up. The airport monitors began to take red tints.

There will be a creditors’ meeting, according to company sources. Company president Ferran Soriano did not want to go into details however; instead, he evaded the question in an exercise of calculated ambiguity. “I can’t clarify at this time because this is not the matter I’m worried about at the moment. I’m focusing on operations. The legal measures and techniques we take will be decided in the coming hours,” he explained at about ten o’clock at night. He left the company administrative council to attend to the media for a few minutes, then returned to the meeting. He did not clarify what will become of the company’s some 2500 employees, nor the hundreds of others whose businesses indirectly depend on Spanair.

Spanair, founded in 1986, passed in 2009 from the Scandinavian SAS investment group to Catalonian businesses. It closed 2010 with €607 million in invoices and losses of €115 million. It had already lost €186 million in 2009. “Given the lack of financial visibility over the coming months, the company has opted to cease operations of its flights as a measure of prudence and security, and it will take all the appropriate legal measures,” read its announcement yesterday.

AENA (Spanish Airports and Air Navigation) and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport have initiated a plan to hurriedly relocate affected passengers. The airline’s competitors, including Ryanair, Easyjet, and Vueling, have begun to organize with Ana Pastor’s department to take on the passengers Spanair cannot transport. The company had planned 91 flights for today alone; 8695 people will be grounded if other companies to not find room for them. Last year, Spanair transported the fifth most passengers of any Spanish airline, 12.5 million.

€115 Million in Losses:
2010 Invoices: €607.9 Million
Pre-Tax Balance: -€124.9M
Losses: €115.7M
Company Funds: -€168.2M
Airplane Fleet: 33 crafts (19 Airbus A320, 5 Airbus 321, 9 McDonell Douglas)
Passengers Transported in 2011: 12.5 million in Spain; of those, 4.3 million in Catalonia
Stockholders: IEASA (84.7%) and SAS (11.6%) investment groups; others (3.6%)

Collapsing Airline Spanair Obliges Boarded Passengers on Flight to Madrid to Deplane
The affected passengers protest the lack of information and alternatives to the suspension of flights
El País: La aerolínea obliga a desembarcar a los viajeros de un vuelo a Madrid
Anthony Coyle reporting from Barcelona January 28, 2012

“They told us that they had cancelled all operations, and we had to get off the plane.” Catalonian airline Spanair’s cease of operations hit Luis Miguel Casas while he was sitting on a 20:55 flight from Barcelona to Madrid. Like the rest of the affected, the only instruction he received from Spanair was to be directed to the company’s client service windows in Terminal 1 of El Prat.

Gabriel Aparicio was one of the first to go there. While there was still no line. The cease of operations did not even affect him. His flight to Denmark was already ruined because he had forgotten his National Identification Card. But after he was directed to the company window, he was informed that “the company is not flying to Copenhagen anymore.” They did not give him credit.

Half an hour later, as the line began to extend across the airport, Spanair distributed a note to affected passengers with an information number (902-131-415). It also told them an it had created a rest area with children’s and breast feeding rooms.

Luciano Días flew to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands today at eleven in the morning. “They’ve told me to sort it out for myself, more or less, because they didn’t know anything,” he said with indignation while he waited in line.

Martina Jiménez, from Bilbao, had been thinking she’d spend the weekend in Barcelona. As soon as she stepped off her plane, she was told that her Sunday return flight “wasn’t going to take off anymore,” in her words. “They didn’t let me know anything about what was happening, and they didn’t offer to return my money either.” She was lucky enough to recover the €80 she spent on the round trip, though.

Others had to fill out a claim form. This was the case for Josefina Domínguez: “They haven’t given me any options. They told me the system was blocked and nothing more.”

The players for L’Hospitalet’s water polo team did not have the option of waiting in El Prat. They had a game at one in the afternoon the next day in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. “They’ve offered us a morning flight with Air Europe, but that won’t do because we won’t arrive in time.” The game, which had already been postponed, was cancelled.

While complaints were processed, the line of passengers – stuck to their mobile phones – was grouchy. There were tears as well. Others, like 29 children and two monitors who were returning from a ski trip at La Molina, took it with humor: “Do you guys have something to do tomorrow?” one shouted.

The cease of operations also obligated scheduled flights from Las Palmas at 21:55 and Valencia at 23:30.

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