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Mon, Jan 14, 2008

Argentine Airline Flight Delays Cause Chaos

Angry Passengers Vent On Airline Staff

The scene at Buenos Aires' Ministro Pistarini International Airport this weekend looked like something straight out of a bad movie. Television footage shows smashed ticket counters and broken glass in the main hall of the Aerlineas Argentinas terminal, where angry passengers vented their frustrations with flight cancellations, delays and lack of information by shouting down an Aerolineas Argentinas employee and throwing objects at him.

Reuters reports the airline is in the fourth day of a baggage handlers' strike and a walkout by ticket counter agents. The strike began last Thursday, as the airline opposed an increase in handlers' salaries to keep pace with Argentine inflation.

The bid for higher wages has created an avalanche of delays at the suburban Buenos Aires airport, and caused the cancellation of 14 flights on Friday and Saturday.

Several thousand passengers were stranded, according to local media. Phone calls to the airline and airport company went unanswered on Saturday.

"There is no one from the company, no one showing their face or telling us when we're going to fly. We're stranded with children and the elderly," a woman whose flight to Venezuela was canceled on Friday told local TV.

"Pilots were not responsible for this week's chaos," said Jorge Perez Tamayo, head of the pilots' union, adding that "we are very willing to fly, even during our planned holidays."

Aerolineas Argentinas is 95 percent controlled by Spain's Grupo Marsans, with the remainder held by the Argentine state.

The airline has a long, interesting history in the annals of South American aviation that include such a storied figure as Antoine de Saint Exupery. But it has also struggled with financial woes for much of that time, and has teetered on the edge of dissolution more than once.

Airline officials expected things to return to more-or-less normal by late Monday... but still, this is probably not a good time to jump on an Aerolineas flight to South America to go fishing for the big one.

FMI: www.aerolineas.com.ar

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