12 Chilean airports paralysed by worker's strike

AFP  | Deccan Chronicle

World, America

Important airports like Iquique and Antofagasta were among those closed.

Representational image

Santiago: Twelve Chilean airports were paralysed on Sunday as workers remained on strike over pension demands, forcing airlines to cancel flights and angering crowds of holiday travelers.

LATAM Airlines Group, the largest in Chile and in Latin America, said on its website that Santiago International a hub for air travel in South America remained open but with delays on all flights.

However important airports like Iquique and Antofagasta in far northern Chile were among those closed, forcing LATAM and Sky, another airline, to cancel hundreds of domestic flights.

Hardest hit was Easter Island, located in the Pacific some 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) west of the mainland, and Balmaceda, in far southern Chile. Both are accessible only by air.

The Air Force began its own flights to both locations, officials said.

Jose Perez, head of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) -- the group that represents the 3,000 striking airport workers -- said that the flights "are precisely aimed at breaking the strike."

The Directorate represents luggage handlers, airport security and meteorologists, but not air traffic controllers, who remain on the job.

The workers have vowed to strike until the government agrees to let them join a pension plan used by the Chilean military.

The situation grew tense on Thursday when the government said it would dispatch Air Force staff to the airports, drawing fierce criticism from the strikers, who said the military lacked needed expertise.

With no solution in sight, long lines have formed at airports as irate passengers scrambled to get aboard the few available flights.