Nightmare start to school holidays

FAMILIES heading off on October school holiday breaks were among hundreds of passengers suffering long flight delays yesterday as the problems caused by Air Scotland's change of ownership continued to cause massive disruption.

Travellers endured 14-hour waits at Glasgow Airport after reports of aircraft being impounded at Spanish airports over unpaid bills.

The action in Spain followed delays in Scotland last week after BAA Scotland impounded planes at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. A settlement was eventually agreed with the airline on Friday.

The payment problems are understood to have been caused by administrative difficulties after the transfer of the company from Scottish to Spanish hands.

The latest delays included flights from Glasgow to Malaga and Athens, involving a total of 460 passengers.

A Glasgow-Paris flight due to have left at 5am yesterday was not expected to depart until about 7am today.

A spokeswoman for BAA Scotland said: "We've been bending over backwards to help out the passengers of Air Scotland, which is not our obligation at all. We have provided them with food, drink and blankets. The delays are so bad that it's hard to keep track."

The problems started last Thursday when Dhia Al-Ani, Air Scotland's Iraqi-born founder, who runs a Glasgow travel business, sold his stake. Ownership of the airline, which is operated by Greece Airways, was transferred to the H Top Hotels Group in Spain.

Since then, flights between Edinburgh and Glasgow and a series of European destinations have been delayed.

BAA said it permitted some flights to take off as a goodwill gesture before it finally received payment for the fuel bill, which is understood to have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

On Saturday, armed police had to be called to Palma airport on Majorca to try to calm down a crowd of furious travellers after Air Scotland's Glasgow-bound plane was hit by a 17-hour delay.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that, as Air Scotland was run from Greece, it had no remit to intervene in the matter and could only have done so if safety was at risk.

A spokesman said: "It's none of our business if air passengers are getting poor service - even with a British-based airline. That's between the customers and whoever they've bought their flights off.

"Air Scotland's customers won't be protected by an ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's Licence) either, as it is not a member and an ATOL only provides financial protection anyway where an operator has ceased trading."

A spokeswoman for Air Scotland said: "We apologise unreservedly to all passengers.

"When the ownership of Greece Airways was transferred to H Top Hotels, all responsibility for payments and accounts was also transferred to them.

"Unfortunately, this process did not occur as smoothly as we would have wished, and there was a delay in the payment for fuel on Thursday.

"Greece Airways remain committed to providing value-for-money flights to the people of Scotland and will continue to put the comfort and well-being of their passengers first at all times."

Air Scotland suffered serious problems after its launch in 2003, including the termination of its original contract with the Greek carrier Electra Airlines, which left two aircraft impounded at Edinburgh and Glasgow in a row over landing fees.

It subsequently also sacked the Dutch carrier which took over, claiming neither operator had delivered the required standards of service.

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