Storm Nelson: Easter flight chaos 

Bad weather leads to travel disruption

Image of aircraft in bad weather. Credit: Jaromir Chalabala/

Thousands of travellers set to fly across Spain this Holy Week face disruption amidst the tumultuous conditions stirred by Storm Nelson.

On Wednesday, March 27, a leading Spanish airline issued warnings of potential disruptions due to severe winds, advising passengers of the uncontrollable weather’s impact on flight schedules.

Flight diversions: A common occurrence

Recent discussions in the Spanish Senate have thrown light on a pressing issue: airlines diverting flights to airports far from their intended destinations, without considering closer alternatives.

This practice was highlighted by Bildu senator Josu Estarrona, who questioned Transport Minister Oscar Puente on any steps being taken to address these disruptions, especially in the Basque Country, heavily affected by adverse weather.

In February, gales exceeding 160 km/h at Bilbao airport caused significant upheaval, including the diversion of an Amsterdam flight to Barcelona.

In October 2023, Storm Alina caused significant disruptions at Malaga Airport, leading to the diversion of approximately twenty flights within a single day.

While some of these flights were redirected to nearby airports such as Sevilla or Almeria, others found themselves rerouted to farther locations like Madrid, Valencia, or Barcelona.

Enaire, linked to the Ministry of Transport, reported a total of 151 flights diverted in 2023 due to weather, with a significant number in the Basque region. Puente, however, noted that such diversions were rare, affecting only 0.3 per cent of the region’s flights.

Under these circumstances, passengers are entitled to seek compensation ranging from €250 to €600, depending on the flight distance, in addition to reimbursement for any additional expenses they’ve incurred.

Navigating airline logic

The airline industry, tasked with selecting alternative landing sites, prioritises safety and logistical concerns, often overlooking passenger convenience.

Each flight’s operational plan, validated by the State Aviation Safety Agency, outlines potential alternative airports, considering factors like weather and infrastructure quality.

Yet, critics argue that this approach leans more towards corporate interests than minimising passenger disruption.

The government’s stance

Legislative control over these decisions is limited, with EU regulations governing air traffic. Puente mentioned in the Senate that the government’s role is not to ensure flights land as close to their intended destinations as possible but rather to mitigate the challenges some airports face due to their location.

This involves improving landing and approach manoeuvres, especially for airports in challenging climatic zones.

The situation underscores a complex interplay between safety priorities and passenger convenience, with the government and airlines navigating a delicate balance between operational efficiency and traveller satisfaction.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.