UPDATE 1-Air strike hits Spaniards’ holiday weekend

* Air traffic control strike disrupts holiday weekend

* Long December weekend sacred even in weak economy

* Madrid hotels had been fully booked

(Updates with disruption caused by air traffic control strike)

By Tracy Rucinski

MADRID, Dec 4 (Reuters Life!) – Spaniards hoping to make the
most of the “puente” this long pre-Christmas holiday weekend
were frustrated by a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers
which brought airports to a standstill. [nLDE6B301W]

Despite news of tax rises, austerity budgets, soaring
unemployment and a euro zone crisis, most Spaniards had planned
a “puente” (bridge) day between Monday’s Constitution Day and
Wednesday’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception to create a
five-day weekend of shopping, eating and visiting.

But many had their plans thrown into disarray by the
unofficial industrial action. Spanish airspace was not due to
reopen until Sunday morning after the government declared a
state of emergency and sent in the army to staff control towers.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said: “I
reiterate the government’s apologies to everyone who has had
their plans drastically altered at a particularly important
moment, a “puente” that many people … had looked forward to
enjoying.”

Madrid hotels had been fully booked by people travelling to
see the Christmas lights, take in the shows and shop, despite
the government revealing a new tax rise and a speeding up of
pension reforms to combat a euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

Spain’s own economic problems stem from a decade-long
debt-driven construction and property boom that left Spaniards
in debt when the bubble burst two years ago.

The good news for the economy is that demand hasn’t waned
for Christmas knick-knacks from the Plaza Mayor square or
discouraged queues along the busy Gran Via for lottery tickets
from Dona Manolita, famous for having sold many winning numbers
for the “El Gordo” Christmas draw.

The country is struggling to emerge from an 18-month
recession, but the recovery has stagnated and unemployment
hovers near 20 percent, the highest in the euro zone.

Spain already suffered salary cuts and VAT hikes as the
government tries to rein in its public deficit, and a string of
new measures, including a higher tobacco tax, were announced on
Friday to stave off a bailout like in Greece and Ireland.
(Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Alexander Smith and Paul Casciato)

UPDATE 1-Air strike hits Spaniards’ holiday weekend