Frankfurt airport recorded 14 cancelled flights between the start of the unannounced strike on Friday evening, and Saturday lunchtime. Those flights which did start were seriously delayed – there should have been around 30 departures.
Munich airport was also badly hit, with thousands of people there dealing with significant delays and around 30 flights either unable to leave or failing to arrive. A spokesman for the airport said he thought around 5,000 people were affected there alone.
Several flights scheduled to fly to Spain from Düsseldorf were also cancelled, while those heading for Majorca were delayed. “We can only recommend that passengers contact their airline,” said a spokeswoman for the airport.
More than 2,000 holidaymakers travelling with TUI are currently stuck in Spain unable to leave, the company said on Saturday, adding that they were being accommodated in hotels while they waited.
Chaos reigned in airports across Europe as the Spanish air traffic controllers walked out, resulting in Spanish airspace being closed and more than 6,000 flights being cancelled.
The air traffic controllers said they were walking off the job in reaction to the government's reform of their working hours. The major airports in Madrid and Barcelona are also due to be put under private management, which is a controversial decision.
The Spanish government called a state of emergency for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975. This gives the government special powers, including the ability to use military regulations to force the air traffic controllers to return to work.
Should they refuse, they can be sued in special courts and sentenced under military law to long prison terms.
By early Saturday afternoon, the air traffic controllers were starting to return to work, but it is not expected that Spanish airspace will be reopened until Saturday evening.