Catalonian Protestors March On Barcelona Airport

Thousands of protestors have marched on Barcelona’s El Prat airport after the Spanish Supreme Court handed down sentences to Catalonia separatist leaders. Since 16:00 flights have been delayed and canceled, with violent clashes between police and demonstrators both inside the terminal and out. Some 8,000 people are still thought to be at the airport; roads and public transport to and from the terminals are blocked.

Barcelona airport
Thousands of protestors are at Barcelona El Prat (BCN) Airport. Photo: Xavier Mas Craviotto via Twitter

What’s happening?

Catalonia has sought autonomy from Spain for many years. In October 2017, a referendum saw a vote of 90% for independence, however, the turnout was very low. Despite this, the ruling separatists declared independence on the 27th October that year.

Madrid was not happy with this, and invoked Article 155 of the constitution, sacking the leaders and calling a snap regional election, which was won by nationalist parties. However, in June last year, Catalan nationalists regained control of the region.

Today, Spain’s Supreme Court has sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to jail for their role in what Madrid is calling the illegal 2017 referendum. Sentences range from nine to 13 years. Three further individuals were found guilty of disobedience, but will not serve prison time.

In response to the verdicts, thousands of supporters of independence in Catalonia have marched on Barcelona. Crowds blocked access to metro stations and streets, and eventually moved on to the El Prat Airport.

Thousands descend

Reportedly, thousands of protestors arrived at the airport as the umbrella group formed to lead the reaction to the sentencing, Tsunami Democràtic, called upon supporters to block the main terminal at El Prat. The sheer numbers who arrived at the airport are overwhelming to see.

While most of the demonstrations are focused outside the airport terminal, a large number made it inside. Some staged a Hong Kong-style sit in protest, although somewhat louder, as shared on Twitter.

The Star reports that around 8,000 people are understood to be at the airport. The clashes with police are said to be violent, involving riot gear, protestors being beaten with batons and tear gas being deployed.

How are the protests affecting flights?

According to Flight Radar, around 5% of all flights have been canceled today, which is more than usual but not overly disruptive. Departures are being affected worse than arrivals, with some 18% of departures canceled so far today.

However, even those flights which are not canceled are suffering from severe delays. Some 51% of today’s departures have experienced delays, although the average across the whole day is only 21 minutes. Clearly this will be helped by the fact the protests began fairly late in the day.

Most of the problems seem to be in getting to the airport itself. Roads are blocked, trains are not running and numerous travelers are reporting difficulties in making their flights.

Details on the impact on flights are still emerging, but it appears that services are mostly running, although some sources claim as many as 100 flights are canceled for this evening. No airlines have released official statements yet, so if you’re due to travel to or from BCN in the next few hours, it’s probably worth checking with your airline to see if your plans are affected.