European airlines fail Catalan test

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 7 14:00:40 UTC 2006

European airlines fail Catalan language test
By Victoria Burnett in Madrid

Financial Times
Updated: 9:41 p.m. ET Dec 6, 2006

Catalonia's consumer protection agency has filed complaints against
European and Spanish airlines for failing to print tickets and boarding
passes in Catalan, highlighting the impediments to business presented by
regional nationalism. In an early test of the power of nationalist forces
in the new regional government of Jose Montilla, Catalonia's socialist
leader, several airlines operating at Barcelona's El Prat airport were
deemed to have fallen foul of a controversial "linguistic policy" law that
stipulates that Catalan must be used in many business documents and
transactions, including travel-related documents. The Catalan Consumer
Agency said it had inspected about 30 airlines and filed complaints
against several companies, but would not confirm the complaints concerned
the use of Catalan.

Felipe Navio, head of the Spanish Association of Airline Companies (AECA)
said he had seen complaints filed against several airlines that accused
them of failing to print boarding cards, tickets and other information in
Catalan. Airlines affected included SAS, the Scandinavian low-cost
airline, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, TAP, the Portuguese flag carrier, Spanair,
a Spanish low-cost carrier and Air Berlin, the German low-cost carrier, an
industry representative said. Airlines have the opportunity to appeal
against the complaints before the consumer agency imposes fines, which
newspaper reports said could range from E3,000 to E30,000.

Mr Montilla, a former industry minister in Spain's national government who
took office last week, relies on the support of left-wing nationalist
party Esquerra Republicana, led by outspoken maverick Josep-Lluis Carod
Rovira. Albert Rivera, head of the Catalan Citizens party, which bills
itself as an alternative to nationalist politics, said: "Linguistic
politics has gone too far--Like this, we'll never have a society without
frontiers." Alvaro Middleman, head of Air Berlin in Spain, told Spanish
newspaper El Pais that the company would appeal before the European
courts. Castilian, or Spanish, was an official language spoken throughout
the country, he said. Mr Navio said he hoped the government would be
prepared to negotiate on the language issue. AECA members are due to meet
tomorrow to decide how best to tackle the consumer agency.

He said: "Imagine an airline having to publish its tickets in Spanish,
English, Catalan and Basque. It would be chaos."



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