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NAPLES, Italy — Strikes throughout Italy continue to bring planes, trains and automobiles to a screeching halt.

General strikes, such as one March 26 protesting the government’s pension reform plan, halted bus, tram and subway services around the country. Frustrated travelers took to the roads, snarling traffic.

Mamma mia — what is a traveler to do?

Strikes are nothing new in Italy. When asked how many strikes Italy has seen this year, Flavia Scandone, Naples International Airport spokeswoman, said, “Many, many, many.”

But that doesn’t mean travelers have to be grounded if they understand how strikes work.

Airline workers, for example, have more than a dozen unions.

“It is difficult to understand who is on strike [on any particular] day,” said an Alitalia airlines spokesman in a telephone interview from Rome.

“It could be the control tower, a certain union or another union. It could be a general strike or only of Alitalia,” said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

“[The strikers] are kind of overdoing it,” said Umberto Illiano, travel agent for Naples base Information, Tours and Travel. “I’m sure they have motives, but I’m not sure if all of them are valid.”

The Alitalia spokesman said that, by law, even if there is a strike, airlines have to operate during peak hours, between 7 and 10 a.m. and 6 and 9 p.m.

A strike must be announced three weeks ahead of time, he said.

“It is widely advertised before; passengers are usually informed,” said the spokesman, noting that the airline tries to contact passengers to reschedule flights.

But an announced strike is not necessarily an “official” strike, Illiano said. Some airlines will not reschedule a passenger’s flight until the strike is official, which may not be until a couple of days before the event.

Airlines don’t start shuffling passengers around just because a strike has been announced. And the cancellation of announced strikes seems to be as common an occurrence as Italians stopping at a cafe to down their beloved espresso.

Illiano said passengers should contact the airlines if they hear of a strike. On its Web site, Alitalia publicizes the phone number for a help line when its company has a strike, though the number changes.

Many Americans living in Italy don’t watch Italian news, however, or wouldn’t recognize the word “sciopero,” for strike. Non-Italian speakers should check their base newspaper or travel agencies for the latest announcements, Illiano said.

Once the strike is official, an airline normally will bump a passenger’s reservation to the next available flight with the same airline. There are exceptions, however, such as if there is only one flight a week to a certain destination, then the airline will book the passenger with another carrier, the Alitalia spokesman said.

Illiano said that by law, an air traveler is entitled to accommodation and money for a meal if stranded overnight.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport announces the strikes, though its Web site — — is only in Italian.

The next scheduled airline strikes are April 16 from noon to 4 p.m. in Florence and 2 to 6 p.m. in Venice; Alitalia pilots from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 6; other union pilots for 24 hours May 6; and a union strike from 12 to 4 p.m. May 17 in Florence.


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