News24

Lufthansa: further walkouts

2010-02-22 15:55

Frankfurt – Lufthansa cancelled two-thirds of its flights on Monday as its pilots began a four-day strike over pay and job security and threatened further walkouts.

The German flag carrier, reeling from years of upheaval in the global airline sector, has predicted around 3 200 cancellations over the next four days, allowing customers to change bookings or giving them train tickets.

Worst hit were Lufthansa's Frankfurt hub, Europe's third biggest airport, and Munich. Also affected were Lufthansa Cargo, one of the world's biggest freight carriers and the firm's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings.

"The strike is going fantastically well," Alexander Gerhard-Madjidi, a spokesperson for the Cockpit union representing 4 000 pilots, told rolling news channel N-TV.

"We hope that we are going to get some movement in the next four days (in talks with the company). If not, next week or later, of course we are going to have to plan further strike action."

Dramatic and indefensible

"The effects of the strike are dramatic and indefensible," said Lufthansa spokesperson Klaus Walther.

"Four days of strikes, costing us €100m, and that's not taking into account the damage to our image."

With the strike announced last week and Lufthansa informing its passengers beforehand of cancellations, the usual Monday morning rush at Frankfurt airport failed to materialise as customers made other arrangements.

The huge departures board in the main terminal showed all but a smattering of scheduled Lufthansa flights as cancelled.

But many were caught unawares, like 55-year-old Silvia Martin and her husband from Strasbourg, France, who got up at 03:00 for the 225km drive to Frankfurt, only to discover their flight to Venice was cancelled.

"No one told us last week. They are going to reimburse us for the flight, but not everything else like the guided tours we had booked. I am sickened," she told AFP.

Last-ditch talks

Last-ditch talks over the weekend between unions failed to achieve a breakthrough, and pilots began walking off the job at midnight on Sunday.

Cockpit is pressing for a 6.4% pay rise but more importantly it wants commitments from Lufthansa that pilots will not lose their jobs as the airline shifts passengers to cheaper foreign affiliates.

Lufthansa says this is "pure invention" and that "not one" pilot job has been outsourced.

European airlines have been fighting for survival for several years as they battle with the triple threat of low-cost airlines poaching customers, soaring high fuel costs and the worst global recession in decades.

Lufthansa has made a number of smaller acquisitions such as BMI, the former British Midland, and Swiss, and is cutting overheads by €1bn.

But the pain remains. Sales slumped 13% in the first nine months of 2009, the last figures available, with operating income down 76%. It warned a positive full year result was subject to "very considerable risks."