Lufthansa on strike - 200 flights cancelled

2014-09-05 19:51
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Frankfurt - Pilots at German airline Lufthansa went on strike for six hours late on Friday, forcing the cancellation of more than 200 scheduled flights and disrupting travel for 25 000 passengers.

Vereinigung Cockpit, the pilots' labour union, has been in months of negotiations with the carrier over the terms of an early retirement scheme.

Its members were refusing short and medium-haul take-offs from Frankfurt Airport, Lufthansa's hub, until 23:00 (21:00 GMT) Friday. Late-night departures are banned at Frankfurt, so operations were not set to resume until early Saturday.

Adding to transport snarls in Germany, a railway engineers' union, the GDL, announced on Friday that its members would refuse to drive trains on Saturday from 06:00 to 09:00 as it pursues wage claims against the main rail company, Deutsche Bahn.

Lufthansa had been relying on main-line express trains to help clear some of the backlog from cancelled domestic flights.

The airline reserved 2 200 Frankfurt-area hotel rooms for stranded travellers and was setting up 500 camp beds inside the airport transit zone to accommodate any stranded passengers who lack visas to leave the airport and enter the city to stay at hotels.

Lufthansa said the stoppage would cost it "millions of euros" but refused to budge on the union's retirement plan claims.

The listed airline insists it must slash labour costs to remain competitive against both low-cost European carriers such as RyanAir and EasyJet and up-and-coming long-haul carriers such as Emirates and Etihad.

While union members refused to fly jets to German and European destinations out of Frankfurt, long-haul flights were not affected.

In response, Lufthansa scratched more than 200 flights from its Friday schedule, including Frankfurt-bound flights departing three or more hours earlier from other European capitals. The European network was completely grounded an hour before the strike began.

14 000 text messages

Lufthansa said the pre-emptive cancellations were necessary so that the airline could quickly resume normal services on Saturday.

Past strikes have left jets or crews stranded at the wrong airports, meaning disruptions continued even after the pilots ceased striking.

Lufthansa said it had sent out 14 000 text messages offering assistance to those passengers who had registered their mobile phone numbers with the airline. It offered re-bookings on other dates, on other airlines or on trains for the shorter domestic connections.

Lufthansa criticized the union for striking on an end-of-summer weekend when thousands of families are flying home to Germany from vacations abroad and require onward domestic connections. School holidays end this weekend in three out of 16 German states.

"That is an especial disgrace," said airline spokesperson Andreas Bartels on ZDF breakfast television.

The union is demanding full reinstatement of a benefit that formerly allowed pilots to choose early retirement at 60 on partial pay. The airline wants to wind up the benefit so fit pilots keep flying until 65.

A week earlier, the same union held a six-hour strike that hit planes operated by Germanwings, a low-budget subsidiary of Lufthansa. That strike took down 116 out of 164 scheduled departures, affecting 15 000 passengers.

Germans have been divided in response to strikes. Strikers who complain about stagnant incomes after years of economic austerity in Germany often gain public support. However pilots, who are among the best-paid labour groups, have garnered much less public sympathy.

Read more on:    lufthansa  |  germany  |  air travel

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