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Airports reel as Lufthansa pilots strike

AFP/The Local · 22 Feb 2010, 10:10

Published: 22 Feb 2010 08:20 GMT+01:00
Updated: 22 Feb 2010 10:10 GMT+01:00

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The German flag carrier, already 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 airline's biggest strike since 2001 was expected to cost it around €65 million, and experts warned of damage to the nascent recovery in the German economy, Europe's largest.

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, who got up at 3:00 am to make it to Frankfurt on time, only to discover their plane 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 visits we had booked. I am sickened," she told AFP.

Last-ditch talks over the weekend between unions representing Lufthansa's 4,000 pilots failed to achieve a breakthrough, and pilots began walking off the job at midnight on Sunday.

"Lufthansa management is not interested in dialogue, although it won't admit it," union spokesman Jörg Handwerg told AFP.

"We are open to talks without preconditions," said Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther, adding that if the union "withdrew its catalogue of unrealistic and illegal claims ... a deal would be swiftly found."

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

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But Lufthansa says that 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, the remnants of the bankrupt Swissair, and is cutting overheads by a billion euros.

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

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AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:50 February 22, 2010 by goody
A strike never accompilishes anything.It will only cost more money for travellers when its over.Im thinking of flying to germany in May I guess I will fly with Air Canada
14:32 February 22, 2010 by loull

LH pilots have a starting salary of 131,000 euros and a ceiling salary of 217,000 euros (plus 42d vacation and other paid benefits). so i cannot understand their need for more money.

LH first officers start at 62,000 - still not bad at all for german salaries.
16:32 February 22, 2010 by wood artist
We all want things we can never expect to have. That doesn't make the wanting any less real, but it does make striking to get them just plain stupid.

It doesn't take a brilliant mind to recognize that companies that are losing money are not going to be in a position to promise no jobs will be cut. It also doesn't take a degree in math to recognize that this is probably not the best time to be demanding sizable wage increases. For the rest of us, just having a job is a pretty good deal right now. Don't rock the boat.

Lufthansa is my airline of choice...great service all around. I have flights booked in April and May. However if the pilots force me to cancel, I won't be back, and that's one less paying passenger that supplies their jobs and salaries. It's not as if there are no other options.

Dumb! Just plain dumb!

15:35 February 25, 2010 by dbert4
What they're striking over isn't money per say. It's to prevent Lufthansa from back dooring (Out-sourcing in Ami standard sprache) their jobs to the low cost airlines that Lufthansa owns. Normally I would say that a pilot already makes enough money, but there is a point where if employees don't stand together, little by little their jobs will be gone.

Staying silent and working harder hasn't worked at ANY American companies.

I hate to see Lufthansa hurt by the strike, it a great and honerable German company which contrary to "MadAxeMurderer's" statement isn't going bust. They as are most German companies are very well-run with a low debt load and while profits have taken a hit, they've remained profitable through all of this.
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