What you need to know about the strikes crippling Berlin airports

Industrial action has grounded almost every single flight into and out of Berlin on Friday, the latest in an ongoing dispute. Here's what you need to know if you have been affected or if you're flying soon.

What you need to know about the strikes crippling Berlin airports
Photo: DPA

What is the strike about?

The call to strike was made by union Verdi, which has demanded a pay raise of one euro per hour for ground staff with work contract terms of at least one year. Currently ground crew members earn on average €11 per hour.

The union has been negotiating with a group representing companies that provide ground transport services to airports. The employers' group on Tuesday offered a pay raise of 8 percent over the course of three years, but the union rejected this proposal.

Is my flight affected?

Practically all flights into and out of Berlin’s airports on Friday have been cancelled. At Tegel airport in the north of the city, 455 flights were called off, while at Schönefeld airport 204 flights were cancelled.

The strike started at 4am on Friday morning and is set to last until 5am on Saturday, with the airports warning passengers to expect delays after the strikes end too.

You can check the latest on your flight here.

Is this a one-off?

Unfortunately not.

Verdi already held strikes last month at Berlin, Hamburg and Stuttgart airports amid the ongoing labour negotiation dispute.

More than 100 flights were cancelled at the beginning of February during strikes, and dozens more were cancelled during another round of strikes that month.

According to Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, things are about to get a lot worse. Verdi will avoid rolling strikes so as not to risk the courts stepping in to block the action. Instead they plan to call single-day strikes repeatedly over the next few weeks, only announcing them days beforehand.

Tagesspiegel expects the next strikes to be called early next week.

Am I going to lose money?

You could well do.

If you are flying with Lufthansa, Eurowings or Air Berlin, you are in luck. These airlines have a deal with Deutsche Bahn (DB) allowing you to convert your plane ticket into a train ticket for the same day. DB have said they may put on extra services to cope with the burden on their already full Friday evening services.

But many of the budget airlines – including Ryanair and Transavia – offer only a refund or the chance to re-book at a different time, meaning that if you need to get somewhere on Friday, you’ll end up forking out a lot of money for an alternative means of travel.

What do airlines have to cover?

Unfortunately for you, the airlines aren't legally obliged to cover the costs of your replacement ticket.

Compensation is complicated by the fact that the airlines aren't involved in the industrial dispute, which is between ground staff and the private companies which run operations in the airport.

Boris Narewski, a specialist in travel law, explained to The Local that air companies do have an obligation to get you to your destination, but that they aren't obliged to do it on the same day.

“The fact is, it's not possible for them to take you to your destination when both airports in the city have been completely closed down by strikes,” he explained.

The upshot of this appears to be that getting a flight on a different day is about the best you can hope for.

Eva Klaar from the Consumer Rights Centre explained, though, that airlines do have some obligations.

“If they are flying you out of Germany instead via Hanover, Leipzig or a different German airport, they have a responsibility to pay your travel costs to get to these airports,” Klaar explained.

She added that, in case people end up being stuck in Berlin for another day, the airlines have to carry the costs of a hotel, food and travel between the hotel and airport.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.