Lufthansa cancels 750 flights as pilots start first day of two-day strike

FRANKFURT (REUTERS/AFP) - German airline Lufthansa cancelled around 750 short- and medium-haul flights on Wednesday as pilots began a two-day walkout in a long-running dispute over early retirement. It is due to announce plans for Thursday during the course of the day.Just over half of the carrier’s scheduled 1,400 domestic and European flights taking off or landing in Frankfurt or Munich were cancelled, affecting around 80,000 passengers, a Lufthansa spokesman said. Flights operated by Lufthansa’s subsidiaries Germanwings, Eurowings, Swiss and Austrian Airlines were not affected.But the pilots’ union Cockpit announced that the stoppage would be extended to Thursday, when long-haul and cargo services would be hit.

Wednesday's strike, affecting short- and medium-haul flights at the carrier's namesake brand, is the second this year and the twelfth in total in a row, since last April, over early retirement benefits and low-cost expansion at the airline.Ahead of the starting of last April's strike, pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) announced another walkout for Thursday, on long-haul and cargo flights, a move which Lufthansa said was incomprehensible. "Instead of working on a sustainable solution for the future, VC is hurting our customers across the globe," Lufthansa said late on Tuesday after the second strike was called.

Lufthansa wants to cut costs and expand budget operations but its efforts to renegotiate different conditions for collective labour agreements have met with resistance from pilots. Lufthansa has refused to back down, saying it will grow fleet and staff numbers at its main passenger operations only if employees agree to concessions.

The pilots want Lufthansa to agree to mediation covering early retirement benefits and other outstanding pay and cost-cutting issues, but Lufthansa has rejected this.

Currently, pilots can retire at 55 and receive up to 60 per cent of their pay until they reach the statutory retirement age of 65. Lufthansa wants to scrap the arrangement.In 2014, the repeated strikes cost Lufthansa an estimated 232 million euros (S$342.4 million).