Tens of thousands grounded as Lufthansa cabin crew strike

German airline Lufthansa said it was cancelling 290 flights on Nov 6, 2015, after cabin staff planned a strike.
German airline Lufthansa said it was cancelling 290 flights on Nov 6, 2015, after cabin staff planned a strike.PHOTO: EPA

FRANKFURT (AFP) - German airline Lufthansa cancelled 520 flights scheduled for Saturday, grounding 58,000 passengers as cabin staff went on a week-long blitz of walkouts in a long-running battle over cost cuts.

All European and domestic services have been scrapped, with the exception of some flights between Munich and Frankfurt as well as three Frankfurt-London Heathrow links, said the airline.

But no inter-continental flights would be hit – with the exception of one connection between Duesseldorf and Newark, New Jersey, added Lufthansa.

“Around 520 continental services, are cancelled tomorrow,” it said in a statement, adding that 58,000 passengers would be affected.

The UFO flight attendants’ union began the work stoppage at 1300 GMT on Friday (9pm Singapore time), affecting flights to and from the airports of Frankfurt and Duesseldorf.

Friday’s walk-out affected 37,500 passengers as 290 flights – including 23 inter-continental services – were scrapped.

Saturday’s stoppage will begin at 0500 GMT and last until 2200 GMT, UFO said.

“We regret that is has come to this escalation, but negotiations (with management) have reached a point where there is no alternative but to strike,” it said.

The group’s subsidiaries Germanwings, Eurowings, Lufthansa CityLine, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Air Dolomiti and Brussels Airlines are not targeted by the industrial action.

Lufthansa said it “regretted” the union’s action and apologised to passengers, saying the short notice of the strikes made it difficult to inform them in time and enable them to make alternative travel arrangements.

“We will do everything possible to keep disruption to a minimum,” it said.

UFO plans to stagger the walkouts and target different airports over the course of the next seven days.

However, Lufthansa’s Munich hub would not be affected at all this weekend, given that school holidays were still underway in the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, it explained.

In addition, “no industrial action is planned at all on Sunday since most people travelling that day will be doing so in a private capacity,” UFO said.

UFO had said Thursday that industrial action was “unavoidable” after management failed to come up with an improved offer in a long-running dispute over pay and early retirement provisions.

Lufthansa said it had provisionally booked 2,500 hotel rooms in and around Frankfurt for passengers grounded by the strikes and insisted it had conceded to all of the union’s demands.

This is the first time that cabin staff have staged walkouts in the nearly two-year-long dispute.

UFO is demanding that the current system of early retirement provisions remain unchanged, but Lufthansa argues that the system is too expensive in the face of cut-throat competition from low-cost operators such as Ryanair and Easyjet.

The dispute with cabin staff is separate from a long-running battle between management and pilots over the company’s plans to change the pilots’ early retirement arrangements.

Lufthansa wants to scrap an arrangement under which pilots can retire at 55 and receive up to 60 percent of their pay until they reach the statutory retirement age of 65.

The pilots, who are concerned about Lufthansa’s aim to further develop its low-cost activities, have staged repeated walkouts during the dispute.

Last week, Lufthansa said it was raising its full-year forecasts after low oil prices and positive passenger numbers lifted profits in the third quarter.

Investors appeared unperturbed by the latest stoppage and Lufthansa shares were among the biggest gainers on the Frankfurt stock exchange on Friday, closing 3.26 per cent up at 13.95 euros.