Travel chaos as strikes hit Europe's two big airlines

An empty arrival hall of the Franz-Josef-Strauss-Airport in Munich on Sept 10, 2014. Lufthansa pilots will hold an eight-hour strike today in a dispute over an early-retirement scheme, wiping out flights from its Frankfurt hub, the fourth such disrup
An empty arrival hall of the Franz-Josef-Strauss-Airport in Munich on Sept 10, 2014. Lufthansa pilots will hold an eight-hour strike today in a dispute over an early-retirement scheme, wiping out flights from its Frankfurt hub, the fourth such disruption to hit the German airline within three weeks. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS - It is shaping up to be a week of air travel chaos as two of Europe's biggest airlines suffer industrial action.

Lufthansa pilots will hold an eight-hour strike today in a dispute over an early-retirement scheme, wiping out flights from its Frankfurt hub, the fourth such disruption to hit the German airline within three weeks.

French flag carrier Air France scrapped half its flights yesterday due to a pilots' strike in protest at company plans to shift jobs and operations to its low-cost subsidiary Transavia.

Air France warned that the disruption would only worsen as the week went on, with 60 per cent of its flights likely to be cancelled today. Fears were mounting that the planned week-long protest - which would be the longest at the company since 1998 - could spell travel mayhem across the country.

The strike sparked anger among passengers stranded by the stoppage, with Mr Jean-Marc Ragot arriving in Paris from Nairobi yesterday only to find his connecting flight to Lyon cancelled. "I can't return home, thanks!" he complained.

Air France said it had sent 65,000 text messages to alert passengers affected by the strike and deployed some 7,000 extra workers to help stranded customers.

The strikes at Europe's two biggest airlines threaten to undermine efforts by management to bring costs in line with discount rivals like Ryanair, which has just bought new aircraft that it says will help cut fares even more. Both carriers have lost money on short-haul operations for years and are moving more business to cheaper subsidiaries, a step contested by employees concerned about their future.

The same difficult conditions are faced by large airlines across Europe, facing tough rivalry from budget airlines and Gulf state carriers, that are often backed by royal families.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG