Air passengers grounded in strike-hit Germany, France

Workers taking part in a "warning strike" of German union Verdi at the airport in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on April 10, 2018.
Workers taking part in a "warning strike" of German union Verdi at the airport in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on April 10, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP) - Tens of thousands of air passengers were stranded on Tuesday (April 10) as aviation giants Lufthansa and Air France were hit by strikes that crippled traffic at several major European airports.

Germany's biggest carrier Lufthansa was forced to cancel 800 out of 1,600 scheduled flights, including 58 long-haul flights, as German public sector workers including ground crew and airport firefighters walked out between 5am and 6pm (11am and midnight Singapore time).

Tuesday's "warning strike" hit Germany's biggest airport Frankfurt as well as other regional hubs such as Munich, Cologne and Bremen.

Other airports such as Hamburg, Leipzig and Hanover were hit with knock-on effects.  Half of the flights at Munich were delayed or cancelled, according to the union Verdi, reported national news agency DPA. 

Beyond airports, local transport, kindergartens, rubbish collection and hospitals were also affected as civil servants walked out to demand a 6 per cent pay rise for the 2.3 million people working for Germany’s federal, state and local governments. 

“Warning strikes” lasting a few hours are a familiar ploy by worker representatives ahead of sector-wide talks on pay and conditions. 

 

Given the country’s economic strength, “when if not now should there be significant pay increases for workers, including those in the public sector”, asked Verdi leader Frank Bsirske in an appearance at Frankfurt airport. 

“We’re determined to achieve this.” 

But the ADV airport operators’ association accused unions of “lacking all proportionality” with the strike disrupting tens of thousands of journeys – 90,000 at Lufthansa alone – and whose costs they said would run into the millions. 

Beer at 8am 

Travellers had plenty of notice of upsets to their plans, avoiding scenes of chaos at Frankfurt airport, but some could not avoid travelling on Tuesday. 

Sybille Metzler, who was due to travel to Amsterdam for a meeting, turned up at the hub despite warnings from the operator that her flight had been cancelled. 

“I know, but I wanted to see if I can still get there, because it won’t work with the train,” the 41-year-old management accountant told AFP.  Some passengers who faced disruption were understanding of the walkout. 

“It’s fair enough. Hope they get it,” said Porsche service manager Ashley Gillham, 40, of the strikers’ pay demands – despite having to switch to rail for part of her journey from New Zealand via Frankfurt to Mallorca. 

“It’s not a big deal, we would have been waiting at the airport for five hours anyway” for a connecting flight, she said. 

“This way we get to have a beer at 8am,” Gillham joked. 

Sixth walkout at Air France    

In an unrelated industrial action in France, air traffic was also severely disrupted as the country's biggest airline Air France was forced to cancel one in four flights in the sixth round of strikes launched by its employees since February.

Around 65 per cent of long-haul flights will depart as planned, the carrier said, with higher proportions on schedule among medium- and short-haul services from Paris and other French airports. 

The group said the strikes between Feb 22 and April 11 were estimated to cost 170 million (S$274 million). 

But several Air France unions have called for further days of industrial action in April as they also seek a 6 per cent pay rise.  Managers say the company is not growing solidly enough to justify such salary boosts, which they reckon would cost 240 million per year. 

Air France’s labour woes come at the same time as disruption for French state rail operator SNCF.  Workers are staging repeated walkouts in a bid to scare the government off a planned reform to the national icon and to the special status its employees enjoy.