Lufthansa scraps almost 2,000 flights as pilot strike extended

The walkouts affect both short- and long-haul services operated by Lufthansa’s main brand

Image Credit: REUTERS
Planes stand on the tarmac during a pilots strike of German airline Lufthansa at Frankfurt airport, Germany.
Gulf News

Frankfurt: Strikes at Deutsche Lufthansa AG will wipe out almost 2,000 flights after a failed bid to have a pilot walkout over pay declared illegal led a union to extend it by 24 hours.

The German carrier will scrap 912 flights scheduled for Thursday on top of at least 876 lost on Wednesday, disrupting travel for a total of 215,000 people, it said in a statement. Lufthansa’s LH630 from Frankfurt to Dubai on Wednesday was been cancelled, and well as both Thursday’s LH630 flight and the returning flight, LH631, have also been cancelled.

Lufthansa’s long-running pilot dispute reached new levels of bitterness after the Vereinigung Cockpit union defeated an application to have the strike blocked at Frankfurt labour court late Tuesday, and retaliated by lengthening the action. The company described the step as “incomprehensible” and said it would inflict “extensive damage” on its business.

The walkouts affect both short- and long-haul services operated by Lufthansa’s main brand, eliminating about 40 per cent of the usual schedule. Premium flights such as Beijing-Frankfurt, Los Angeles-Munich and 10 out of 12 services from Frankfurt to London Heathrow are among those scrapped.

While Lufthansa said it’s ready to resume negotiations at any time and repeated an offer of outside arbitration, Vereinigung Cockpit is unwilling to return to talks without an improved pay proposal. The union is seeking a 20 per cent raise for the period spanning 2012 through 2017, or 3.7 per cent a year. Lufthansa has offered 2.5 per cent, or 0.38 per cent annually, through 2018.

About 5,400 Lufthansa pilots, or about half the total, are covered by a collective labour agreement and therefore potentially on strike, excluding those at the carrier’s cargo unit. Flights at the group’s Swiss and Austrian divisions and the Eurowings discount brand are also operating normally.

Incendiary

The action is the latest in more than two years of clashes over pay, working conditions and Lufthansa’s moves to turn Eurowings into a fully fledged low-cost carrier. The company’s recourse to legal action proved especially incendiary given that a similar strategy undermined the last pilot strike in 2015, with the walkout, which was linked to the Eurowings transformation, rejected as an illegal effort to influence corporate strategy.

“What Lufthansa is doing is trying to censor the wage demands of the union,” Vereinigung Cockpit lawyer Martell Rotermundt told the Frankfurt court. Thomas Ubber, representing Lufthansa, said the airline could not just “pull a new offer out of the hat” and that the labour group’s demands involved wage discrimination in favour of older pilots.

Judge Martin Becker said the labour court is “not allowed to make a judgement call on the collective bargaining process, or a call if a wage demand is good or bad,” and ruled that the strike could go ahead. A subsequent appeal by Lufthansa to a higher court was dismissed.

Lufthansa said customers will be able to adjust bookings free of charge during the strike. The group’s operations will have suffered three straight days of disruption and more than 1,850 lost services after a walkout by Eurowings cabin crew called by the Ver.di union led to the scrapping of at least 64 flights Tuesday at the unit’s Dusseldorf and Hamburg bases.

Strikes forced Lufthansa to cancel more than 16,000 flights in 2014 and 2015, burdening operating profit by 463 million euros ($491 million).

Lufthansa shares were priced 0.9 per cent higher at 12.86 euros as of 2:24pm in Frankfurt Wednesday. They’ve declined 12 per cent so far this year.

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