Lufthansa cancels hundreds of flights as pilots go on 24-hour strike

Walkout to affect 100,000 passengers; 876 of 3,000 flights cancelled

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 12:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 6:49am

Lufthansa has cancelled hundreds of flights scheduled for Wednesday as its pilots plan a 24-hour walkout, the latest threat of disruption to its operations in a long-running pay dispute.

The strike is the 14th to hit the airline in its row with the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union and the airline said it has cancelled 876 of roughly 3,000 flights scheduled for Wednesday, affecting about 100,000 passengers.

Lufthansa was seeking to prevent the strike going ahead late on Tuesday after a Frankfurt labour court earlier rejected its application for an injunction.

But a judge at the Hesse state labour court rejected the company’s appeal and said the strike may go ahead, adding that the labour dispute was too complex to be properly dealt with in the form of an expedited injunction.

The action is the latest in two years of clashes over pay, working conditions and moves to turn Lufthansa’s Eurowings unit into a fully fledged discount carrier. The Vereinigung Cockpit pilot union is seeking a 20 per cent raise for the period spanning 2012 through 2017, or 3.7 per cent a year. Spohr has offered 2.5 per cent, or 0.38 per cent annually, through 2018.

The planned strike will run from midnight and affect short-haul and long-haul flights departing from German airports.

Flights by Lufthansa’s other airlines including Germanwings, Eurowings, Austrian Airlines, SWISS and Brussels Airlines, are not affected by the pilots’ strike, Lufthansa said.

Austrian and SWISS are checking whether they can use larger aircraft to increase the number of passengers they can take. For example, the group plans to use a widebody Boeing 777 on the Vienna-Frankfurt route, it said.

However, budget airline Eurowings cancelled around 60 flights on Tuesday due to a strike by some cabin crew in a separate pay dispute between management and the Verdi labour union.

That walkout started at Duesseldorf and Hamburg airports at 5 am local time (0400 GMT) and is due to last until 8 pm.

Pay talks between Lufthansa and VC broke down this month, and the pilots have rejected calls by Lufthansa for the dispute to be taken to a mediator.

Lufthansa said in a statement that customers due to fly tomorrow will be able to adjust their bookings free of charge. The last walkout by pilots in September 2015 was halted after a court ruled it an illegal effort to influence corporate strategy, and more recent talks have been restricted to pay issues.

Vereinigung Cockpit board member Joerg Handwerg said in a release announcing the strike late Monday that the “permanent refusal” of management to grant pilots a reasonable raise is not acceptable. The union said last week that talks had broken down, while dismissing an offer from Lufthansa to bring in an outside arbitrator.

Lufthansa, which has frozen pilot hiring until a new pay accord is agreed, said a strike “is not the right way” for crews to proceed, especially given the offer of mediation. About 5,400 pilots are in the collective bargaining agreement, so the strike call affects only about half of the group’s pilots, it said, with Eurowings, cargo operations and the Swiss and Austrian units unaffected.

Strikes forced Lufthansa to cancel more than 16,000 flights in 2014 and 2015, burdening operating profit by 463 million euros (US$523 million).