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Lufthansa pilots on strike

By • Feb 22nd, 2010 • Category: News & Analysis

Lufthansa strike threatens global pain –

A four-day strike by the pilots’ union of Lufthansa threatens one of the world’s largest airlines and may disrupt travel on more than two dozen partner airlines on Monday.

Lufthansa and the pilot’s union, Vereinigung Cockpit, are holding talks this weekend as a last ditch effort to avoid the strike. More than 4,000 pilots are expected to walk off the job at midnight Monday (6 p.m. Sunday ET) through Thursday over protracted contract negotiations centering around pay and job security.

The industrial action starts the same day that British Airways cabin staff are expected to announce the outcome of its strike vote. And on Wednesday in Greece, a mass public and private sector strike is being planned to protest the government’s austerity plan.

Lufthansa has already canceled two-thirds of its scheduled flights Monday to Thursday ahead of the strike.

Company officials admitted it would have a “heavy influence” on its international operations, which includes flights to 80 countries worldwide.

In 2008, Lufthansa was the number two international carrier by passengers with 42.2 million, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The threatened walkout comes as the airline industry is digging out of the worst one-year drop-off in flights, according to IATA.

In 2009, revenues dropped nearly 15 percent worldwide after generating a record $535 billion the previous year. Passenger travel fell a record 3.5 percent and freight fell more than 10 percent, according to IATA figures.

Lufthansa officials said at a news conference Thursday it would cost the airline about $33 million a day.

Many of Lufthansa’s pilots have been working without a contract since March and more than 90 percent of the union’s members voted to strike, said Jorg Handwerg, a pilot and representative for the union.

The union sought a 6.4 percent pay increase. The union is also concerned with the airline’s recent buying spree of small regional carriers, such as BMI and Austrian Airlines which, it says, is cannibalizing flights away from union-flown routes.

“We fly less hours and have less potential for (performance-related bonuses),” Handwerg said. “We want to have the opportunity to grow, but instead it shrinks.”

In a statement, Lufthansa said: “In addition to demands on job security, however, the union also insisted on a greater say on fundamental entrepreneurial issues, equating to intervention in business management at the airline. That demand cannot be accepted.”

The airline is allowing passengers to rebook flights for tickets purchased before February 18 and plans to give German domestic passengers rail vouchers.

But one Lufthansa passenger said she is having trouble reaching a compromise with the airline.

“I spent several hours on the phone with Lufthansa to try and figure out what I can do, but now I’ve been told that I can’t even get a refund,” said Ruth Winblad, who is supposed to fly Monday from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Rome, Italy.

Lufthansa is one of the largest carriers on Star Alliance, a network of 26 airlines that share ticketing and routes for international travel. Travelers on Star Alliance flights are advised to check their tickets for Lufthansa flights and contact their carrier about any potential changes, said Markus Ruediger, Star Alliance spokesman.

Star Alliance member airlines are: Adria, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue 1, BMI, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, Lot Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss, Tap Portugal, Thai Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines and U.S. Airways.

Partner airlines are preparing for the potential strike.

“Some of our codeshare flights with Lufthansa may be affected during the period of the strike. We are in contact with Lufthansa and will be informed of the affected flights as soon as details are made available,” said Nicholas Ionides, Singapore Airlines spokesman.

“Should there be customers traveling on affected Lufthansa-operated codeshare flights, they will be contacted and re-accommodated on the best next available schedule.”

Lufthansa Strike Halts Flights; BA Labor Vote Ends

By Cornelius Rahn and Steve Rothwell

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) — Deutsche Lufthansa AG scrapped 67 percent of flights after pilots halted work, and British Airways Plc labor leaders prepared to announce strike-vote results, as unions challenged work-assignment policies.

A lawsuit that Lufthansa filed in Frankfurt’s labor court today seeks to end the “disproportionate” strike and prevent damage to the company, workers and customers, Thomas Jachnow, an airline spokesman, said in an interview. The Unite union representing 12,000 flight attendants at BA will reveal results of a ballot at 5 p.m. London time, three hours later than scheduled after late mail deliveries delayed the count.

Lufthansa and British Airways, Europe’s second- and third- biggest carriers after Air France-KLM Group, are struggling to push through spending reductions as the global industry faces $5.6 billion in losses this year. Lufthansa canceled about 800 flights today, the first day of a strike scheduled to end on Feb. 25, including some cargo operations and two-thirds of the namesake brand’s flights, said Stefanie Stotz, a spokeswoman.

The Vereinigung Cockpit pilots union is demanding that the Cologne, Germany-based company pledge not to use planes and crews from newly acquired carriers for flights on Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo or Germanwings routes. The airline rejected a union proposal yesterday to bring to arbitration a demand that pay scales and conditions apply uniformly to employees at all divisions, including those based outside Germany.

Court Filing

Lufthansa contends in its injunction filing that some union demands violate a no-strike clause in labor contracts that haven’t been revoked yet and that the company’s LH Italia division should be excluded from the Vereinigung Cockpit action, the labor court said today in a statement.

Joerg Handwerg, a spokesman for Frankfurt-based Vereinigung Cockpit, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Lufthansa’s filing.

British Airways’ flight attendants may stage a strike as early as March 1 as long as a majority of those voting back the action. Workers are protesting the London-based carrier’s scaling back of cabin crews on long-haul flights starting in November without union agreement after 1,000 attendants volunteered to leave and 3,000 more agreed to work part-time.

Strike-Cost Estimate

A strike at British Airways would cost the U.K. carrier about 25 million pounds ($39 million) a day, said John Strickland, an aviation specialist at JLS Consulting Ltd. The dispute centers on the reduction of flight attendants on Boeing Co. 747-model planes to 14 crew members from 15 and a redefinition of the role of cabin-service directors to include serving drinks and meals.

Unite polled members for a second time after a High Court judge invalidated an earlier vote in December because the ballot included workers who had already agreed to leave.

Lufthansa reiterated an estimate that the pilots’ walkout will lead to additional costs of at least 25 million euros ($34 million) a day.

“It would take a couple of days to reinstate the system again,” Klaus Walther, a spokesman, said today in an interview. “The best thing would be if pilots returned to the negotiating table and signed this agreement on securing their working space. We are ready to negotiate that.”

The Germanwings low-cost brand is offering 120 flights out of 160 scheduled today after chartering planes and using management pilots, said Heinz Joachim Schoettes, a spokesman for the unit in Cologne. Lufthansa Cargo has also chartered aircraft and assigned management to fly planes, allowing the unit to maintain 85 percent of flights, said Nils Haupt, a spokesman in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa posted an emergency schedule for the strike period on its Web site. Passengers in Germany can also phone (0800) 850 60 70 to rebook flights. Germanwings has also published a curtailed schedule online.


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