Lufthansa Strike to Hit 40% of Flights After Walkout Allowed

Updated on
  • Pilot action leads to almost 900 cancellations on Wednesday
  • Aviators say they’ll stay off the job on Thursday as well

Deutsche Lufthansa AG will cancel almost 900 flights on Wednesday, disrupting travel for 100,000 people, after a bid to block a strike by pilots over pay was dismissed by a Frankfurt labor court.

The walkout is set to hit short- and long-haul services operated by Lufthansa’s main brand, with the 876 flights scrapped amounting to about 40 percent of the usual schedule. Premium services such as Beijing-Frankfurt and Los Angeles-Munich are among those wiped out, according to the company.

“As a court, we are not allowed to make a judgment call on the collective bargaining process, or a call if a wage demand is good or bad,” said Martin Becker, a judge with the labor court. “The strike on Wednesday can go ahead.”

Lufthansa also lost a late-night challenge against that ruling in an appeals court, after which the Vereinigung Cockpit pilots union announced that the strike would extend to Thursday. The airline is ready to resume negotiations at any time, it said in a statement.

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

Flights at Eurowings’s Dusseldorf and Hamburg bases were already disrupted Tuesday following a walkout by flight attendants called by the Ver.di labor group. At least 64 services were scrapped, with the low-cost carrier warning of the possibility of further cancellations and disruptions.

Lufthansa said in a statement that customers due to fly on Wednesday 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.

Failed Talks

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 ($523 million). Shares of the airline closed 1.1 percent lower on Tuesday in Frankfurt. They’ve declined 13 percent so far this year.

— With assistance by Nicholas Brautlecht, Karin Matussek, and Mariajose Vera

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