Berlin Airport Strike Strands Patrons at Biggest Travel Show

  • Almost all flights in and out of Tegel, Schoenefeld scrapped
  • Cancellations add to travel disruptions in France, Finland

Visitors attending Europe’s biggest travel fair were stranded in Berlin as striking ground workers forced almost all flights in and out of the German capital to be canceled.

About 670 arrivals and departures were scrapped at Berlin’s Tegel and Schoenefeld airports on Friday, after the Ver.di union called on more than 2,000 airfield and terminal employees to walk out in a pay dispute. The one-day action comes just as the ITB Berlin exhibition, which draws 180,000 visitors annually, gears up for its busiest period.

Workers are seeking higher pay following five rounds of unsuccessful negotiations, as European Union rules to bring more competition to ground handling have squeezed wages. Ver.di has already held warning strikes this year and more actions are possible in coming weeks. The dispute adds to Berlin’s aviation embarrassments, with the opening of its new airport delayed until 2018 amid a series of technical fiascos and budget overruns.

The strikes cap Europe’s worst week of travel disruptions this year. In France, protesting air traffic controllers halted about 1,500 flights throughout the week, according to an estimate from industry group Airlines for Europe. In Helsinki, Finnair Oyj canceled 104 flights on Friday due to a labor conflict. Italian employees are set to walk out on Mar. 20.

The top carriers at Tegel airport are Air Berlin Plc, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and British Airways. The biggest ones serving Schoenefeld are Ryanair Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.

Wage Dispute

Financially distressed Air Berlin is most affected, having to cancel 202 flights, or about a third of its schedule. The carrier warned of “massive’’ disruptions and offered its customers rebookings, refunds or rail vouchers within Germany. Lufthansa scrapped all 68 flights to and from Berlin on Friday.

Workers are demanding a raise of 1 euro per hour under a one-year contract, representing an increase of more than 10 percent for the lowest wage group which earns 9.30 euros ($9.86) per hour. Employers, which include Wisag, Aviation Solution and Aeroground Berlin, offered an 8 percent raise over three years, Ver.di said.

The union is also negotiating pay for ground-handling employees in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Leipzig, Dresden and Stuttgart, where 300 workers held a warning strike earlier this month. The union reached an agreement in Hamburg in February that would give ground workers about 200 euros more per month over two years, though members have yet to accept the settlement.

Berlin’s airports served a combined 32.9 million passengers in 2016, a gain of 11 percent from a year earlier.

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