By Simon Morgan, AFP
FRANKFURT—Lufthansa pilots began the biggest strike in the airline’s history Wednesday, grounding most of its flights for the next three days and leaving as many as 425,000 passengers without a connection. Lufthansa cancelled around 3,800 flights on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as a result of the walkout by pilots who are demanding better pay and retirement conditions.
In addition to Lufthansa’s passenger services, the strike, which began at midnight (2200 GMT on Tuesday) and will last until 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT) on Friday, will also affect the airline’s Germanwings subsidiary and its freight carrier Lufthansa Cargo.
The walkout would cost Germany’s biggest carrier “tens of millions of euros,” it estimated. In a bid to avert chaos, Lufthansa has been keeping passengers up to date about flight changes via text message or email and offering to re-book them onto other airlines.
Nevertheless, the situation at Frankfurt airport, the country’s largest, remained calm on Wednesday, with few queues evident at check-in terminals. And those flights that were operating were proceeding normally. “The aim is that people don’t turn up at the airport for nothing,” Lufthansa spokeswoman Barbara Schaedler told AFP. Around 60 flights were already cancelled on Tuesday so that passengers changing planes in Germany would not find themselves stranded. Germanwings said Tuesday it planned to uphold around 600 connections over the three-day period by leasing capacity from other airlines. Little Sympathy for Pilots The head of the pilots’ union Cockpit, Joerg Handwerg, writing in the local daily Neue Passauer Presse, said the walkout was “the only means to force management to compromise.” The company’s hard-line stance was to blame, as it seeks to push back the age — currently 55 — at which pilots are able to take early retirement, Handwerg wrote. But there seems to be little public sympathy for the pilots. And the industrial action has angered many politicians, even in government, with Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt complaining in an interview that “every day of strike is impairing the mobility of hundreds of thousands of people.” And the deputy head of the parliamentary faction of the conservative CDU party, Michael Fuchs, slammed the action as “irresponsible.”
There has also been criticism of the pilots from the center-left Social Democrat party.