231-922-9460 | Google +

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lufthansa Pilots Begin 4-Day Walkout

NY Times

Air travellers endured cancellations and disruptions Monday as pilots for Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline, began a four-day walkout that has already forced the grounding of hundreds of flights.

The German flag carrier was operating a sharply reduced schedule that involved scrubbing roughly half of Monday’s 1,800 scheduled flights, up from an initial plan of 800 daily cancellations for the duration of the strike. The airline said some pilots that had been scheduled to work through the strike were not showing up and a spokesman estimated that as many as 1,000 flights might not get off the ground Monday.

The airline said most of the canceled flights were on domestic German routes, where Lufthansa was offering to rebook passengers on trains to their destinations. For European and intercontinental flights, the carrier said it was re-booking passengers whenever possible with its partners within the Star Alliance. Lufthansa said it planned to maintain all flights on routes where it has no airline partners.

Lawyers for Lufthansa asked a Frankfurt labor court to issue a temporary injunction to halt the strike by the Cockpit Association union, arguing that a four-day work stoppage would cause excessive harm to the airline. A hearing on Lufthansa’s request was expected later Monday.

The Cockpit union, which represents about 4,500 pilots at Lufthansa and two German subsidiaries — Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings, a no-frills carrier — voted last week to strike after failing to secure guarantees from the airline that it would not seek to transfer cockpit jobs to the company’s foreign subsidiaries such as Austrian Airlines and Swiss International Airlines which pay their flight crews less.

Salaries for first officers at Lufthansa start at €60,000, or $82,000, while for captains it is €110,000, according to the airline’s recruiting website. That compares with around €40,000 for a first officer and €75,000 for a captain at Austrian Airlines. Swiss first officers start at around €46,000 per year and captains at €68,000.

Lufthansa argues that the number of its pilots in Germany has increased by 20 percent since 2001, due to the expansion of its network through acquisitions and new airline partnerships. The airline last week offered pilots assurances that their jobs would be secure through at least 2012.

Last-minute efforts over the weekend to avert the strike were unsuccessful. The German transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, brokered a series of telephone calls between Wolfgang Mayrhuber, Lufthansa’s chief executive, and Winfried Streicher, Cockpit’s president, but the two sides were unable to agree on ground rules for re-opening negotiations. Both the union and the airline expressed the hope that talks could resume on Monday.

Pilots demonstrated in the rain Monday outside Frankfurt International Airport, where Lufthansa has its main hub, with orange strike buttons pinned to their uniforms and signs such as: “If it says Lufthansa on the outside, it must be Lufthansa on the inside.”

Lufthansa has estimated the cost of the strike at around €25 million, or $34 million, per day.