FRANKFURT – Some 113,000 Lufthansa passengers were facing domestic and international cancellations Monday due to all-day walkouts at three German airports staged by a cabin crew union protesting cost cuts.
The travel disruptions are expected to last all week, and highlight the pressure Europe’s flagship carriers are under as they struggle to compete with rich Gulf airlines on long-haul flights and with budget brands on regional routes.
The UFO flight attendant union says it will rotate its strike action to different airports as it presses its demands regarding early retirement payments.
UFO called on all members to walk out Monday from 4.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (0330 GMT to 2200 GMT) in Frankfurt and Duesseldorf and until midnight (2300 GMT) in Munich. The strikes started Friday and took a break Sunday.
Lufthansa said 929 flight segments were cancelled, out of 3,000 planned connections. Frankfurt airport seemed less busy than usual for a Monday morning, as people whose flights had been cancelled stayed away.
The union wants to secure transition payments for its 19,000 members if they retire early as part of its contract dispute with Lufthansa, which is trying to cut costs. The strikes don’t affect Lufthansa subsidiaries such as Eurowings, Germanwings, Swiss and Austrian Airlines.
Lufthansa, which has also had more than a dozen pilot strikes over the past 18 months, is trying to hold down costs as it competes against low-cost airlines such as Ryanair on European routes. On its lucrative long-haul business, Lufthansa faces pressure from airlines in the Persian Gulf region such as Emirates, Ethihad Airways, and Qatar Airways. Lufthansa, which has had to drop some routes to Southeast Asia where it competed with the Gulf airlines, says that the Gulf carriers receive unfair backing from their governments.
The German airline is not alone to suffer such competition. Air France-KLM has also been looking to trim costs and seen labour unrest in which union activists stormed a meeting and ripped the shirts off two managers.
Helped by lower fuel prices, Lufthansa’s net profit jumped to 794 million euros in the third quarter, from 561 million in the same quarter a year ago, an increase of 42 per cent. That has helped sharpen the labour relations climate as worker representatives say the airlines have the money to meet their demands. The airline cautions that it can’t count on temporary factors such as the oil price and must continue to press for competitive cost structures.