Lufthansa cancelled 290 flights Friday after its flight attendants announced the first stoppages in a rolling eight-day strike in defence of their retirement benefits.
The airline reserved 2,500 hotel rooms in Frankfurt, the airline’s main hub, to accommodate thousands of incoming passengers at risk of being stranded in the city.
Hundreds of stretcher beds were set up in the airport’s transit zone for those onward-bound travellers, especially from India, who lack visas to enter Europe.
Frankfurt is a principal redistributor point for passenger traffic between India and North America.
Of the 290 cancelled flights – 10 per cent of daily movements by the group – 15 were intercontinental routes, with the rest within Europe. Lufthansa said 37,500 passengers were affected.
The union, Ufo, is demanding preservation of retirement benefits that enable many stewards to retire from 55. The strike threatens to pull the airline group back into the red after a quarter where its earnings rose by half and it forecast a strong full year.
Instead of holding an all-out strike, Ufo has adopted a rolling strategy, announcing its members will not crew any take-offs from Frankfurt for Friday afternoon and evening, whereas crews will work as normal at Lufthansa’s number-two hub, Munich, through Sunday.
The attendants are only refusing to work on Lufthansa-livery jets. Other airlines in the group are flying normally.
“All passengers of Lufthansa must assume that their flight might get cancelled at the last minute,” Nicoley Baublies, leader of Ufo, warned. The short-notice tactic has been adopted by the union to thwart Lufthansa counter-efforts to organize skeleton services.
He added the union was no longer open to talks, and would only call off the strike if Lufthansa made a substantial offer.
Lufthansa’s 19,000 attendants had previously been docile compared to its pilots, who have struck 13 times in a similar dispute that is still simmering.
Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spoehr is spearheading a cost-cutting drive to ward off competition from both budget lines such as Ryanair and mega-carriers from the Gulf such as Emirates.
Crews were also pulled Friday at a minor field, Dusseldorf, where Lufthansa operates only a single daily international flight and 18 domestic connections.