Frankfurt airport hit by strike

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lufthansa plane Reuters An aerial view of a Lufthansa plane parked on the tarmac of the Frankfurt Airport.

Passengers at Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, faced delays and cancellations Friday as nearly 200 flights by Germany's main carrier Lufthansa were grounded due to a cabin crew strike.

A Lufthansa spokesman said the airline had been forced to cancel “some 190 of the 360 flights that had been scheduled between 5:00am (05:00 SA time) and 1:00pm (13:00 SA time).”

In total, the airline operates some 840 flights daily in and out of its main hub Frankfurt.

“Most are short and medium-haul flights, to Germany and the rest of Europe. Six were intercontinental flights, primarily to the US. But since we serve these routes several times a day, it was no problem re-booking passengers,” the spokesman said.

In all, a total 26,000 passengers were affected.

At other major German airports, such as Munich, Berlin and Hamburg, “the disruption is limited,” the spokesman said.

Cabin crew staged the strike, which ended after eight hours at 13:00 SA time, in their fight for higher pay.

An official for the UFO labour union, which represents some two-thirds of Lufthansa's 18,000 cabin crew members, was not immediately able to say exactly how many staff took part in the strike, but insisted participation was “very high”.

Extended industrial action could prove costly for the airline, which already faces strong headwinds from rising fuel prices and fierce competition.

UFO is seeking a 5.0-percent pay increase for cabin staff for 15 months backdated to January this year after three years of zero increases.

It is also opposed to the use of temporary cabin staff in Lufthansa aircraft.

Lufthansa's latest offer was for a pay increase of around 3.5 percent.

UFO head Nicoley Baublies told ARD public television that “the chaos should extend into the afternoon” as the effects of the strike ripple on.

And he said he could not rule out further strike action.

“That depends on the behaviour of Lufthansa... We are ready to act at any moment, anywhere in Germany, by announcing our action six hours in advance,” he said.

Unions had held off from strike action while last-ditch wage negotiations were still underway, but with no breakthrough in the deadlocked talks overnight Monday, UFO declared the talks had failed and called for immediate walkouts.

The airline urged unions to return to the negotaiting table.

“Our door is open. We call on the unions to negotiate our offer,” the Lufthansa spokesman said.

Lufthansa shares were showing a loss of 0.28 percent in late afternoon trade in a generally firmer market.

Walkouts now, at the end of the crucial summer holiday period, could prove particularly painful for an airline.

An earlier strike by cabin crew at the beginning of 2009 cost Lufthansa tens of millions of euros.

And it is not the first time this year that Lufthansa has felt the pinch from industrial action.

In February, Frankfurt airport's apron control staff, traffic controllers who guide aircraft while they're on the tarmac, walked off the job over demands for higher pay.

Management nevertheless appears willing to risk all-out confrontation.

Lufthansa embarked on a cost-cutting programme at the beginning of the year with the aim of boosting its operating profit by 1.5

billion euros ($1.9 billion) by 2014. - Sapa-AFP


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