World watching Lufthansa strike

A
four-day strike by the pilots’ union of Lufthansa threatens one of the world’s
largest airlines and may disrupt travel on more than two dozen partner airlines
today.

Lufthansa
and the pilot’s union, Vereinigung Cockpit, are holding talks this weekend as a
last ditch effort to avoid the strike. More than 4,000 pilots are expected to
walk off the job at midnight Monday (6 p.m. Sunday ET) through Thursday over
protracted contract negotiations centering around pay and job security.

The
industrial action starts the same day that British Airways cabin staff are
expected to announce the outcome of its strike vote. And on Wednesday in Greece, a mass
public and private sector strike is being planned to protest the government’s
austerity plan.

Lufthansa
has already canceled two-thirds of its scheduled flights Monday to Thursday
ahead of the strike.

Company
officials admitted the strike would have a “heavy influence” on its
international operations, which includes flights to 80 countries worldwide.

In 2008,
Lufthansa was the number two international carrier by passengers with 42.2
million, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The
threatened walkout comes as the airline industry is digging out of the worst
one-year drop-off in flights, according to IATA.

In 2009,
revenues dropped nearly 15 percent worldwide after generating a record $535
billion the previous year. Passenger travel fell a record 3.5 percent and
freight fell more than 10 percent, according to IATA figures.

Lufthansa
officials said at a news conference Thursday a strike would cost the airline
about $33 million a day.

Many of
Lufthansa’s pilots have been working without a contract since March and more
than 90 percent of the union’s members voted to strike, said Jorg Handwerg, a
pilot and representative for the union.

The union
sought a 6.4 percent pay increase. It is also concerned with the airline’s
recent buying spree of small regional carriers, such as BMI and Austrian
Airlines which, it says, is cannibalizing flights away from union-flown routes.

“We
fly less hours and have less potential for (performance-related bonuses),”
Handwerg said. “We want to have the opportunity to grow, but instead it
shrinks.”

In a
statement, Lufthansa said: “In addition to demands on job security,
however, the union also insisted on a greater say on fundamental
entrepreneurial issues, equating to intervention in business management at the
airline. That demand cannot be accepted.”

The
airline is allowing passengers to rebook flights for tickets purchased before
February 18 and plans to give German domestic passengers rail vouchers.

But one
Lufthansa passenger said she is having trouble reaching a compromise with the
airline.

“I
spent several hours on the phone with Lufthansa to try and figure out what I
can do, but now I’ve been told that I can’t even get a refund,” said Ruth
Winblad, who is supposed to fly today from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Rome, Italy.

Lufthansa
is one of the largest carriers on Star Alliance, a network of 26 airlines that
share ticketing and routes for international travel. Travelers on Star Alliance
flights are advised to check their tickets for Lufthansa flights and contact
their carrier about any potential changes, said Markus Ruediger, Star Alliance
spokesman.

Star
Alliance member airlines are: Adria, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand,
ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue 1, BMI, Brussels Airlines, Continental
Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, Lot Polish Airlines, Lufthansa,
Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African
Airways, Spanair, Swiss, Tap Portugal, Thai Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United
Airlines and U.S. Airways.

Partner
airlines are preparing for the potential strike.

“Some
of our code share flights with Lufthansa may be affected during the period of
the strike. We are in contact with Lufthansa and will be informed of the
affected flights as soon as details are made available,” said Nicholas
Ionides, Singapore Airlines spokesman.

“Should
there be customers traveling on affected Lufthansa-operated code share flights,
they will be contacted and re-accommodated on the best next available
schedule.”

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