Hundreds of flights cancelled as Lufthansa crew strike
German flag carrier Lufthansa on Tuesday cancelled over 200 flights at its Frankfurt hub, Europe's third busiest, as a union chief threatened to hit every German airport with a 24-hour strike on Friday.
Cabin crew extended last week's strike in Frankfurt to Munich and Berlin and Lufthansa said it had grounded more than half of its scheduled services -- 217 out of 370 in all -- due to the stoppage over pay and conditions.
Short and medium-haul flights were the worst affected.
In addition to the cancellations, reduced capacity at Frankfurt led to approximately 80 further delays, said a spokesman for Brussels-based Eurocontrol, a multinational air navigation safety body.
"Flights which are delayed are experiencing an average of 20 minutes delay, although some flights earlier today had up to an hour," a Eurocontrol statement said.
The UFO union, which held a first strike at Frankfurt airport on Friday, staged fresh walkouts at airports in Berlin and Munich as well as Frankfurt with the stoppages lasting eight hours.
The strikes ended at 1200 GMT in Berlin and Frankfurt but were due to last until 2200 GMT in the southern city of Munich.
Disruption was less severe in Berlin and Munich, with 15 out of 39 flights cancelled in the capital and three-quarters of the flights in the Bavarian city expected to run, according to Lufthansa.
A spokesman for Austrian Airlines, owned by Lufthansa but not affected by the industrial action, flew larger planes to the three affected airports to help with stranded passengers.
UFO, which represents some two-thirds of Lufthansa's 18,000 cabin crew, already held an eight-hour strike Friday that affected a total of 26,000 passengers at Frankfurt Airport in western Germany.
Lufthansa and UFO (Unabhaengige Flugbegleiter Organisation), traded verbal blows early Tuesday, each accusing the other of arrogance.
UFO head Nicoley Baublies warned that the strike would be extended to every German airport during a 24-hour strike on Friday if an agreement was not reached.
"We are very serious, that means that on Friday there will be a 24-hour strike at every German airport," he said.
Lufthansa had shown "no sign of bending", Dirk Vogelsang, who is leading the negotiations, told AFP, adding that "at the moment, it looks very, very difficult" with the attitude hardening on both sides.
If management continued what he termed "sabre-rattling", the union would consider "blanket strikes," he said.
UFO is seeking a five percent pay increase for cabin staff backdated to January after three years of wage freezes. It is also opposed to the use of temporary cabin staff on Lufthansa aircraft.
Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther said the airline had offered a salary hike of about 3.5 percent as well as an offer to stop fixed-term contracts and halt the use of temporary staff.
"UFO has not given us a contribution towards increasing competitiveness," such as working an extra two hours a month, he complained, calling for both parties to return to the negotiating table.
He said the airline would do everything possible to minimise disruption to travellers, with passengers informed about developments by email or text message.
He described the strike as "a punch in the face for our customers," according to local news agency DPA.
"Here we have a union leadership that is conducting a strike against our passengers, and that can't stand," he said.
The airline already faces headwinds because of rising fuel prices and fierce competition.
A 2009 strike by cabin crew cost Lufthansa tens of millions of euros.
In February this year, Frankfurt airport's apron control staff -- traffic controllers who guide aircraft on the tarmac -- walked off the job over demands for higher pay.