Lufthansa pilot strike grounds most long-haul flights

Thu Mar 19, 2015 5:53pm EDT
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By Victoria Bryan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A pilots' strike grounded more than half of Lufthansa's (LHAG.DE: Quote) lucrative long-haul flights on Thursday, the latest action to pile pressure on management in a protracted row over early retirement benefits and cost cuts.

Lufthansa is trying to cut costs to levels nearer those of its rivals as it is squeezed by budget carriers Ryanair (RYA.I: Quote) and easyJet (EZJ.L: Quote) on European routes and by airlines such as Turkish (THYAO.IS: Quote) and Emirates [EMIRA.UL] on long-haul flights.

Including Thursday's strike, pilots have walked out 13 times since last April, affecting almost one million passengers. Other Lufthansa employees are starting to worry the row could damage the business for good.

"We fortunately have very loyal customers, but if this continues in the long run and we aren't able to offer the reliability we need, then it could become a problem for our customers," Peter Gerber, chief executive of Lufthansa Cargo, told Reuters.

Lufthansa Cargo said all its freight-only flights would operate on Thursday, but the strike would affect the freight it carries in the holds of long-haul passenger planes.

Lufthansa cancelled 84 of its planned 153 long-haul flights for Thursday, affecting 18,000 passengers, a spokesman said.

Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) is extending the strike to short- and medium-haul Lufthansa flights on Friday and said it would strike again on Saturday on long-haul and cargo flights.

Lufthansa said it was cancelling 700 short- and medium-haul flights on Friday, equivalent to about half its scheduled flights, while another 90 were being cancelled because of a strike by Italian air traffic controllers.   Continued...

A sign is pictured during a pilots' strike of German flagship carrier Lufthansa at Munich's airport March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle