Lufthansa Strike Adds to Europe’s Air Travel Chaos

 - July 26, 2022, 1:18 PM
Ground crew at Lufthansa LEOS will join several other service workers in a walkout on Wednesday at airports across Germany. (Photo: Lufthansa Group)

A strike called by the German trade union Ver.di has forced Lufthansa to cancel most of its schedule for Wednesday, including more than 1,000 flights at its main Frankfurt and Munich hubs. The industrial action, which will involve some 20,000 employees of the logistics, engineering, services, technical, and cargo subsidiaries of the airline across the country, marks the latest major disruption to hit air travel across the continent this summer, as airlines and airports struggle with staff shortages amid a strong uptick of post-Covid demand and as unions seize the opportunity to demand better working conditions and pay increases for their members. Besides Lufthansa, rival airlines SAS, British Airways, KLM, Ryanair, and EasyJet have faced strikes or strike threats from ground workers or crew in recent weeks.

In a statement, Ver.di said that it called the walkout “to increase the pressure on employers to submit a significantly improved, final offer in the next round of negotiations,” which is set to take place on August 3 and 4 in Frankfurt. “The situation at the airports is escalating; the overburdening of employees due to a significant shortage of staff, high inflation, and a three-year wage cut would put the employees under increasing pressure,” said Christine Behle, deputy president of the ver.di service workers union and negotiator for the Lufthansa talks.

The industrial action will begin July 27 at 3:45 a.m. CET and continue until 6:00 a.m. July 28. Ver.di announced the strike July 25, calling it a “good time so that passengers can adapt to it and possibly realign themselves.”  The union called on employees based in Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich, and Stuttgart, to participate in the one-day walkout.

“After only two days of negotiations, ver.di has announced a strike that can hardly be called a warning strike due to its breadth across all locations and its duration,” noted Michael Niggemann, member of the executive board and chief human resources officer at Lufthansa.

“After the enormous efforts to stabilize our flight operations, this represents a renewed, substantial, and unnecessary burden for our passengers and also for our employees beyond the strike day,” he added.

Lufthansa has canceled thousands of flights in several waves this summer “to relieve the overall system,” and earlier this month welcomed a move by Frankfurt airport operator Fraport to reduce the number of takeoffs and landings at the airport to 88 movements per hour as “the right step to stabilize flight operations.”

Other European airports, such as Amsterdam Schiphol and Heathrow and Gatwick in London, also have implemented caps on the number of flight movements and passenger numbers in an effort to reduce delays and lengthy check-in and security times.

Lufthansa said the strike is resulting in a “massive” operational effect in the middle of the peak travel season. It will rebook passengers affected by cancellations on alternative flights, it said, warning, however, that “the capacities available for this are very limited” as flights almost have reached full capacity.  The airline said the planned strike forced it to cancel a total of about 45 long-haul flights in Munich and Frankfurt on Tuesday and cautioned the effects of the strike may still lead to individual flight cancellations or delays on Thursday and Friday despite its efforts to restore flight operations to normal.