A massive strike by cabin crew at German flagship carrier Lufthansa resulted in the cancellation of around half the airline's flights on Friday and left passengers stranded across Germany.
In the latest development of a labor dispute with the airline over working conditions and pay, the UFO flight attendants' union began a 24-hour work stoppage at midnight.
The union had announced the strike well in advance, giving Lufthansa time to come up with an emergency plan for operations on Friday. Initially, the airline said that two-thirds of its normal 1,800 daily flights would be cancelled, but the strike ultimately impacted just 50 percent, mostly within Europe.
Friday is a "dark day for more than 100,000 Lufthansa customers," company spokesman Klaus Walther told German news channel N-TV. "But it is also a difficult day for every Lufthansa employee who is trying to reduce the effect on customers to the extent possible."
Ahead of the strike, Lufthansa informed around 60,000 passengers that their flights had been cancelled. The airline rebooked thousands of domestic trips with national railway Deutsche Bahn, which offered all of its available trains to help transport stranded travelers. Lufthansa's website also provided information on train vouchers and several telephone numbers for further assistance.
Six of the country's major airports, including Frankfurt, Germany's largest international hub, were included in the strike. Thanks to advance preparations, the situation remained relatively calm compared to UFO's first work stoppage last week.
'Lufthansa Will Budge'
During the course of 13-month-long negotiations, the flight attendants' union has demanded a 5 percent wage increase and guarantees against job outsourcing. But Lufthansa, under pressure to cut costs and increase revenues, has offered a 3.6 percent wage increase in exchange for longer working hours.
Talks broke down last week, prompting the union to stage a strike at Frankfurt airport last Friday. It followed up with strike actions at the Munich and Berlin airports on Tuesday. The strikes have reportedly cost Lufthansa some 10 million ($12.6 million) so far.
"We have received clear signals that Lufthansa will budge," UFO head Nicoley Baublies told the news agency AFP on Friday, adding that talks could resume over the weekend. It remains uncertain whether a mediator with be called in, a step that would require the strikes to end under German law.
Should negotiations continue to stall, however, more strikes will follow, but only after allowing Lufthansa a few days of "breathing room," Baublies told public broadcaster ZDF.
Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz told the broadcaster that the airline had not expected a strike on this scale, criticizing it as "totally disproportionate."
But he added that the company is ready to talk. "We're sitting in the negotiation room," he said.