, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Apr 10 – Tens of thousands of air passengers were stranded Tuesday as workers at airlines Lufthansa and Air France staged strikes that crippled traffic at several major European airports.
Germany’s biggest carrier Lufthansa was forced to cancel 800 out of 1,600 scheduled flights, including 58 long-haul flights.
German public sector workers including ground crew and airport firefighters walked out at 5:00 am with the strike due to last until 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).
Tuesday’s “warning strike” hit Germany’s biggest airport Frankfurt as well as other regional hubs such as Munich, Cologne and Bremen.
Other airports such as Hamburg, Leipzig and Hanover were hit with knock-on effects.
Half of the flights at Munich were delayed or cancelled according to the union Verdi, national news agency DPA reported.
Beyond airports, local transport, kindergartens, rubbish collection and hospitals were also affected, as civil servants walked out to demand a 6.0-percent pay raise for the 2.3 million people working for Germany’s federal, state and local governments.
Given the country’s economic strength, “when if not now should there be significant pay increases for workers, including those in the public sector?” asked Verdi leader Frank Bsirske in an appearance at Frankfurt airport.
“We’re determined to achieve this.”
But the ADV airport operators’ association accused unions of “lacking all proportionality”, with the strike disrupting tens of thousands of journeys — 90,000 at Lufthansa alone — and costs they said would run into the millions.
Airport operator Fraport said Tuesday afternoon that service should return to normal in the early evening.
“It will take about 45 to 60 minutes for all the positions to be manned again and then we’ll go back to normal service,” a spokesman told DPA.
– Beer at 8:00 am –
Travellers had plenty of notice of upsets to their plans, avoiding scenes of chaos at Frankfurt airport, but some could not avoid travelling Tuesday.
Sybille Metzler, who was due to travel to Amsterdam for a meeting, turned up at the hub despite warnings from the operator that her flight had been cancelled.
“I knew, but I wanted to see if I can still get there, because it won’t work with the train,” the 41-year-old management accountant told AFP.
Some passengers who faced disruption were understanding of the walkout.
“It’s fair enough. Hope they get it,” said Ashley Gillham, 40, a manager in the auto sector, of the strikers’ pay demands — despite having to switch to rail for part of his journey from New Zealand via Frankfurt to Mallorca.
“This way we get to have a beer at 8:00 am,” he joked.
– Sixth walkout at Air France –
In unrelated industrial action in France, air traffic was also severely disrupted as the country’s biggest airline Air France was forced to cancel one in four flights, in the sixth round of strikes launched by its employees since February.
Around 65 percent of long-haul flights will depart as planned, the carrier said, with higher proportions on schedule among medium- and short-haul services from Paris and other French airports.
The group said the strikes between February 22 and April 11 were estimated to cost the company 170 million euros ($210 million).
Several Air France unions have called four further days of industrial action in April as they also seek a 6.0-percent pay raise.
Managers say the company is not growing solidly enough to justify such salary boosts, which they reckon would cost 240 million euros per year.
Air France’s labour woes come at the same time as disruption for French state rail operator SNCF.
Workers are staging repeated walkouts in protest at the French government’s plan to reform the company and change the special status its employees enjoy.