A pilot strike at Lufthansa has expanded as it enters a second day Tuesday, forcing the carrier to ground a significant portion of its schedule. Cancellations include many of the carrier’s lucrative long-haul routes, including flights to the United States, Canada and Asia.
The strike – one of several to hit Lufthansa this year – is scheduled to wind down by the end of Tuesday. But, in bad news for customers, the pilots union is threatening more disruptions this week.
“If Lufthansa doesn’t react now, we don’t rule out further strikes this week,” Markus Wahl, a union spokesman for the Vereinigung Cockpit, said to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Lufthansa says the labor action has forced it to ground more than 1,500 flights, estimating that more than 165,000 passengers have been affected, according to German news site Deutsche Welle .
Reporting from Lufthansa’s biggest hub in Frankfurt, Reuters writes “queues snaked back from check-in desks, and staff were handing out drinks and snacks to those waiting.”
The strike comes as pilots remain locked in a disagreement with Lufthansa on retirement benefits. Bloomberg News explains the impasse, writing:
“Vereinigung Cockpit wants the carrier to reinstate benefits withdrawn last year that were paid to flight crew retiring before they receive a state pension. Lufthansa wants to raise the earliest possible retirement age to 60 years from 55 as part of a wider cost-cutting and productivity program.”
Lufthansa, which faces increasing pressure from both full-service rivals in the Middle East and from low-cost competitors in Europe, says it cannot afford the measure.
The strike is just one of several that pilots have staged against Lufthansa in recent months. It’s also the second strike to disrupt Lufthansa in as many weeks. Last week, the union staged a walkout at Germanwings , the low-cost unit of Lufthansa that handles a large part of the Lufthansa Group’s intra-Germany flying.
Strikes in 2014 have cost Lufthansa tens of millions of dollars, with Reuters noting that a single three-day strike in April alone “wiped 60 million euros (more than $75 million) from the airline’s first-half operating profit.”
On that subject, a top Lufthansa official expressed alarm in a Monday statement about the financial damage from the repeated labor actions.
“The strikes not only cause severe economic damage to Lufthansa, but they also harm its reputation, with considerable consequences for our company and employees that remain unforeseeable even today,” Chief Financial Officer Simone Menne said in a Monday statement quoted by the Journal.
Even this week’s strike escalated beyond its initial scope. Pilots had originally announced a 35-hour labor action that was to begin Monday and target the German carrier’s short-haul routes operated by Airbus A320, Boeing 737 and Embraer aircraft.