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Lufthansa cabin crew strike, grounding scores of flights

German airline Lufthansa has cancelled 306 Tuesday flights amid cabin crew walkouts at three major airports, warning that further disruptions and delays are possible. Extra trains and airport staff are standing by.

Disgruntled flight attendants launched strikes at three of Germany's biggest airports Tuesday, as the Independent Flight Attendants Organization (UFO) trade union and airline giant Lufthansa continue playing hardball.

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Union strike causes flight gridlock

Some 1,200 cabin crew downed tools at Berlin Tegel and Frankfurt Airport airports early in the morning, with an afternoon and evening strike hitting Munich.

Lufthansa on Tuesday cancelled 306 flights and a further seven scheduled for Wednesday, grounding around a third of its birds.

Frankfurt Airport was worst hit, with the Fraport operating firm saying that over 220 flights were scratched. Lufthansa stopped around half of its short- and medium-haul flights, with around one in three intercontinental routes affected. Nearly 200 flights were axed at the airport on Friday after a localized walkout.

Staff at Berlin's main airport, Tegel, started their strike at 5 a.m. local time, with workers at Frankfurt following one hour behind. The UFO union said both actions were due to last eight hours. Shortly thereafter, UFO announced a further strike in Munich starting at 1 p.m. local time. Lufthansa was hoping to keep about three in four of all flights out of Munich airborne, attributing this to a higher proportion of non-striking personnel.

Two employees wearing high-visibility strike vests walk past passengers at terminal 1 of Frankfurt airport on Tuesday. (Thomas Lohnes/dapd)

Frankfurt is Germany's busiest airport

UFO had pledged broad strike measures for Tuesday, but said it would not reveal their extent until the last moment - an attempt to stop Lufthansa drafting in replacements among non-strikers or staff from other airlines.

Pinprick at Lufthansa, or punch in customer's face?

UFO described its latest strikes as pinpricks designed to force Lufthansa into movement in long-running negotiations on pay and other conditions, saying that otherwise it might consider blanket walkouts.

"This has nothing to do with pinpricks anymore," Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther told the DPA news agency. "Instead, these are blows from behind, punches to the face of our customers. Here, a union is striking against the customers. And that's not on."

A Lufthansa employee wearing a badge that reads UFO ... Streik, the German word for strike. (Thomas Lohnes/dapd)

Over 18,000 flight attendants work with Lufthansa

Extra workers were drafted into the airports to provide stranded passengers with drinks and snacks, while Lufthansa sent out over 10,000 cell phone text messages to customers, warning of the disturbances. A Deutsche Bahn spokeswoman told the DAPD agency that the national rail provider had extra trains on stand-by at the affected airports, anticipating increased demand.

Wages and staffing policy disputed

UFO has not announced details of plans for Wednesday, but union boss Niocley Baublies told the German DPA agency that a nationwide action was "unrealistic," among other things because "there will already be plenty of chaos on Wednesday" in light of Tuesday's disruptions. Baublies also said that UFO wanted to give Lufthansa time to respond.

UFO has been negotiating for a pay increase for 13 months, following three years of stagnant wages. The union wants a five-percent increase backdated to January; Lufthansa has so far offered 3.5 percent.

The union is also seeking promises from Lufthansa not to use temporary staff and to scale back plans for outsourcing labor. The airline's intention to establish a domestic budget airline is also a bone of contention.

Lufthansa has established a page on its website and a telephone hotline (08008506070) for passengers seeking information about their flights.

msh/pfd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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