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Lufthansa returns to (almost) normal schedule

The German airline Lufthansa resumed normal operations on Saturday, a day after a nationwide 24-hour strike by cabin crew forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The two sides have agreed to mediation talks.

A spokesman for Germany's flag-carrier said the first flight had taken off at 5:30 a.m. local time on Saturday and that most flights were expected to run on schedule.

He said that as of midmorning there had been no "incidents worth mentioning" and that only 15 flights had been cancelled as a "precautionary" measure. On an average day, Lufthansa operates around 1,800 flights.

The workers returned after the Independent Flight Attendants' Association (UFO), which represents them, and management agreed to seek a negotiated settlement to their dispute by the end of next week. The airline also agreed to refrain from the use of temporary workers as cabin crew out of Berlin for the time being. This, along with Lufthansa's plans to establish a new budget airline, is one of the main bones of contention in the labor dispute.

No further strikes can be expected as long as the two sides continue talks, in which an independent mediator is now involved.

UFO prepared to strike again

UFO boss Nicoley Baublies has warned, however, that if the mediated negotiations fail to produce a satisfactory agreement, the union could take its workers off the job in what he described as a "very long" series of strikes. Baublies told the German news magazine Focus that cabin crew could then "strike every four or 14 days, or once every three weeks."

Friday's strike was the third and most disruptive in just over a week since the previous wage negotiations had broken down. The first was held solely at Frankfurt Airport, while the second was widened to Berlin Tegel and Munich.

Thirteen months of negotiations failed to resolve the disputes over the budget airline plans and the use of external cabin crew. When talks broke down, the two sides also remained far apart regarding pay. The UFO is seeking a 5 percent increase for its workers following three years of stagnant wages, while Lufthansa has offered 3.5 percent.

pfd/tj (Reuters, DAPD, AFP)