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Lufthansa strike hits long-haul flights

A strike of Lufthansa's pilots has disrupted about half of the airline's lucrative long-distance flights. Lufthansa has accused the pilots' union of refusing to negotiate.

Lufthansa canceled almost half of its long-haul flights on Saturday as a pilot's strike entered its fourth day. The work stoppage struck 74 of 160 planned flights from departure lists, Germany's largest airline said. Unlike the previous days of the strike, however, short and medium-haul flights would not be disrupted, nor the flights of low-cost subsidiary Germanwings.

The strike has affected 20,000 passengers after 700 flights were canceled on Friday and a further 90 were scrapped due to a separate air traffic controllers strike in Italy.

The Lufthansa employees started the strike on Wednesday over a protracted row involving early retirement benefits for about 5,400 pilots. Previously, they were entitled to early retirement at age 55 in consideration of the health risks of their job, and would then receive 60 percent of their regular income until the legal retirement age of 65.

Lufthansa's decision to cancel these benefits has lead to 12 waves of strikes over the past year, costing the company over 200 million euros ($214 million) and affecting around 1 million passengers.

A spokesman for the striking union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), told a German newspaper on Saturday that striking over the Easter holiday was not out of the question if Lufthansa did not change its behavior.

Germany's largest airline said it would not enter into any compromise that would "threaten its ability to survive."

Pilot reacting disproportionately

The German public did not appear to be on the side of the pilots. According to a poll conducted by PR firm Ketchum Pleon, 55 percent of those surveyed found the reaction of the pilots disproportionate to the situation. Of those polled, 52 percent considered VC to be the source of the conflict, with only 19 percent blaming Lufthansa.

After VC called the fourth day of strikes, Lufthansa said the pilots were "moving further and further away from a solution, which must come at the negotiating table."

"Many of you are concerned that the strikes will continue in the next days," Lufthansa said in the letter. "Unfortunately we cannot rule this out."

Lufthansa's next workers dispute will come on Monday as negotiations begin with the trade union Verdi, which represents about 30,000 service workers on the ground.

es/sms (dpa, Reuters)

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