A three-day pilot strike has caused the cancellation of as many as 3,800 Lufthansa flights. The company intends to help its passengers as much as it can, but who will make it to their destinations - and how?
This could become one of the biggest strikes in the history of Europe's biggest airline. For three full days, 5,400 Lufthansa pilots intend to strike, causing the cancellation of 3,800 flights. Only about 500 of the shorter flights have been taken on by Lufthansa subsidiaries such as Eurowings, but the company's budget airline Germanwings is also affected by the strike. Lufthansa believes that around 425,000 passengers will be affected, and large sections of the air traffic in major German hubs like Frankfurt and Munich could be shut down altogether.
Legally speaking, a strike of this magnitude is considered a "higher power," which means that passengers simply have to accept the fact that there will be significant delays, re-routings, or cancellations. Several consumer advocate websites have said customers are not entitled to any compensation if they cannot make an important trip.
And yet: even in the case of strikes, airlines are obliged to find passengers an alternative means of transport as quickly as possible. That isn't a major issue inside Germany - according to Lufthansa, customers can easily swap their flight tickets for rail tickets either at Lufthansa counters or online. Germany's rail operator Deutsche Bahn is also making more trains available during the strike.
Once the pilot's union Cockpit had confirmed the exact date of the strike, Lufthansa attempted to keep passengers informed of cancellations via e-mail or text message, as well as on the Lufthansa website, promising to deal with all cases as flexibly as possible. Passengers are also entitled to cancel their flights and receive a full refund.
Long-distance flights, however, are more complicated. Though Lufthansa said it is trying to transfer passengers to other airlines, it will presumably only be possible with a fraction of the flights, and most long-distance passengers will face serious delays.
"But they will be completely looked after by our staff," Lufthansa spokesman Boris Ogursky told DW. "If passengers are waiting for a cancelled return flight to Germany, for instance, then they can turn to Lufthansa employees and we will find hotels for them to stay in until their flight takes place."
The flight plans are likely to resume on Saturday morning, though the airline is expecting it will take several hours for air traffic to return to its intended timetable.
But what about passengers who have booked a Lufthansa flight somewhere else in the world? Many foreign passengers began feeling the effects of the strike even before it began. Around 40 flights due to land in Frankfurt or Munich on Wednesday morning (02.04.2014) had to be cancelled. "Otherwise we'd end up with no room, because all these planes would have landed in Frankfurt and then wouldn't have been able to take off," said Ogursky.
Helping the stranded
Foreign passengers have the same rights as Germans, Ogursky said. "They can re-book or cancel their tickets for free too," he said. The airline has also promised to look after passengers who intended to transfer through German airports but got stuck because of the strike. Frankfurt, Germany's largest airport, has also made preparations for the strike: passengers who remain in the airport for a prolonged period will be offered places to sleep and wash, as well as food and drink. Additional staff will also be taken on to help stranded travelers.
Some German politicians have expressed concern at the impending chaos. Arnold Vaatz, deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary faction, criticized what he sees as the inappropriate scale of the strike, which, he told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper, will "cause enormous economic damage." He called for a debate on a possible change in the laws governing strikes. Lufthansa itself has estimated that its extra costs will run into the double-figure millions.
Cockpit has defended the scale of the strike - after all, spokesman Jörg Handwerg told TV network ZDF, around a billion euros are at stake. The pilots want to apply pressure on wage negotiations - they are demanding a 10 percent raise and want to stop Lufthansa limiting its early retirement regulations.