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Pilots of privilege

November 23, 2016

Frequent strikes by Lufthansa's privileged pilots amount to a form of blackmail against passengers, and harm the company that already pays them extremely well, says DW's Manuela Kasper-Claridge.

Lufthansa pilot
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

At this moment, thousands of Lufthansa airline passengers are waiting at airports in Germany or elsewhere in the world, hoping their flight will leave as scheduled, so they can get on with their lives. But today, Lufthansa's Airbuses won't be flying - because highly-paid German pilots are once again on strike. The reason: The pilots' union, Vereinigung Cockpit, is of the opinion that an average annual salary of 180,000 euros is simply not enough. With their series of strikes - today's is the 14th in the union's ongoing wage-bargaining dispute with management, which began two and a half years ago - these high-flying luxury pilots appear to be doing everything they can to ruin the airline they work for.

Stormy international competition

Although pilots famously need to have 20-20 vision to qualify for their jobs, it seems these gentlemen flight-captains - very few of them are ladies, after all - are having trouble seeing the world with clear eyes. The fact that the financial air is getting ever thinner for their employer Lufthansa seems to have escaped them entirely. Competition in international aviation is not only rough; it's stormy. Low-cost airlines and the state-subsidized companies of the Persian Gulf are taking business away from unsubsidized established airlines such as Lufthansa. The German airline is one of the most expensive in terms of ticket prices, not least because it carries a lot of baggage on its balance sheet. One of the most important pieces of baggage is composed of a roster fat with highly privileged aircraft operators with extremely generous contracts stemming from a time when there was less competition. Their salary and benefit packages can reach 300,000 euros per annum, and flight captains can retire at ages as young as 55 - 12 years younger than the normal German retirement age. Lufthansa pilots are among the best-paid in the industry. Congratulations!

And now, we passengers are supposed to feel solidarity for these poor dear Lufthansa pilots - because they'd really like to have a little more pay. Twenty percent more, to be precise. That's not a disproportionate demand in a difficult market environment, according to their union. After all, Lufthansa has lately made billions in net revenues. What's left unsaid is that rather a lot of that money is earmarked for the modernization of the company's fleet.

Kasper Claridge Manuela Kommentarbild App
DW Business & Science chief Manuela Kasper-ClaridgeImage: DW

Abstruse demands

Sorry, gentlemen. One cannot have much sympathy for your demands. Especially not in view of the chutzpah with which you've been trying to push them through. A very small number of very well-paid men are making life difficult for a very large number of airline passengers, because they're really only interested in their own advantage. The pilots don't want to negotiate anymore, and certainly don't want to submit their wage dispute to independent arbitration. No, they'd rather expose their own employer to financial and reputational harm, and expose Lufthansa's clients to the sort of inconveniences associated with getting stranded in foreign airports when you've got to be at an important meeting on another continent the next day.

All over the world, each time the pilots stage one of their strikes, people have to reschedule meetings or holidays, sort out delays, and apologize to inconvenienced business associates, friends or relatives. The people affected face a choice: They can thank the pilots and send a note of solidarity to the Lufthansa pilots' union, or they can resolve to fly with a different airline next time - maybe with one of the discount airlines, like Ryanair, whose captains earn a base rate of 62,000 euros a year. The discount airlines' jets aren't as comfortable as Lufthansa's airliners, but they generally leave on time.

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