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Strikes

Striking pilots march on Lufthansa headquarters

Hardly any Lufthansa planes will be taking off or landing for another two days. As pilots take to the streets to protest the airline's pension cuts, countless passengers remain stranded at airports.

The check-in hall at Frankfurt airport is normally heaving with long queues and travelers pushing overloaded carts through crowds, is virtually deserted. The word "cancelled" appears next to nearly every flight on the giant information board. Every five minutes, the public address system breaks the silence: "Dear passengers, we regret any inconvenience. Due to strike activities by the pilots' union Cockpit, there will be massive flight cancellations to Lufthansa flights."

The airline has provided a cart full of soft drinks and candy bars - a sign on it reads: "Please grab something." In front of the check-in counter, personnel from Lufthansa and the airport - wearing green and white or pink vests respectively - help the stranded passengers with their needs, and spend some time reassuring them. But the woman checking the boarding cards on Wedensday shakes her head with irritation: the security personnel went on strike only a few days ago, now the pilots - her patience is wearing thin.

A single woman at a long line of Lufthansa check-in counters
Photo: Arne Dedert/dpa

Frankfurt airport's check-in hall is all but deserted

Missed appointments

Foreign travelers, in particular, often only realize at the airport that their flight has been cancelled. Djemel Eddine Taleb came to Frankfurt from Strasbourg intending to board a flight to Algeria. Now he has to wait eight hours for another plane, missing his doctor's appointment. The airport staff cannot provide any medical help.

"They said I'd have to go into the city for that," he told DW. "But I don't even know my way around the city!" He had not been informed about the strike, saying that there had been no indication of a problem when he printed out his ticket the day before. "I would never have thought that something like this would happen in Germany. Everything is normally so well organized here."

At the same time, on the street in front of the airport, hundreds of pilots, all wearing their dark blue uniforms, are marching towards Lufthansa headquarters. No chanting, no whistles, no megaphones. The only thing making any noise is the plane on the nearby runway - Alitalia. "Pilots take the responsibility, the locust capitalists take the profits," reads one of the banners. And "Non-Stop profits" is printed on the balloons.

Cockpit President Ilja Schulz is at the front of the march. By his own account, flying is his passion. It is wonderful, the 46-year-old said, to fly on overcast, rainy days common to Germany because then you see the sun at least once. And the pay is good too. But he is furious that Lufthansa now wants to pay him and his colleagues less when they retire early.

Striking pilots' protest march
Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The pilots are unhappy about Lufthansa's pension cuts

"Our transitional income is not for the shareholders!" He calls out to his colleagues when they gather at Lufthansa headquarters. There is wild applause. Some Lufthansa employees can be seen at the windows of the building, frowning down at the crowd of pilots. One of them holds a homemade sign against the window - "I'm a Lufthansaen. And you?"

Clear signals

The pilots say they didn't want to inconvenience those passengers standing helplessly in front of the information board at Europe's biggest airport, but they had no choice. "Lufthansa is behaving irresponsibly towards its staff," said pilot Markus Wahl. "We have to send clear signals to fight against a massive attack like this!"

Holidaymaker Michael Reimann, on his way to Washington DC to visit his sister and brother-in-law, was philosophical. "Let them strike, as long as everything is well organized," he said. When he heard about the action, he called Lufthansa immediately and had himself re-booked onto a United Airlines flight. But he has little sympathy for the well-paid pilots' complaints: "I can't understand how someone can just decide when to retire by themselves."

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