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Three-day Lufthansa strike begins, massive travel disruptions expected

Lufthansa pilots have begun a three-day strike. Several thousand domestic and intercontinental flights have been cancelled, but airports are reporting a quiet start to the strike period, with most travelers forewarned.

Pilot strike paralyzes Lufthansa

Just after midnight on Wednesday, pilots belonging to the German union "Cockpit" launched what was anticipated to be the largest strike in Lufthansa's history.

Clad in their dark blue Lufthansa uniforms, hundreds of pilots quietly marched outside Frankfurt Airport, Germany's largest, carrying placards demonizing what they regard as unfair work conditions.

Union pilots are demanding higher wages, claiming the German airline had failed to make a negotiable offer over the two years they have been in talks.

"Pilots take responsibility, fat cats take the profits," read one placard. A blue-and-yellow balloon bore the words, "Nonstop PROFIT," a parody of the Lufthansa slogan, "Nonstop you."

The pilots are also protesting cuts to so-called "transition contracts." Under the early retirement agreements, pilots have the option to stop flying at the age of 55 and receive up to 60 percent of their gross earnings until they reach the legal retirement age. Not only does Lufthansa plan to raise the age to 60, but it also wants to change the rules so that entry-level pilots begin paying a portion of the transitional retirement fund.

"Our transition contracts are not there to satiate shareholders' appetite for profits," said Ilja Schulz, president of the pilots' union Cockpit.

The strike is scheduled to continue through to Friday and affects Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings. Ahead of the three-day strike, Lufthansa cancelled 3,800 flights, including those from Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings.

The German government criticized the decision to not only cause flight delays for the second time in less than a week, but also to cause massive disruptions that will affect passengers on domestic and intercontinental flights.

"Every day [the] strike limits the mobility of hundreds of thousands of people," German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt told German newspaper Bild on Wednesday. He urged a "swift solution to the conflict," adding that it was "also in the interest of the union."

An estimated 425,000 passengers will be affected by the strike.

"At the moment everything is running in an orderly fashion, the people were well informed, everything is currently calm in the terminal," a spokesperson from Airport Duty Management at Frankfurt Airport told the Reuters news agency, adding that camping beds and family areas for travelers with small children had been set up in the terminal for those caught out.

"There are fewer people who arrive here without prior knowledge of the strikes," the spokesperson said. Those sentiments were echoed by a spokesperson from Munich airport.

But some passengers stranded in Frankfurt told a different story.

"I never would have thought such a thing would be possible in Germany," said Djemel Eddine Taleb, who was flying from Strassburg and was late for eye surgery in Algeria due to an 8-hour delay.

Taleb insisted he received no prior warning of the impending strike when he printed out his boarding pass the day before.

"Things are otherwise so well organized here," he said.

Hilke Fischer/cjc

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