Frankfurt airport set for more disruption on strike

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 1:18 PM
Frankfurt airport set for more disruption on strike

By Victoria Bryan and Peter Maushagen

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa will have to cancel hundreds more flights to and from Frankfurt on Friday as a strike by airfield workers continues at the airport, Europe's third-largest hub.

Trade union GdF on Thursday asked about 200 apron controllers who guide planes in and out of parking slots to walk off the job for 14 hours on Friday in addition to a seven-hour strike that started at 1400 GMT and resulted in 150 flight cancellations.

The move comes after the union failed to reach a wage agreement for the workers with airport operator Fraport.

Fraport operations director Peter Schmitz told reporters 151 flights had been cancelled on Thursday out of a total 1,250 scheduled, the majority of them from flagship carrier Lufthansa.

Long-haul flights were largely unaffected, as airlines chose to sacrifice flights mostly within Europe and especially Germany, where passengers could easily be booked on to trains.

With the strike set to continue at 0700 GMT on Friday, Lufthansa said it was cancelling a further 250 flights, almost all of them within Germany and Europe.

Frankfurt airport is Europe's third-busiest after London-Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, with about 1,300 flight movements per day, more than half of them by Lufthansa.

At the airport, the word 'annuliert' (cancelled) appeared next to many flights on the big departure boards and people stood anxiously checking their flight numbers before telephoning family and friends to say they were being held up.

Many people, such as Kasztelan Bartosz, an animal nutritionist flying to Berlin, had already been rebooked onto different flights, but still faced a wait of several hours.

"Hopefully, they will not cancel the next one," said Bartosz as he nursed a coffee in Terminal 1. "I did try to see if there was an earlier flight but there were too many people in the queue."

Ursula Bittner, from Vienna, booked her flight to Argentina with Lufthansa only on Wednesday.

"Then just one hour later I heard about the strike," she said, explaining she had spent the whole day in the terminal after arriving at the airport extra early in case of problems.

Frankfurt Hahn airport, 100 kilometers away, said it was ready to accept diverted passengers and freight, while Deutsche Bahn laid on extra staff at train stations.

Air Berlin said it had cancelled six flights out of 18 for Friday. It had already decided to divert one flight due in from Hurghada to Cologne/Bonn on Thursday, providing buses to ferry passengers the 140 kilometers to Frankfurt.

GdF has said apron controllers' pay needed to reflect extra complexity resulting from the recent opening of a fourth runway at the airport. Fraport, meanwhile, has said GdF's demands are too high.

The company has so far not taken any legal steps against the planned strike but reserves the right to do so, Fraport's Schmitz said.

Courts have previously helped fend off aviation-related strikes in Germany.

Last year, the GdF union and Germany's air safety authority DFS reached a deal in court averting a strike by air traffic controllers that would have disrupted thousands of flights across Europe.

During that bitter dispute, the German transport ministry stepped in to encourage the parties back to the negotiating table. The ministry declined to comment on the latest row on Thursday.

In 2010, pilots at Lufthansa and the country's No.2 carrier Air Berlin were forced by judges to call off or curtail strikes.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Wollrab and Markus Wacket; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter and Hans-Juergen Peters)