December 4, 2014
Lufthansa pilots strike for the tenth time this year while sympathy runs short
For the tenth time this year the German pilots’ union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), representing about 5,400 Lufthansa pilots, called another nationwide strike. This one took effect from 03:00 local time on Thursday, ending at 23:59. As a consequence Lufthansa were forced to cancel 37 long-haul and half a dozen cargo flights. In fact, the announcement of this strike came as pilots were currently in the midst of a strike that was scheduled to wind down by the end of Tuesday. That disruption forced Lufthansa to cancel half of its schedule for Monday and Tuesday, grounding 1,350 flights — nearly half its schedule — and disrupting the plans of about 150,000 passengers.
As with previous strikes this year, the problem relates to early retirement packages for pilots. Currently pilots can retire at 55 and still receive up to 60% of their wages up until the age of 65 when their full pension rights kick in. German news network Deutsche Welle says Lufthansa “does not want new hires to fall under the plan (and) wishes to increase the early retirement age to 61.” VC want this existing rule to apply to all new pilots rather than solely existing ones, but the airline claims they are unable to support such costs in face of competition from both low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair, as well as Gulf airlines including Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. This is backed up by the fact that after an announcement was made in mid-July, on Wednesday this week the board at Lufthansa agreed to launch a new low-cost, long-distance airline under a separate name.
Usually strikes usually receive full support from the German public, but this time the pilots have come in for some severe criticism. According to Ernst Elitz of the German daily newspaper Bild, “In their cockpits, the pilots are in cloud cuckoo land… For Lufthansa it’s about surviving merciless competition. But the captains care only about their fat pensions and the dream of the good old days when there weren’t any budget carriers.”