FRANKFURT – An airline strike with hundreds of cancelled flights conjures up fears of long lines and chaos, but German carrier Lufthansa appears to be coping, having managed over a dozen walkouts in a matter of months.
On Wednesday, the airline re-booked and re-routed thousands of passengers as a walkout by flight attendants led to the cancellation of more than 900 flights on the stoppage’s fifth day.
Travellers may have been frustrated or inconvenienced, and the strikes cost the airline millions of euros. But little of that was in evidence at the airport, where there were no lines at the usually bustling Lufthansa counters at Frankfurt’s international airport, the airlines’ main hub.
The only backup was a short queue at the rebooking counter. There was not even a line for the free snack carts the airline was providing.
The short lines were above all the fruit of the airline’s effort to tell people about flight cancellations or changes by email or SMS — before they arrived at the airport.
“We are informing passengers who are affected by the strike directly, at least in those cases where they left us their contact data when they booked,” said spokeswoman Sandra Kraft. A cancellation generates an automated SMS or email. Kraft noted that the strike has also received extensive news media coverage. “Certainly, the experience we have gained helps us take care of our customers,” she said.
The airline has encountered conflict with employee representatives as it attempts to reduce costs. The airline says it needs leaner costs structures to compete with low cost carriers such as Ryanair on European routes and against Gulf carriers such as Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways that Lufthansa and U.S. carriers say get government subsidies. There were 13 pilot strikes over 18 months, until a court halted them in September.
The UFO flight attendants’ union wants to secure transition payments for its 19,000 members if they retire early, among other demands as part of its contract dispute.
Not everything went smoothly Wednesday. Complaints aimed at the airlines Twitter feed indicated customers were facing long waits to get through on the company’s phone line. The English-language @Lufthansa was sending about a tweet a minute, directing customers to the rebooking site where they could rebook themselves, or urging them to keep trying the toll-free number.
The agitated included Irish soccer fans headed from Dublin to Sarajevo for their national team’s match Friday with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Software developer Jezen Thomas sought clarity about his still-scheduled flight Friday from Gdansk, Poland, through Frankfurt to San Francisco for a business trip. He tried to book an earlier flight but couldn’t get through on the phone. “They say on the website all flights are cancelled, but they also are saying people should check their flight status,” Thomas said. “I don’t feel I’ve been kept informed.”
The Rev. Marie-Augustin Laurent-Huyghues-Beaufond, a Dominican priest from Strasbourg, France visiting the Dominican community in Helsinki, learned in an automated Lufthansa email that his return flight to Frankfurt scheduled for Thursday was cancelled. He rebooked for the next day. “Good thing I’m staying with brothers in our priory, so that accommodation is not an issue!” he told the Associated Press by email.
The airline says that since the strikes started on Friday it has cancelled 2,800 flights involving 330,000 passengers.
The airline’s other group members are operating as planned, including some code-sharing flights operated by its CityLine and Air Dolomiti brands and flights of subsidiaries such as Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Germanwings.