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Lufthansa goes to court to halt pilots\' strike

22 lutego, 2010

German airline Lufthansa went to court in a bid to halt a strike by some 4,000 pilots that disrupted more than one third of its flights on Monday.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman said the carrier, Europe\'s biggest by passenger numbers, asked a Frankfurt court to block the four-day strike from continuing past its first day, calling the action "disproportionate".

A ruling was expected later in the day.

A Lufthansa spokesman told AFP the airline had managed so far to ensure between 50-60 percent of its scheduled flights.

The Cockpit union called the strike over pay and job security issues and threatened further walkouts.

The German flag carrier, reeling from upheaval in the global airline sector, initially predicted around 3,200 cancellations over the four days, and allowed customers to change bookings or gave them train tickets.

Worst hit were Lufthansa\'s Frankfurt hub, Europe\'s third biggest airport, and Munich. Also affected were Lufthansa Cargo, one of the world\'s biggest freight carriers, and the firm\'s low-cost subsidiary Germanwings.

"The strike is going fantastically well," Alexander Gerhard-Madjidi, a Cockpit spokesman told rolling news channel N-TV.

"We hope that we are going to get some movement in the next four days (in talks with the company). If not, next week or later, of course we are going to have to plan further strike action."

"The effects of the strike are dramatic and indefensible," said Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther.

"Four days of strikes, costing us 100 million euros (136 million dollars), and that\'s not taking into account the damage to our image."

With the strike announced last week and Lufthansa informing passengers beforehand of cancellations, the situation at Frankfurt airport was calm because many customers had made other arrangements.

But others did not know, like Silvia Martin and her husband from Strasbourg, France, who got up at 3:00 am (0200 GMT) for the 225-kilometre (140-mile) drive to Frankfurt, only to discover their flight to Venice was cancelled.

"No one told us last week. They are going to reimburse us for the flight, but not everything else like the guided tours we had booked. I am sickened," the 55-year-old told AFP.

Cockpit is pressing for a 6.4-percent pay raise but its main demand is that pilots will not lose their jobs as Lufthansa operates more flights using cheaper foreign affiliates.

Lufthansa says that "not one" pilot job has been outsourced.

European airlines have been fighting for survival as they battle with the triple whammy of low-cost airlines poaching customers, soaring fuel costs and the worst global recession in decades.

Lufthansa has responded with a number of smaller acquisitions such as BMI, the former British Midland, and Swiss, and is cutting costs by a billion euros.

But the pain remains. Sales slumped 13 percent in the first nine months of 2009, the last figures available, with operating income down 76 percent.

Jerry Leber, a spokesman for pilots from US airline United Airlines, expressed solidarity with the strikers during a demonstration by around 500 people at Frankfurt airport.

"We are here to support you. Your battle is our battle," he told the Lufthansa pilots. "You\'re making a stand for all pilots throughout the world."

Back at a terminal, passengers sought alternatives to cancelled flights.

Nigerian Hope Odia, 41, was trying to make it back home for his father\'s funeral, while nephew Chester Ade waited to see if something could be arranged.

"This is terrible," Ade told AFP. "The stress is getting greater and greater."