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Lufthansa flight attendants stage walkout at 3 airports

Lufthansa workers strike at Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich airports. The flight attendants called for the walkout after 13-months of union talks had failed.

By Geir MoulsonAssociated Press / September 4, 2012

Passengers wait at a terminal during a flight attendant's strike of Lufthansa airline at Frankfurt airport, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. A union representing Lufthansa flight attendants escalated a bitter pay dispute on Tuesday, calling members out on strike at three German airports – including the two biggest, Frankfurt and Munich – in a showdown with an airline determined to bring down costs in the face of increasingly tough competition.

Michael Probst/AP

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BERLIN

Lufthansa flight attendants walked off the job at three major German airports Tuesday, stranding thousands of passengers in an escalating labor battle that comes as the nation's largest airline struggles to stave off threats from budget carriers and government-owned Gulf airlines.

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The walkouts at Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich airports followed the Friday launch of the flight attendant union's strike campaign, called after it declared 13-months of talks failed. Late Tuesday, the UFO union threatened a nationwide 24-hour strike starting Friday.

But the airline didn't show any signs of budging, despite already losing millions through the strike. It issued a statement criticizing UFO of waging the labor dispute "at the expense of its customers," noting the union's strategy so far of only announcing strikes a few hours ahead of time makes it impossible for people to make alternate plans.

Lufthansa is trying to implement an ambitious cost-cutting program amid tough competition from European budget carriers and from aggressively expanding government-owned Gulf airlines. Their rise has hurt traditional big airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways.

UFO is seeking a 5 percent pay raise for the airline's more than 18,000 cabin crew workers after they did without increases in recent years. Lufthansa has said it is offering a 3.5 percent raise, and is calling for a slight increase in working hours.

The union objects to what it says would be only gradual increases and lower wages for new employees.

The airline and the union also have been at odds over issues such as the possibility of Lufthansa transferring flight attendants to its partner budget airlines with cheaper contracts as part of a cost-saving program, though the walkouts are focused squarely on the pay issue.

"I have the impression both parties want to take it out on the back of the passengers to show their power, and it's a shame, because it is not our fault if employer and employees cannot agree," Olaf Terbeznik, a 38-year-old IT project manager from Berlin, said amid the strike at the capital's Tegel airport.

Lufthansa scrapped around 350 flights Tuesday because of the eight-hour strikes at Tegel and Frankfurt Airports, and an 11-hour strike in Munich.

Most of the cancelled services were on short- and medium-haul routes but about a third of intercontinental flights — including services to and from Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Beijing and Mexico City — were also axed.

Juergen Pieper, an analyst with Bankhaus Metzler, estimated the airline is losing around €3 million to €5 million ($3.77 million to $6.29 million) per day on the strike.

"It is not yet a big deal, but it would be a different matter if it went on for days with the entire business shut down," Pieper said, estimating a complete grounding would cost Lufthansa €10 million per day. "Then there would certainly be an effect on quarterly earnings."

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