A strike by Lufthansa’s pilots in Germany over job security grounded hundreds of flights on Monday, causing travel chaos and leaving thousands of passengers around the world stranded.
Some 4,000 German pilots began a four-day stoppage on concerns the company could try to cut staff costs by shifting jobs to foreign subsidiaries such as Austrian Airlines (AUA) or Lufthansa Italia, where wages are lower.
The German flagship carrier wants to cut 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) of costs by 2011 while expanding abroad to compete with low-cost carriers and Asian rivals.
Last September Lufthansa completed a shopping spree that saw it add Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines and BMI to its stable, while also starting up its own airline in Italy, called Lufthansa Italia.
The Lufthansa showdown came as rival British Airways (BA) braced for the results of a new strike ballot among cabin staff who were forced by a UK court to abandon plans for a 12-day work stoppage over Christmas.
If a BA strike, over cost-cutting plans, goes ahead in Europe’s second-biggest economy European travellers could face additional travel turmoil.
Lufthansa expects the strike will cost it about 100 million euros ($135 million), in addition to lost ticket sales and possible damage to its reputation as it grounds about 800 out of 1,800 flights per day over the four-day period.
It has asked a court to issue a temporary injunction to stop the strike and a hearing was scheduled for 1630 GMT on Monday, a spokesman for the Frankfurt labour court said.
One of the concerns raised by Lufthansa employees is to do with pay. The starting salary for a first officer in a Lufthansa cockpit is 62,000 euros, for a captain 115,000 euros, according to the company's recruiting website. Media reports put the top end of pilots’ salaries at about 325,000 euros.