As a 24-hour walkout grounded 900 Lufthansa flights on Friday, management and unions of Europe’s biggest airline hinted at fresh talks to end their bitter wage dispute.
Negotiations could be held as early as Friday, a spokesman for the UFO labor union told AFP. And a Lufthansa spokesman said: “We can confirm that there is contact with UFO,” the Independent Flight Attendants’ Organization.
Neither side was willing to divulge further details.
“We’ve received clear signals that Lufthansa is going to move,” the head of UFO, Nicoley Baublies, had told AFP earlier, adding that it was unclear whether a mediator would be needed at this point.
Baublies also said there would only be further walkouts if “the two sides fail to move closer.”
And following the 24-hour stoppage on Friday -- the third separate day of industrial action in a week -- no further strikes were planned in the next few days, he told ZDF public television.
The latest strike began at midnight (2200 GMT) and so far “more than 100,000 passengers are affected,” said a Lufthansa spokesman, adding that around half of the airline’s 1,800 daily flights had been cancelled.
Frankfurt airport, Lufthansa’s main hub and Europe’s third-busiest airport, was “most affected.”
But chaos had been averted because the airline had informed passengers beforehand about cancellations via text messages, and it had also posted information on its website, a spokesman said.
“Lufthansa seems to have been better prepared this time round,” said UFO chief Baublies.
The union, which described strike participation as “very high,” claims it is the biggest-ever strike in Lufthansa’s history, but the airline itself refused to comment on the scope of the work stoppage.
The Lufthansa spokesman said “all German regions and all types of flights are affected,” including long-haul flights which in the past strikes were the least disturbed by the strikes.
The company had been expecting to cancel 1,200 flights, or two-thirds, as a result of Friday’s strike.
Already on Thursday, the carrier had cancelled around 50 flights ahead of the planned walkout by cabin crew at six major airports.
And the Lufthansa spokesman said that around 13 flights were also expected to be cancelled on Saturday due to the knock-on effects of Friday's walkouts.
The 24-hour stoppage at the airports of Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Duesseldorf and Stuttgart was called late Wednesday, as unions stepped up pressure in their ongoing pay dispute.
Other shorter walkouts of eight hours last week and earlier this week had grounded hundreds of flights and affected thousands of passengers.
The airline’s chief executive Christoph Franz, interviewed by ZDF television, acknowledged that he had “not anticipated a movement of this scale” but described it as “disproportionate.”
According to its latest demands, the union -- which represents some two-thirds of Lufthansa's 18,000 cabin crew -- is seeking a five-percent pay increase backdated to April after three years of wage freezes.
It is also opposed to the use of temporary cabin crew on Lufthansa flights.
“We’re prepared to go to mediation on the issue of pay hikes. But negotiations cannot include the use of temporary staff,” a Lufthansa spokesman told AFP.
A 2009 strike by cabin crew cost Lufthansa tens of millions of euros.
In February, Frankfurt airport's apron control staff -- traffic controllers who guide aircraft on the tarmac -- walked off the job over demands for higher pay.
According to Peter Oppitzhauser, an analyst at Credit Agricole Chevreux quoted by Dow Jones Newswires, the first two days of walkouts have already knocked 2.0 percent off Lufthansa's annual operating result, which is seen at around 500 million euros this year.