German airline Lufthansa's aircraft park at Frankfurt am Main airport, western Germany. File photo: AFP/ BORIS ROESSLER
German airline Lufthansa's aircraft park at Frankfurt am Main airport, western Germany. File photo: AFP/ BORIS ROESSLER

Frankfurt — Hundreds of flights were cancelled at eight German airports on Tuesday, including at the nation’s busiest travel hub, Frankfurt, as security staff walked off the job in a deepening row over pay.

Germany’s powerful Verdi union said the strike would last from 2am until 8pm (3am-9pm SA time) at Frankfurt airport, with walkouts in Munich, Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden and Erfurt following roughly the same schedule.

At least 220,000 travellers would be hit by cancellations and delays, the ADV airport association said, in a calculation that includes knock-on effects at other airports.

Frankfurt airport operator Fraport, which axed 617 out of about 1,200 scheduled flights, urged passengers not to come to Europe’s fourth-busiest airport during the strike.

“Security doesn’t come free,” read a banner held aloft by Verdi members demonstrating at the airport, clad in yellow high-visibility jackets.

German passenger Brigitte Inhof said she was going to have to travel by bus to a different airport to catch a flight to the Turkish resort of Antalya.

“I should have flown direct from Frankfurt to Antalya, now I have to make my way to Stuttgart,” she said.

At Munich airport, Germany’s second largest, a spokesperson said about 100, mainly domestic, flights were cancelled.

The co-ordinated industrial action marks a major escalation in Verdi’s dispute with employers, following walkouts at Berlin’s airports last Monday and in Stuttgart, Cologne/Bonn and Duesseldorf last Thursday.

Germany’s flagship carrier Lufthansa accused Verdi of ramping up tensions “to an unacceptable extent” while the ADV association blasted the wave of strikes as “irresponsible”.

“Verdi is unjustifiably carrying out these strikes on the backs of travellers, airlines and airports,” ADV head Ralph Beisel said.

‘No response’

Verdi, which represents about 23,000 aviation security workers, said it was forced to step up pressure because talks with the BDLS employers’ association are deadlocked.

“Employers did not respond to last week’s warning strikes at all; they haven’t come up with an improved offer,” Verdi board member Ute Kittel told public broadcaster ZDF.

The union wants wages raised to €20 per hour for workers carrying out passenger, freight, personnel and goods checks at all German airports.

Rates currently vary nationwide, with staff in some airports in eastern Germany earning about €14 hourly, compared with just more than €17 for their peers in the capital and western parts of the country.

“Security is not worth less in the east, and the employees are not worth less,” said Kittel.

The BDLS has baulked at the proposed wage hike, instead offering pay increases of up to 6.4%.

The next round of talks is slated for January 23.

Lufthansa, among the airlines worst-hit by the strikes, said Verdi “has no interest in making its contribution to improving Germany as an aviation location”.

“We already have the lowest-quality security checks at the highest costs, compared to Europe and other countries around the world,” said Lufthansa board member Detlef Kayser.

The dispute is the latest upheaval for air travellers in Germany, after a series of strikes by Ryanair cabin and cockpit crew in the second half of 2018 caused huge disruption.