By Frank Simon and Andreas Buerger
FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Pilots at Lufthansa went on strike on Friday, forcing the German airline to cancel hundreds of flights, stranding holidaymakers.
The airline said it had cancelled about 800 flights at its main bases in Frankfurt and Munich on Friday, affecting 130,000 passengers, and said it was working flat out to minimise the impact of the strike.
Labour union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) had called on more than 5,000 Lufthansa pilots to stage a 24-hour walkout, saying the latest round of wage talks had failed.
Strikes and staff shortages have already forced several airlines, including Lufthansa, to cancel thousands of flights this summer, leading to long queues at major airports, frustrating people keen to start travelling again after COVID-19 lockdowns.
Passenger Liane Dickson was due to fly to Amsterdam from Johannesburg via Frankfurt, but the second leg of her flight was cancelled before she left South Africa.
"It is now 16 hours later and we have no email to say why it happened, what should we do next," she said at Frankfurt airport.
"At Johannesburg airport yesterday it was chaos because people didn't know whether they should check in their luggage to Amsterdam or to Frankfurt."
The VC union is demanding a 5.5% pay rise this year and automatic inflation compensation thereafter as well as better terms for entry-level pilots.
Lufthansa has said VC's demands would raise its staff costs by 40% or around 900 million euros ($899 million) over the next two years.
The airline has offered a total of 900 euros ($901.35) more in basic pay per month in two stages over an 18-month period, which it said would result in more than 18% higher pay for entry-level jobs and 5% more for senior positions.
VC's demands also come against the backdrop of soaring energy and food prices, with German inflation rising to its highest level in almost 50 years in August.
"I don't think this (strike) is appropriate. It's the main travel season and it's at very short notice," said Andrea Buchloh-Adler, at Frankfurt airport. "Pilots are not low-earners. They are certainly not hit as hard by the energy crisis and inflation as many others who do their work every day."
Last month, Lufthansa's management reached a pay deal with ground staff, averting further walkouts after a strike had forced it to cancel more than 1,000 flights.
Lufthansa also faces possible walkouts by pilots of subsidiary Eurowings, who have voted for industrial action but are due to hold a round of talks with management next week.
($1 = 1.0016 euros)
(Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Bradley Perrett, Miranda Murray and Jane Merriman)