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Lufthansa cancels 3,800 flights due to pilot strike

German airliner says three-day strike will cost company tens of millions of euros

Lufthansa has canceled 3,800 flights for April 2-4, or virtually all of its operations, due to a planned walkout by pilots, in what would be one of the biggest strikes ever to hit the German airline.

Vereiningung Cockpit, the union representing most of Lufthansa's 5,400 pilots, last week said it was calling for a three-day strike from April 2 over plans by Germany's largest airline to scrap an early retirement deal.

Although Lufthansa had improved its offer, the pilots said it wasn't enough as it didn't apply to pilots joining after 2014.

"We made good offers for an improved salary as well as a future provision for early leave from flight service," a member of Lufthansa's legal staff,  Bettina Volkens, said in a press release.

"Based on this, it is difficult to understand that the VC union is calling for a three-day strike right away – both for our customers and the more than hundred thousand colleagues of other Lufthansa employee groups."

The Lufthansa units affected by the strikes would normally operate around 4,300 flights over the three days, but the walkout means it will be able to operate just 500 short- and long-haul flights during the three-day period, it said.

The strike affects flights run by its Lufthansa brand as well as its Germanwings low-cost unit, and it has also canceled 23 out of a planned 31 Lufthansa Cargo flights for the strike period.

Lufthansa said on Monday the strike would cost it tens of millions of euros just for its Lufthansa and Germanwings passenger operations.

"A large amount of damage has been done just by the announcement of the strike, because passengers have already changed their bookings and cargo customers have switched to other airlines to transport their goods," Lufthansa said in a statement.

Back in 2010, Lufthansa pilots called a four-day strike over cost cuts. Although the action was called off after one day, it still resulted in the cancellation of around 2,000 flights and cost Lufthansa $66 million in lost revenues.

VC analysts called for the strike this week on Friday, saying Lufthansa had failed to make a "negotiable offer" during two years of pay negotiations. Analysts now estimate that a full three-day strike could cost the airline around 41-69 million euros in profit.

Lufthansa has been trying to cut costs amid tough competition from European budget carriers and aggressively expanding government-owned Gulf airlines.

Lufthansa said it would rebook customers onto other airlines or trains. Its units Swiss, Austrian, Eurowings, CityLine, Air Dolomiti, plus partner Brussels Airlines, would use larger aircraft on routes to and from Germany where possible. Lufthansa also said it hopes to add staff at the Frankfurt and Munich airports over the three-day strike to minimize the impact on customers.  

A Lufthansa spokesman said that while the group was still considering the possibility of legal action, the damage had already been done.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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