airberlin canceled over 100 flights out of a planned 750 as of yesterday (September 12) after unnaturally high numbers of pilots called in sick. Flights have been canceled from German airports such as Berlin Tegel, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, and Cologne. This “walk-out” of sorts is believed to be a wildcat strike against redundancies at the airline, but it could also be a protest against the cancellation of long-haul services, which pay higher wages than shorter flights.

In total, about 200 pilots out of 1500 didn’t come into work yesterday, many of which called in close to their scheduled departures. airberlin says that the behavior resembles “playing with fire” and has cost several million euros so far. Both domestic and international flights were affected by the impromptu strike.

Today, September 13, another 30 flights have been canceled as 150 pilots called in sick.

“We regret the inconvenience for our passengers,” the airline said on its website.

This situation could complicate insolvency proceedings that could save the carrier. airberlin has been losing money for years with its planes in the air, but losses can exponentially increase if planes aren’t flying. airberlin has already said that the cancellations could force it to shut down altogether, which would jeopardize negotiations with bidders like Lufthansa, who plans to buy as many as 70 planes and 3000 crew for Eurowings, its low cost subsidiary, alone.

Lufthansa is not only interested in purchasing planes for Eurowings. There is also speculation that the German flag carrier could place a bid for parts of AirBerlin’s long haul fleet, like this A330-200.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

“What happened today massively jeopardizes the entire insolvency proceedings,” said Frank Kebekus, airberlin’s general representative appointed by a court. “Unless the situation changes in the short term we will have to end operations and all efforts to reorganize.”

“We are currently conducting final talks with potential investors. It is essential that operations be stable in order for these negotiations to go well,” said Thomas Winkelmann, CEO of airberlin. “That is the only way to secure as many jobs as possible.”

This strike can also have an affect on Eurowings, which leases 33 planes with crews from airberlin. Eurowings said it was told by AirBerlin at short notice that some of the flights leased to the budget carrier would not be staffed.

Both airline management and pilot unions have called on staff to return to work so that the airline can stay afloat and talks can proceed.

airberlin cited “operative reasons” for the cancellations on its website last Tuesday. It also asked passengers to refrain from traveling to the affected airports and call a helpline if needed. Since the carrier no longer offers compensation for canceled flights, customer service centers at the airline have recommended that people affected by the strike book replacements at their own expense.

History shows us that this is not an isolated incident. Last year, TUIfly was forced to cancel flights after pilots called in sick in an apparent protest over merger talks that could lead to layoffs and pay cuts. That merger has since failed.

airberlin, Germany’s second largest airline, filed for insolvency last month after Etihad withdrew funding from the airline. Bidders have until this Friday to submit bidding offers, and a decision on a new owner on AirBerlin’s assets could be made as soon as September 21, which is three days before a German national election.

Christine Behle, the federal president of the United Service Union, Verdi says that talks on a sale of airberlin have not been focused on the 8,000 some employees, and that talks are “increasingly perceived as part of a game of purely economic and political interests”. Behle says that she finds the pilot walkout “by no means surprising”.

airberlin recommends that passengers check the airberlin website before heading to the airport, just in case their flights have been canceled.

Featured image from The Local Germany

Categories: Pilot and Plane