FRANKFURT - Agence France-Press
Workers at the biggest German airline Lufthansa walked out on strike yesterday to press for higher pay, but service did not appear to be serious affected in the action's early hours. "There have been no cancellations and no delays," an employee at Frankfurt's airport told AFP.
Spokespeople for Lufthansa -- one of the world's biggest airlines -- were not immediately available for comment, but a hotline operator said "a few flights have been cancelled."
Ground personnel and flight crews began to walk off the job at midnight (2200 GMT Sunday) after members of the Verdi trade union voted overwhelmingly last week for a strike. The newspaper Die Welt quoted Verdi as saying the strike would cost Lufthansa five million euros (7.9 million dollars) a day.
It could have even wider-ranging effects, because Lufthanasa ground personnel also service aircraft from around 50 other companies at major German airports.
"We want to begin by concentrating on technical services such as aircraft maintenance, and after that other parts of the company will be drawn in," Verdi leader Erhard Ott told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.
Lufthansa's Internet site confirmed that its technical and catering divisions were initial targets of the action. "Lufthansa has taken measures to minimize the impact on its passengers," it added.
On Friday, the German railway Deutsche Bahn said it was well prepared to handle extra demand after working out a contingency plan with the airline.
Another possible victim could be German athletes due to compete at the Olympic Games in Beijing, which start August 8, since a large contingent was to leave on Wednesday.
Lufthansa would probably arrange for them to be carried by other airlines such as Air China, with which the German carrier has cooperative agreements. Lufthansa transports 150,000 people daily on average, and July is one of its busiest months.
Verdi wants a 9.8 percent pay raise over a year for around 50,000 workers, while Lufthansa has offered 6.7 percent over 21 months.
Lufthansa boss Wolfgang Mayrhuber has said the air carrier "cannot do any more" than its latest offer owing to "extremely limited economic room to maneuver."
But unions point to Lufthansa's operating profit last year of 1.38 billion euros (2.2 billion dollars), a figure it expects to reach again in 2008, as proof it can afford to meet workers' demands.
Amid growing competition among carriers, and tough conditions because of soaring prices for jet fuel, Lufthansa has held its own and maintained its 2008 targets.
The airline is also embroiled in separate talks with the Cockpit trade union, which represents pilots at its CityLine and Eurowings subsidiaries.Warning strikes last week forced the cancellation of around 1,000 flights by those carriers.