Frank Augstein  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lufthansa airplanes are seen on the ground during a strike of Lufthansa pilots in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on Feb 22.
updated 2/22/2010 2:36:37 PM ET 2010-02-22T19:36:37

A four-day walkout by Lufthansa pilots that upended travel plans for 10,000 people will be cut short after the airline and their union agreed to suspend the strike and hold talks, both said Monday.

Both sides reached an agreement after a two-hour long hearing at a Frankfurt labor court, Cockpit union spokesman Joerg Handwerg told The Associated Press.

Lufthansa confirmed the decision and said the walkout would end at midnight (2300 GMT, 6 p.m. EST).

"The parties agreed in front of the court that the strike is to be suspended through the 8th of March," Lufthansa spokesman Andreas Bartels told AP, adding the 4,000 pilots will return to work Tuesday though it would take some time for normal operations to resume.

"They're going to go back to work tomorrow (Tuesday)," he said. "I can't say when we are back to normal operations. It takes a lot of time."

Around 10,000 Lufthansa and Germanwings passengers were upended by the strike, which began at 12:01 a.m. (2301 GMT, 6:01 p.m. EST) Monday.

Handwerg said the strike was suspended until March 9, pending the resumption of talks between both sides. Pilots for Lufthansa Cargo and the low-budget subsidiary, Germanwings, were also taking part in the strike.

"We are happy with the agreement because Lufthansa now has to resume negotiations without preconditions," Handwerg said.

Lufthansa pilots announced the walkout last week over their concerns that cheaper crews from Lufthansa's smaller airlines in other countries could eventually replace them.

Thousands of travelers scrambled to find flights, trains, hotel rooms or rental cars on Monday after Lufthansa pilots began a four-day walkout over job security that grounded at least 800 flights.

Also Monday, five unions representing French air traffic controllers announced a four-day strike of their own starting Tuesday that is forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. France's DGAC aviation authority ordered airlines to cancel 50 percent of the flights at Orly and 25 percent of the flights at Charles de Gaulle.

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French carrier Air France said it would maintain all of its long-haul flights during the strike, with the protest movement affecting only its routes within France and Europe.

British Airways PLC, meanwhile, faced a renewed threat of cabin crew strikes, after the Unite union announced Monday that most of its members had voted in favor of a walkout.

And Eurostar — the main train alternative to planes between Paris, Brussels and London — suffered yet another embarrassing train failure.

In Germany, Deutsche Lufthansa AG quickly rushed to get a court injunction to halt the strike and send 4,000 pilots back to work before more harm was done to passengers and shareholders. The court in Frankfurt said a decision could come as soon as Monday night.

"This strike is disproportionate," Claudia Lange, a Lufthansa spokeswoman, told The Associated Press. "We hope for a decision within the next 24 hours."

Albert Carles and his wife arrived at Frankfurt airport after a 14-hour flight from Vietnam to find that their connecting flight to Marseille was canceled and trains to Paris were overbooked.

"There is no information, we are left on our own," he told German news agency DAPD. "We have not eaten or drunk anything."

Lufthansa said many long-haul flights to the U.S., including New York and Denver, were canceled but it was still running many domestic flights and short-haul routes across Europe. Other flights to the U.S. — including Newark, New Jersey, Dallas and Chicago — were running as scheduled Monday, as were flights to destinations in Africa, South America and Asia.

The airline estimates the strike could cost it some euro25 million ($34 million) per day.

Michael Probst  /  AP
Cancelled flights are seen on a board in the terminal at the airport of Frankfurt, central Germany, Feb. 22.

In London, Unite, Britain's biggest labor union, said after the vote that it was not announcing any strike date and its members will meet Thursday to discuss the ballot result before deciding on a strike date.

A previous strike threat by BA cabin crew — planned for the Christmas and New Year's holidays — was canceled only after the airline obtained an emergency court injunction blocking it.

A Eurostar Paris-to London train, meanwhile, inexplicably broke down in southern England late Sunday, plunging more than 700 passengers into darkness and forcing them to climb down ladders onto the track to a replacement train. They arrived in London about 2:30 a.m. Monday, more than four hours late.

Last week, Eurostar was sharply criticized by independent investigators for its response when several trains broke down before Christmas in the Channel Tunnel, disrupting travel plans for tens of thousands of people.

Fears about job security were the underlying theme for all the airline work actions.

Michael Probst  /  AP
Empty check-in terminals are shown at the airport of Frankfurt, in central Germany, Feb. 22.

The Lufthansa pilots are concerned that cheaper crews from the company's smaller airlines in other countries could eventually replace them. The French air traffic controllers are upset about plans to integrate European air traffic operations, leaving them to face new work rules, the loss of their civil servant benefits or even job cuts. British Airways cabin crews don't want the company to slash the number of staff working on flights.

The pilots are seeking increased work security and want German labor conditions to apply to Lufthansa pilots hired abroad, in an effort to prevent their jobs from migrating to neighboring countries with cheaper conditions. Lufthansa has denied it was planning to relocate the jobs.

Lange said Lufthansa was still open to further talks, but only without preconditions.

Slideshow: Awful airlines Tony Concil of the International Air Transit Association in Geneva noted that the global airline industry is still losing money and still needs to cut operating costs.

"The industry lost $11 billion in 2009 and will probably lose $5.6 billion in 2010," he told AP. "The emphasis at airlines is saving cash, managing capacity as effectively as possible, and cutting costs."

Lufthansa reached out to travelers online, posting a strike schedule on its Web site and offering updates on canceled flights on its Twitter feed.

But some travelers were still caught unaware.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Lufthansa pilots strike, snarl air travel


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