* Lufthansa pilots agree to suspend strike for 2 weeks
* Strike started Monday, was meant to last until Thursday
* British Airways cabin crew vote in favour of strike
* French air traffic controllers to strike from Tuesday
* Lufthansa shares close down 1.7 pct, BA down 1.6 pct
(Adds union agreement to halt Lufthansa strikes, Lufthansa
board member comments in newspaper)
By Maria Sheahan and Rhys Jones
FRANKFURT/LONDON, Feb 22 Lufthansa (LHAG.DE)
pilots in Germany agreed to suspend for two weeks a strike that
grounded about 900 flights on Monday, just as rival British
Airways' BAY.L cabin crew voted to join the fray to protest
harsh cost cuts.
Some 4,000 Lufthansa pilots took part in a stoppage on
Monday that was meant to last for four days, leaving thousands
of passengers around the world stranded, on concerns the
company could try to cut staff costs by shifting jobs to
In a hastily called court hearing, pilots' union
Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) agreed late on Monday to suspend the
strike until March 8 to give the deadlocked parties a chance to
"VC has said that it is prepared to resume talks, and we
are sticking with that," said VC negotiator Thomas von Sturm.
Lufthansa said it welcomed the decision, though it will take a
few days until its flight operations have normalised again.
Airlines are reeling from the aviation industry's worst
year ever, in which demand dropped faster than capacity could
be cut, but workers are becoming increasingly impatient with
pressure from employers to tighten their belts.
Lufthansa aims to cut 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) of
costs by 2011, to become more lean while expanding abroad.
Europe's national flag carriers have been trying to cut
their costs as they lose market share to low-cost airlines such
as Ryanair (RYA.I) and EasyJet (EZJ.L) whose no-frills offers
lure customers looking to cut their travel spending.
British Airways wants three-quarters of its crew to accept
a pay freeze this year, along with other cost-cutting measures.
BA cabin crew voted in favour of a strike to protest the cost
This is their second attempt at industrial action after a
court forced the workers to abandon plans for a 12-day strike
over Christmas that would have affected a million travellers.
Union Unite said on Monday that no dates for the work
stoppage had been set but reiterated that crew would not strike
over the Easter holiday at the start of April. [ID:nLDE61L1A0]
British Airways said the decision to strike was "completely
unjustified" and vowed that it would "not allow Unite to ruin
Adding to the upheaval, French air traffic controllers plan
to go on strike for five days from Tuesday to protest Europe's
single sky policy, causing flight cancellations at the Orly and
Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports. [ID:nLDE61L1S2]
One of the concerns raised by Lufthansa employees has to do
with pay. The pilots have offered to forego increases if in
return they get some control over which routes or pilot jobs
are transferred to other group airlines.
Last September, Lufthansa completed a shopping spree,
adding Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines and BMI [BMID.UL]
to its stable of carriers. It also started Lufthansa Italia.
Lufthansa has rejected that demand, saying it would require
ceding control over parts of business strategy to its workers.
Lufthansa's last major dispute with pilots in 2001, which
resulted in a costly pay increase, had to be mediated by
Germany's former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, as
political pressure over strikes mounted.
The starting salary for a captain at Lufthansa is about
115,000 euros, more than for instance Easyjet's starting salary
at just over 80,000 pounds ($123,700), according to the
companies' recruiting websites. Media reports put the top end
of Lufthansa pilots' salaries at about 325,000 euros.
"As we have been saying last week, those pilots want to be
treated like managers but are acting like underpaid bus
drivers," said a local trader.
Lufthansa expects the pilots' strike will cost it about 100
million euros ($135 million), in addition to lost ticket sales
and possible damage to its reputation as it grounds at least
3,200 flights out of a total 7,200 over the four-day period.
Shares in Lufthansa ended Monday's trading session 1.7
percent lower at 10.995 euros, while British Airways was down
For a TIMELINE on the strikes click on [ID:nLDE61L1B8]
For a Q&A on Lufthansa click on [ID:nLDE61I0UD]
(Additional reporting by Anna Willard; Editing by Richard