Lufthansa seeks to avert massive strike; asks pilots to return to talks; disruptions predicted

Lufthansa sought Sunday to head off a massive strike by its pilots but posted alternative flight schedules and activated hot lines warning travelers to brace for major disruptions and delays.

A day before more than 4,000 pilots for Germany’s largest airline planned to walk off their jobs for four days in an effort to gain increased job security, the likelihood of reaching a compromise appeared slim.

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Lufthansa AG spokesman Klaus Walther said in a statement the airline was willing to return to unconditional talks with the Cockpit pilots union.

“If the Cockpit Union is willing to renounce its conditions and unreasonable and illegal demands … then we could swiftly come to an agreement,” Walther said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from the union, which has called on pilots flying for Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and its low-budget subsidiary, Germanwings, to walk off the job at midnight (2300GMT) and not return until midnight Thursday.

Thousands could be affected by the strike, which is posed to disrupt international and domestic travel, as Lufthansa scrambles to rebook passengers on other flights or, within Germany, trains.

Travelers were complaining already Sunday in blogs and tweets about being stuck on hold for several hours trying to get through to Lufthansa hot lines.

Earlier Sunday, Lufthansa board member Stefan Lauer told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung the airline was prepared to guarantee the jobs of its pilots for two years if they returned to negotiations. That does not appear to be enough for the pilots, who the airline is increasingly relying on foreign pilots who fly for less.

Lufthansa normally offers some 1,800 flights daily, including some 160 long-haul flights. It has estimated the strike could cost it about euro25 million ($34 million) per day.

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