Photograph by Thomas Lohnes — Getty Images
By Geoffrey Smith
September 9, 2015

A German court has ordered pilots at flag carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG (DLAKY) back to work after they paralysed the airline in the latest in a series of strikes over the last 18 months against changes to their pay, working conditions and retirements benefits.

The airline had to cancel over 1,000 flights for the second day in a row Wednesday, hitting the travel plans of over 140,000 passengers. That’s nearly two-thirds of its total flight roster for the day.

But the regional labor court of the state of Hesse, where Lufthansa and its pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit are based, handed down an injunction against the strike, ruling that the pilots were pursuing an agenda beyond the reasons officially given. The court ruled that the pilots were actually pursuing more influence over the company’s long-term plans for a low-cost airline, rather than just protesting against the transitional arrangements outlined by the company.

Lufthansa, like Air France-KLM, is desperately trying to shift more of its operations onto a low-cost structure that will defend its market share against the likes of discount airlines EasyJet Plc (EJTTF) and Ryanair Plc (RYAAY). Ryanair rubbed salt in the wounds earlier Wednesday by raising its profit forecast for the year, driving its shares 6.3% to a new record high (they’re up 80% over the year, while Lufthansa’s are down 12%).

Resistance from its pampered pilots hasn’t been the only problem Lufthansa has faced along the way. Its discount airline subsidiary Germanwings suffered a devastating reputational blow when one of its pilots, Andreas , committed suicide by flying his fully-laden passenger jet into an Alpine moutainside in March, killing all 150 crew and passengers on board. The inquiry into the disaster has exposed some alarming shortcomings in the way that the airline monitored the mental health of its pilots. Lufthansa is now diverting much of its energies into Eurowings, a subsidiary based in Austria that will be the base for its short-haul operations in Europe.


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