Air Berlin pilots who took sudden sick leave called back to work

The German airline is bracing for a second day of flight cancellations amid a surge of sick notices from pilots. The costly move makes the already bankrupt company even less attractive to potential buyers, says its CEO.

As the troubled Air Berlin warned on its website that its flights would face disruption for a second day on Wednesday, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) called on pilots who had taken part in a collective spell of sick leave to return to work.

Dobrindt was cited by the tabloid Bild as saying that insolvency at Germany's second-biggest airline is "a huge burden for all employees, especially because of the uncertainties surrounding the future of jobs."

This is precisely why "it is important to maintain airline operations as best as possible and not to delay the customer," he said in a message to the German carrier's absent pilots.

On Tuesday, the bankrupt carrier received sickness notes from some 250 out of 1,500 pilots that were due to fly that day, according to Spiegel Online. More than 100 flights were cancelled as a result of what is being interpreted as a wildcat strike.

Some short-haul flights at Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings were also hit because it leases 33 planes with crews from Air Berlin.

Second day of disruption

The company said later on Tuesday that 150 pilots were still "sick" and warned that dozens of flights from Düsseldorf Airport were in doubt on Wednesday.

It asked passengers to check the status of their flight on the airline's website before leaving for the airport.

Air Berlin - Thomas Winkelmann

Air Berlin CEO Thomas Winkelmann has warned that the walk-out puts the future of the troubled airline at risk

Along with the pilots' union Cockpit and the workers' council, the firm demanded that those fit to work to turn up for duty. But the large services union Verdi warned that more of its workers could call in sick.

"All the conversations surrounding insolvent Air Berlin are always about its economic interests, never about the jobs of its more than 8,000 employees," said Verdi board member Christine Behle.

Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy protection last month after its biggest shareholder, Etihad Airways, withdrew funding following years of losses. Potential investors have until Friday to submit binding offers for the budget airline.

Buyers line up

Among the potential suitors are Lufthansa, EasyJet, package holiday firm TUI and German businessman Hans Rudolf Wohri.

The wildcat action is likely to cost the German carrier some 4-5 million euros a day, leading the German carrier's CEO Thomas Winkelmann to call it an "existential threat."

The German government was forced last month to provide the airline with a bridging loan of 150 million euros (180 million dollars) to help it to continue operating.


Big planes or really big double-decker planes

Germans are known as fearless globetrotters and the statistics prove it: the total number of airline passengers was up 6 percent to 55.2 million in the first half of this year compared with 2016. Of those travelers, 43 million flew to international destinations, while around 12 million stayed within Germany.


Decisions, decisions at the check-in kiosks

Within Europe the foreign destinations with the biggest growth were sunny places in the south. Travel to Cyprus increased by 78 percent, Greece by 20 percent and Portugal by nearly 16 percent. The biggest loser was Turkey. Though Germany has a large Turkish population, trips there were down by 9 percent.


Private plane with the registration 16+01

Not everyone has to wait in those pesky lines or take off their shoes and belt for security clearance. Here German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves her 143 seat plane, the Konrad Adenauer. But don't be too jealous, the plane had been used by Lufthansa for 10 years before being picked up and refurbished in 2009.


Plain interior with legroom for everyone

Despite the fact that many people complain that seats and legroom are shrinking, there is hardly any other practical option to flying, especially to far away places. So far this year the number of people flying to Africa from Germany was up 28 percent, while the number of those going to the US was up nearly 7 percent.


Gourmet bamboo now on the inflight menu

Not everyone is just flying out of Germany. In June, to great fanfare two giant pandas - Meng Meng and Jiao Qing - were flown to Berlin on a special chartered plane from China. The pair is on loan to the Berlin Zoo for 15 years. Yet at this point no one knows if the cuddly couple has already booked a return flight.


Not as orderly as it may seem from the outside

Despite the growing number of passengers this year, German airlines have received a lot of criticism. In July, the European Court of Justice ruled that companies could not levy additional fees if passengers cancel flights. And in August, government officials demanded that the country's air passenger duty be scrapped.


After a while they all start to look alike

Once you reach your destination there is no guarantee that your luggage will be there. Passengers of Air Berlin know this problem better than most and it's one of the reasons why Germany's second-biggest airline recently declared bankruptcy. At this point it is still unclear if the company will be taken over or split up.

mm/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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