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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Strike Time
So you thought you might jet on over to Europe on business, perhaps hit a Christmas market or two in your spare time and maybe get your holiday shopping done quickly and with no fuss and no muss. Not going to happen, my friends. There are what seems to be an endless series strikes that will impact your travel to/from/though Europe during December. Here's how we've been covering developments. As always, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for the full context.

12/19/14, 9:30AM ET, FRIDAY
WHAT'S GERMAN FOR 'UH-OH'?

The dispute between Lufthansa and its pilots that led to ten strikes this year seemed to cool down in recent days. Lufthansa called for mediated talks. Then the pilots called for mediated talks.

But--and I bet you can see this coming--both sides are now arguing over what they should talk about in mediation and that might lead to a renewed series of strikes.

The strikes began, at least superficially, as a battle over Lufthansa's attempt to cut the pilots' retirement benefits. (Unlike U.S. pilots, who fought hard to overturn regulations that once required them to retire at age 60, Lufthansa pilots can retire early at 55 and receive about 60 percent of their salaries. Lufthansa wants to eliminate that perk.) But the real battle has been over virtually everything: Lufthansa's plans to start a low-cost carrier with foreign partners as well as its desire to slash costs at the core bits of Lufthansa as well as other divisions such as Germanwings, its mostly domestic airline.

Lufthansa's offer of mediation includes the retirement issues and some other contentious points, but it specifically refuses to talk about the creation of a low-cost carrier. The pilots want everything on the table for mediation. Lufthansa this morning refused the pilots' demands.

Lufthansa's flights through the end of the year seem safe. But the pilots' union is now threatening to strike again early next year.

As you can see by reading down the thread, the strikes have destroyed Lufthansa's schedules, inconvenienced flyers and cost the airline hundreds of millions of dollars. And Air France's desire to start a low-cost carrier caused days of catastrophic strikes in France earlier this year.

12/19/14, 9AM ET, FRIDAY
TAP SAYS ALL FLIGHTS WILL RUN NEXT WEEK

Backed by what the Portuguese government calls "civil requisition," which requires employees to work, TAP Air Portugal claims all of its flights will run on December 27-30. Those were the days that TAP's labor unions were planning a work stoppage to protest the government's intention to sell off the airline. The labor unions seem to accept that the "civil requisition" will require them to work, but they are likely to contest the pronouncement in court. Stay tuned.

12/18/14, 1PM ET, THURSDAY
ENGLISH CHRISTMAS TRADITION: STRIKES AT THE AIRPORT

What's more predictable than an English Christmas with figgy pudding, Christmas crackers and Boxing Day? Strikes at the airport. Workers at Dnata, which provides cargo and ground-handling services at London/Heathrow, London/Gatwick and Manchester, are now planning a strike on December 23 and December 24. More than 80 percent of the employees voted to strike this morning and that could mean chaos at the check-in desks of Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airways and Qantas. The issue now? Dnata has offered supervisors a 4.5 percent raise, double the amount being offered to other staffers. Most ominous of all? Airport officials claim they are ready for the strike and have contingency plans in place. And nothing puts a chill on an English Christmas faster than British airport officials claiming they've got everything under control.

12/18/14, 12:30PM ET, THURSDAY
PORTUGUESE GOVERNMENT SAYS WORK, TAP EMPLOYEES SAY STRIKE

The Portuguese government reaffirmed its plan to sell off TAP, the national airline. Regardless of whether it can find a buyer, the decision has infuriated the airline's labor unions and they are reacting exactly as they've been reacting: reiterating their plans to strike during the week between Christmas and New Years. As it stands now, the strikes are promised for December 27-30. The Portuguese government has issued a "civil requisition," which technically requires the airline's employees to work on their planned strike days. Whether TAP's unions will comply is unknown, but don't bet the farm on it.

Although few U.S. flyers use TAP directly, some do book it via a code-share with United Airlines, TAP's Star Alliance partner. Worse, many travelers using the deeply discounted holiday business-class fares to Europe are booked on TAP's flights from Newark. Neither TAP nor United have issued travel waivers, so if you're looking to cancel, it could be a dicey process.

12/15/14, 8PM ET, MONDAY
BELGIUM, TOTAL WIPEOUT EDITION

Nothing moved in Belgium today. All flights at all Belgian airports were cancelled because the air traffic controllers joined the nationwide general strike. No local trains moved and the Eurostar was cancelled. A few Thalys trains operated, but that was it. Thankfully, few international travelers were stuck because there'd been ample notice of the strike (see below), not to mention having seen how completely Belgium was shut down in the previous national job actions.

12/13/14, 2PM ET, SATURDAY
THE DELAYS LINGER ON IN LONDON

London airports and London-based carriers are still trying to shake off a hangover from yesterday's chaotic air traffic control outage. According to FlightStats.com, more than 300 flights have been delayed at Heathrow and 40 flights have been dumped. There are also delays and cancellations at Gatwick. Passengers on British Airways, EasyJet and FlyBe are absorbing most of today's grief.

12/13/14, 1PM ET, SATURDAY
GOT HOLIDAY FLIGHTS ON TAP? CHECK FOR A STRIKE

The labor unions at TAP, the Portuguese carrier, are threatening to strike from December 27 through December 30. That normally wouldn't be an issue for business travelers except that TAP is a member of the Star Alliance and many flyers purchased inexpensive holiday business-class trips to Europe. And some booked TAP. And still others may have cashed United MileagePlus miles for a holiday trip using TAP over Lisbon. If you're in either group, time to think about flight alternatives. TAP already has been hit by several strikes this year.

12/13/14, 11AM ET, SATURDAY
A FRUSTRATING DAY IN LONDON TOWN

When things go bad in London--as they did yesterday when the air traffic control network went down--they go bad quickly. More than 750 flights were delayed at Heathrow yesterday and 85 more were cancelled, according to FlightStats.com. About 50 flights were cancelled and 100 more delayed at London/City Airport. There were nearly 300 delays and 30 cancelled flights at Gatwick. The worst-hit carriers? EasyJet dumped nearly 100 flights and cancelled more than 500. British Airways passengers endured 400 delays and 70 cancellations. The regional carrier FlyBe delayed nearly 200 flights and cancelled more than 30.

NATS, the company in control of the airspace over Southern England, was at pains to explain the outage. Worse, it comes almost a year after a similar outage. At the time, NATS promised fixes and system redundancies to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. Apparently not. Here's how the The Independent covered the story. The story in The Guardian is equally snippy.

12/12/14, 1PM ET, FRIDAY
SHUT IT DOWN

The next national strike headed for Belgium on Monday (December 15) is suddenly going to be worse than we thought. The nation's air traffic controllers are joining the strike and that means the nation's airspace and all of its airports, including Brussels Zaventem, will be closed. No planes in or out between 10pm Sunday, December 14, and 10pm Monday, December 15. Here are the travel waiver policies of the major carriers serving Brussels from the United States:

AMERICAN http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp

BRUSSELS AIRLINES http://www.brusselsairlines.com/en-us/misc/AlertMessageDetail.aspx

JET AIRWAYS http://www.jetairways.com/EN/CA/ProductAndServices/PassengerInformation.aspx

DELTA https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-industrial-action.html

UNITED http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx?v_ctrk=HHLN$0-772-2045-1-1156#ExceptionPolicies

US AIRWAYS http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx

12/12/14, 11AM ET, FRIDAY
DOWN GOES LONDON...

A power failure at the air traffic control center for Southern England is paralyzing traffic to/from London's airports. Virtually nothing is departing from Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and incoming flights are being diverted to Northern England and the continent. NATS, the air traffic authority, says the system may be down until 7 p.m. Eastern time. Full details are here.

What's it mean for us? Well, for starters, flights to the United States from London will be severely delayed this afternoon. And long delays on inbound flights means late-arriving equipment and that means outbound flights to London tonight are likely to be delayed, too.

12/12/14, 10AM ET, FRIDAY
A STRIKE IN ITALY BECAUSE...ITALY

And, of course, there's a national strike in Italy today because, well, Italy. That's meant a nightmare for flyers. Flightstats reports that nearly 300 flights have been cancelled at Rome/Fiumicino. There have been 200 flights dumped at Milan's two major airports (Malpensa and Linate). A hundred more flights are down at Naples and Venice. Trains and buses are heavily impacted, too. In other words, just another day to avoid Italy. By the way, as if it matters, today's Italy strike is about pushback against the government's austerity measures. ANSA, the Italian news agency, has a report in English here.

12/11/14, 11PM ET, THURSDAY
MONDAY MADNESS IN BELGIUM

The strikes just keep coming in Europe. Next up: Another general strike in Belgium on Monday, December 15, that will shut down almost all of the local and continental train service and severely crimp service into and out of Brussels Airport.

Airport authorities say about 40 percent of the flights at Zaventem have already been scrubbed. That number will increase sharply Friday and Saturday as airlines bail rather than have their planes stranded on Monday. Check below for the travel waivers issued by your carrier if your plans call for flights to, from or through Brussels between Sunday evening, December 14, and Tuesday morning, December 16.

On the rails, the Belgian train authority says virtually all of the country's rail service is cancelled. That includes most ICE, TGV, EuroCity and other transborder trains. Eurostar's Brussels-Lille trains are cancelled. So are most trains run by Thalys. The cancellations will start Sunday evening local time and stretch into Tuesday morning.

12/9/14, 7PM ET, TUESDAY
IF IT'S TUESDAY, YOU'RE STILL IN BRUSSELS AFTER MONDAY'S CHAOS

We knew the general strike in Belgium yesterday was going to wipe out virtually all trains. But it took a big bite out of air transportation, too. At least 47 percent of all flights into and out of Brussels/Zaventem airport. And, guess what, we get to do it all over again next Monday, December 15.

12/5/14, 9AM ET, FRIDAY
IF IT'S MONDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM

Now that we've survived three days of Lufthansa strikes this week, it's time to return to the weekly Monday chaos in Belgium. Thanks to a general strike, air and rail traffic on Monday (December 8) is likely to grind to a halt. The Belgian railways have already announced that there will be no trains (https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts). Virtually all of the French Thalys trains to, from or through Belgium are also cancelled (https://www.thalys.com/be/en/traffic-info?news=5017). There will be no Eurostar trains in Belgium, either (http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-information/service-information/eurostar-service-update). Brussels Airlines has already posted an extensive list of cancellations (http://www.brusselsairlines.com/en-be/misc/AlertMessageDetail.aspx#cancellations). Other carriers using Brussels Airport haven't cancelled flights yet, but they're out with travel waivers.

12/4/14, 5PM ET, THURSDAY
LUFTHANSA CANCELS SOME U.S. FLIGHTS TONIGHT

Lufthansa cancelled 41 flights today. Doesn't sound like a lot, but that's half of its global long-haul service and those dumped flights made a hash of travel into and out of Lufthansa's hubs in Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf. There are only scattered cancellations on the board for tomorrow (Friday), including a Chicago/O'Hare-Dusseldorf run.

But the question now is where Lufthansa and its unhappy pilots go from here. The airline is now offering mediation, desperate to avoid a work stoppage during the busy Christmas/New Year travel season. The pilots have already struck 10 times this year and the hit to Lufthansa's earnings is estimated at 160 million euros/$200 million.

12/3/14, 1PM ET, WEDNESDAY
LUFTHANSA CANCELS SOME U.S. FLIGHTS TONIGHT

As I warned last night, Lufthansa's list of cancelled flights ahead of tomorrow's pilots strike includes more than a dozen dropped from tonight's eastbound schedule from the United States to Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf. Included are flights tonight from Seattle, New York, Boston, Washington, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. Meanwhile, Lufthansa's Star Alliance partner, United Airlines, has extended its travel waiver to cover tomorrow. Details are here: http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx#ExceptionPolicies

12/3/14, 11AM ET, WEDNESDAY
AND NOW THE SUBTEXT...

You might want to file this under "incredibly bad timing." Lufthansa confirmed today that it would launch a new series of flights under the Eurowings brand using its Airbus A330 aircraft and cockpit and cabin crews supplied by SunExpress, a Turkish partner. The Eurowings flights will be based at Cologne airport and fly primarily to vacation and sun destinations.

Why announce such a decision in the middle of another tranche of pilot job actions? And what's this got to do with the pilots strikes, which are ostensibly about retirement benefits?

Pilots (not to mention Lufthansa's cabin crews) don't like this Eurowings encroachment on their turf and are convinced it will lead to job losses and lower pay. So pilots drew the line at Lufthansa's request to reduce retirement benefits for new-hire aviators and are pushing back hard. The specter of job losses to Eurowings is driving their militancy. Lufthansa, on the other hand, is desperate to defend its flanks against the incursion of low-cost carriers in Europe and the Gulf airlines.

Lufthansa-branded flights fly primarily from its hubs at Frankfurt and Munich with a heavy concentration on service at Dusseldorf. Lufthansa also planned a big expansion in 2012 at Berlin's new Brandenburg Airport before its opening was delayed and it remains unopened. The Eurowings expansion matches its shift of many domestic routes to another lower-cost division called Germanwings.

12/2/14, 9PM ET, TUESDAY
LUFTHANSA PILOTS WILL STRIKE AGAIN ON THURSDAY

It's already been a brutal week for Lufthansa, United and Star Alliance flyers and it's only going to get worse. Lufthansa pilots have scheduled still another strike for Thursday, December 4, and the target is the airline's long-haul flights. In other words, us.

The latest strike was announced several hours ago by Lufthansa's cockpit union even while the airline was struggling with two days of strikes yesterday and today.

The strike on Thursday has caught Lufthansa off-guard. As of now, the airline hasn't even been able to confirm what flights are going to be dumped and which it will try to run. (http://www.lufthansa.com/de/en/Travel-information) If this goes according to plan, however, Lufthansa's short-haul service and the flights of its subsidiaries (including Swiss and Austrian airlines) will not be affected.

If you're scheduled to fly on Thursday with Lufthansa (or its code-share partner United Airlines), you'll need to be vigilant about checking for cancellations. And assume that more than a few of Lufthansa's eastbound flights from the United States and Canada tomorrow evening will cancel. That's what happened on Monday night in anticipation of today's job action, which was specifically targeted at long-haul service.

12/2/14, 11AM ET, TUESDAY
HALF OF LUFTHANSA'S FLIGHTS DISAPPEAR

Lufthansa cancelled 470 flights yesterday. Its CityLine subsidiary cancelled 19 more. Today, Lufthansa was forced to scrub 811 flights while CityLine dumped 51 more. That represents more than 50 percent of Lufthansa's schedule over these two days. Lufthansa has already dropped about two dozen flights on Wednesday as it struggles to get back on schedule.

12/1/14, 6PM ET, MONDAY
PLANNING FOR THE WORST IN BELGIUM

The chaos expected in Belgium due to the general strikes planned for next Monday (December 8) and the one after that (December 15) is leading more airlines to issue travel waivers. American Airlines, Brussels Airlines and US Airways posted theirs earlier (see below) and now Delta and United have responded.

United's waiver covers the next two Monday job actions: http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx?v_ctrk=HHLN$0-772-2045-1-1156#ExceptionPolicies

Delta's travel waiver is restricted to the December 8 strike: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/brussels-industrial-action.html

11/30/14, 2PM ET, SUNDAY
TWO MORE DAYS OF STRIKES AT LUFTHANSA

Still another pilots strike has just been announced for Monday and Tuesday, December 1-2. By my count, this will be the ninth job action at Lufthansa this year. The battle with pilots concerns the airline's demands that pilots roll back their retirement rights and benefits and the aviators refusal to do so. Several rounds of talks have broken down and each breakdown this year has led to extremely disruptive strikes.

Lufthansa has posted a travel waiver and advisory: http://www.lufthansa.com/de/en/Travel-information
So has its travel and code-share partner United Airlines: http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx?v_ctrk=HHLN$0-772-2045-1-1156#ExceptionPolicies

It seems like tomorrow won't be terrible for transatlantic flights since Tuesday is when the pilots are specifically targeting overseas operations. But these job actions have been very un-German this year, so no guarantees...

11/30/14, 1:30PM ET, SUNDAY
RAIL WOES RADIATE FROM BELGIUM

There are two sets of strikes in Belgium. I've already mentioned the big national strikes on December 8 and December 15. (See below.) Tomorrow and Tuesday, December 1-2, is about a job action on Belgium's railroads, which will also impact the French Thalys/TGV routes, some routes using ICE trains and some Eurostar trains to/from Brussels.

Information on disruptions to Thalys/TGV service is here: https://www.thalys.com/be/en/traffic-info?news=5015
Information on the state of Eurostar trains is here: http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-information/service-information/eurostar-service-update
Information from the Belgian rail operator is here: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts

A rail strike last week caused plenty of chaos on Europe's rails, so prepare accordingly.

11/30/14, 1PM ET, SUNDAY
TWO DAYS OF STRIKES AT TAP AIR PORTUGAL

Cabin crews of TAP Air Portugal are striking today and Tuesday, December 2. Transatlantic flights look to be exempt, but check for information here: http://www.flytap.com/USA/enus/Informationandservices/informations/information

Remember that TAP is a Star Alliance partner, so that may affect any flights into Lisbon or beyond that you have booked on United.

According to FlightStats.com, TAP has already cancelled nearly 60 flights today, all of them into and out of its hub at Lisbon.

11/30/14, 12:30PM ET, SUNDAY
GENERAL STRIKES WILL PARALYZE BELGIUM TRAVEL

General strikes on both Monday, December 8, and Monday, December 15, will basically wipe out all rail service in the country and probably close Zaventem airport in Brussels.

This one will be messy. It'll almost surely knock out any Eurostar and Thalys/TGV trains in Belgium. Virtually all local and regional train service in Belgium will also be down. And there probably won't be many flights into, through or out of Brussels Airport.

Information on disruptions to Thalys/TGV service is here: https://www.thalys.com/be/en/traffic-info?news=5015
Information on the state of Eurostar trains is here: http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-information/service-information/eurostar-service-update
Information from the Belgian rail operator is here: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Practical/Alerts

Brussels Airport's statement on coming events is here: http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/alarm/53117/

Meanwhile, both US Airways and American Airlines are already up with travel waivers for the December 8/15 actions.
US Airways' data is here: http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx
American's travel waiver is here: http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp
Brussels Airlines, a Lufthansa subsidiary that is also part of Star Alliance, has posted its travel waiver here: http://www.brusselsairlines.com/en-us/misc/AlertMessageDetail.aspx

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.