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Maybe You Shouldn’t Go to This European Country Right Now

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Strikes are causing major disruptions.

Travelers flying to Germany or transiting through the country should keep an eye on the news. Europe’s largest economy is getting hit with a series of strikes—buses, trains, and flights are all impacted. This week, Lufthansa announced the cancellation of 80-90% of its 1,000 flights due to labor action by ground staff on February 7-8. It’s not the first strike this year and it is looking likely that it won’t be the last.

Back to Back Strikes

Lili Böhmer, 24, landed in Düsseldorf, Germany, from Norway on February 1, and found the airport to be deserted. All flights going out were cancelled due to a strike. “The airport was completely empty and pretty scary,” she told Fodor’s.

It was the day of the one-day walk out by security screeners that left 11 of the country’s airports scrambling, with 200,000 passengers affected. Lufthansa had tweeted that it wasn’t possible to board locally in German airports (except Munich and Nuremberg) on February 1. The strike was called by labor union Verdi, which is demanding an increase of around $3 per hour on behalf of security screeners.

This week, Lufthansa again tweeted warnings about the strikes, requesting people not to come to the airport because “the rebooking desks are unfortunately not staffed.” 

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This “warning strike” has affected more than 100,000 passengers while negotiations between the airline and the union workers drag on. The next round of discussion is scheduled for February 12 and if the two parties don’t come to an agreement, the country will see more strikes this year. The trade union Verdi has warned that the employees are prepared to strike for longer.

However, it’s not just the national carrier that’s facing disruptions; on-ground transportation is affected too, and travelers constantly need to think of plan B in Germany.

Train delays are inevitable in Germany, but now locals are also afraid of strikes, according to 19-year-old student Katharina Gömmel-Höllein. Her sister was visiting her in Bremen when everything shut down for a day on February 2. Buses, metros, and trams weren’t operational, except for some emergencies as 90,000 public transport workers walked out in 80 cities across Germany.

Just a week before this, the country had a massive disruption in rail operation, an industrial dispute that has estimated to cost €100 million per day to the economy. 

On January 24, German railway services ground to a halt when train drivers and railway workers announced a strike for six days (it ended a day early). The GDL trade union, which has 40,000 members, has been trying to negotiate higher pay to balance rising inflation and better working conditions for the workers of the national railway company, Deutsche Bahn. Apart from local passengers, the nationwide strike also affected international trains to other European destinations and cargo coaches. Six of the 10 freight corridors go through the continent’s biggest economy. 

The strike ended early as negotiations began again, but Gömmel-Höllein is still waiting to get refunded on her train that got cancelled.

What’s Next?

Germany—which has one of fewest numbers of strike days in Europe—is dealing with a weakened economy and high inflation, and workers are not happy with the situation. Since the end of 2022, labor unions have been negotiating with companies for better pay and working conditions. They have more bargaining power with labor shortages affecting nearly every industry, and collective action is the speech of choice currently.

In January, farmers also protested against subsidy cuts by blocking roads with tractors. University doctors walked out when an agreement couldn’t be reached with hospitals over pay. In the coming months, chemical, retail, construction, and electronics industries will also come to the table for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn, the only railway company in Germany, stands in debt of more than €30 billion and underinvestment has made it inefficient and unreliable. After the strike was called off early, the union GDL and Deutsche Bahn began negotiations that will continue for the next five weeks–meaning that there aren’t any strikes planned until March 3, at the earliest.

Verdi, which represents 1.9 million service workers across a variety of industries in Germany, hasn’t announced any breakthrough in talks, so there will be more action this year.

If you’re planning a trip to Germany or through the country, you should definitely consider travel insurance. Following these companies on X (formerly Twitter) and keeping up-to-date on cancellations will come in handy. If you’re taking the train in the country, know that there’s a possibility it won’t get you to your destination in time, so keep buffers.

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