Airberlin Pilots Call In Sick, Cause Mass Cancelations

Filed Under: Airberlin

Sometimes airline unions call for official strikes, and sometimes we see “unofficial” strikes, where enough people will call in sick to disrupt operations. Airberlin is on its last leg, as the airline has filed for insolvency, is canceling routes, etc. It looks like airberlin will be operating “independently” (I put that in quotes because they’re really funded by German taxpayers at this point) for maybe a couple more weeks, if that.

The way things are set up, at the moment parties interested in any of airberlin’s assets have only a few more days to submit their offers, before that whole process starts. There have been rumors that Lufthansa, Thomas Cook, EasyJet, Ryanair, etc., are all been interested in airberlin assets.

Anyway, it looks like airberlin’s pilots have undertaken some sort of industrial action today, though I’m not sure what they hope to accomplish with it. Airberlin had to cancel about 100 flights today due to pilots calling in sick. Per Reuters:

About 100 flights had been canceled by late Tuesday morning after 200 Air Berlin pilots called in sick. Some short-haul flights at Lufthansa’s budget airline Eurowings were also hit because it leases 33 planes with crews from Air Berlin.

Pilots union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said it was surprised by the absences and that it had not called on its members at Air Berlin to call in sick.

Again, I’m not really sure what they’re hoping to accomplish with this. Airberlin will be shutting down any day, so they’re only bringing that day closer with this action. If they don’t want to work there anymore, they should just quit. Or I’m not sure if this deeper than that, and they’re trying to send a message to prospective buyers of airberlin’s assets. You’d think they’d want to be on their best behavior in hopes of having potential parties want to take over airberlin routes (including keeping crews), but who knows. What a strange and all around unfortunate situation for everyone involved.

Anyone have a theory of why airberlin pilots are calling in sick?

(Tip of the hat to @kirkmeister)

  1. German media reports that they do it because there were a meeting yesterday about the conditions pilots will move to the new owner. They requested that older pilots will get the same benefits at the new owner. That was obviously declined.
    Also german media reports that they try to lay off the longhaul pilots because they are the best paid ones. And with that they could give it cheaper to Lufthansa. That were the reasons for the unofficial strike. You can read about it on

  2. I’m unsure of labor laws in Germany, but if there’s a difference in government support to workers depending on if they quit versus being laid off, then perhaps the pilots want to cease working now but still receive government assistance once the company ceases to exist because then they’ll have not left the company of their own volition.

  3. talk about shooting themselves in the foot. If i were a prospective buyer i’ll change my bid to only acquire the assets without the labor. they should be freaking happy anyone is willing to bid for them as a package, let alone make “DEMANDS”.

  4. @henry LAX
    Commercial pilots are at a shortage across the world. If you can get the flight crew who is trained on a plane and route, it means more money saved!

    The pilots know they have the upper hand. So what if they lose their job? They are a pilot. Since there’s a shortage, they can easily find another place.

  5. Agree with Eugene. It’s not like a buyer is going to have a stockpile of pilots ready to take over flying a bunch of newly purchased planes, and having planes sit around while you try to staff would be ridiculously expensive. There’s really no reason for the pilots to mindlessly bow down to the whims of capital, as henry LAX suggests.

  6. Well buy buy Air Berlin, another one world airline bites the dust.
    I only flew them once long haul and once short haul, that was enough to make me never want to bother with them again, and I got full EU261 from them.

    So to me it’s no real surprise they are going under.

  7. @tda; @Eugene:

    A “buyer” could want the airberlin planes to replace some older planes that already exist in its fleet.

    A “buyer” could just want access to the airport gates and be able to fly the routes.

    The pilots may not be as valuable as their Union tells them.

  8. @WilliamC

    It’s true that someone could buy the planes as replacements, although this doesn’t strike me as all too likely. I may very well be wrong on that.

    I have no doubt that pieces of the operation could/will be sold off separately such as your example of a particular buyer only purchasing gate access. However, there’s no way the airline goes through liquidation and doesn’t sell off its planes to some buyer, and that buyer is going to want to operate them.

  9. Except WilliamC, it wasn’t organised by the union. And from the reports it appears to have been selected pilots who were disadvantaged, which makes sense that it’s not union endorsed.

    Amusing the anti-union bias some have.

  10. @asdfasdf There’s no such thing as accumulating sick days on Europe. That’s just an American concept to screw workers over more alongside not giving paid annual leave.

    “In Germany, an employee is generally entitled to receive sick pay amounting to 100% of his or her salary for up to six weeks. German national health insurance compensates employers for 80% of sick pay so long as the employer does not employ more than 30 employees.”

    Hence there isn’t really much risk to them all taking sick leave for less than 3 days (after that a doctors note is required) but everything to gain in the coming German equivalent of TUPE negotiations…

  11. Our flight CTA-DUS-JFK was cancelled on September 12. After 5 hours dealing with Catania airport agents we are rebooked for next day
    CTA-LIN-TXL-JFK. At this moment we are at LIN, and flight to TXL is on “Delay on air” status. The connection time at TXL is about an hour…hoping Airberlin will still reimburse our hotel and other related expenses…Sicily was amazing anyway…

  12. Fair enough. Why work in a job with no future? I’d be taking all my sick days if I was an employee…

  13. Just curious, as per German Insolvency laws do the crew get paid only after August 15th or for flights before that too?

  14. Companies going under usually have low staff morale because everyone about to lose their jobs, plus there might be pay problems or other lack of money related problems.
    There’s no incentive for anyone to be on their ‘best behavior’. They don’t what the future holds, there’s a lot of uncertainty and the best thing they can do right now is look out for themselves and find another job.
    I don’t blame them.

  15. Aw crap. We made a last-minute decision to fly “any airline” from Milan back to Berlin at the end of our 3+ week trip on 9 October. (Flying Air France TXL-CDG-SFO home) the following day. Bought a couple of tx and now I can’t get anyone to answer their customer “service” number or their main number. I’m reading where the German gov’t is giving AB around $115M to hold them over for a few months, then I read elsewhere that they are pretty much finished and have closed their doors. We’re leaving in a couple of days — should I just write off the AB tix and find another return flight from Milan to Berlin?

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