Air Berlin: 250 pilots call in sick today causing thousands of passengers to have flights cancelled

'Affected passengers are kindly asked not to come to the airport'

Simon Calder
Tuesday 12 September 2017 15:48 BST
Air Berlin
Air Berlin (Getty)

As Air Berlin teeters on the brink of collapse, thousands of its passengers have had their travel plans wrecked by a “sick-out” involving flight crew.

The beleaguered airline says it is “currently seeing an exceptional high number of sickness reports of their pilots”, which has led to dozens of cancellations. It is telling customers: “Affected passengers are kindly asked not to come to the airport.”

After losing £2m per day in 2016, and seeing its financial life-support cut off when Etihad abandoned its investment in the company in April, Air Berlin is in liquidation. But a loan from the German government is keeping the carrier afloat while attempts are made to sell off parts of the airline.

Air Berlin has announced it will end long-haul flying, which many crew regard as the best option — it offers higher earnings and, for some, a better lifestyle.

An estimated one-sixth of the airline’s 1,500 pilots called in sick on Tuesday, which is likely to represent one-third to one-half of the total rostered to work.

Most of the cancellations were from Cologne-Bonn, Dusseldorf and Berlin-Tegel airports.

But the problems rippled beyond Air Berlin-branded flights. Some Air Berlin aircraft are “wet-leased” (with pilots and cabin crew) to Eurowings, Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary, and to Austrian Airlines.

Many of these services were also hit, such as the lunchtime flight from Glasgow to Dusseldorf which was abruptly cancelled.

The cancellations will exacerbate the airline’s financial woes. Besides suffering a loss in revenue, Air Berlin must pay for passengers’ meals and accommodation until they can reach their destinations. This may also involve flying on rival airlines at Air Berlin’s expense.

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