Stuttgart airport
File image of Stuttgart airport, Germany Reuters

A 24-hour strike at seven German airports, including Frankfurt and Munich, was set to affect nearly 300,000 passengers on Friday, as unionised workers pressed for higher wages and threatened a summer of "chaos" if their demands were not met.

The strike coincided with the start of the Munich Security Conference, with more than 40 heads of state and 60 ministers expected to attend.

In an early sign of the disruption, Romania's foreign minister, unable to board a cancelled flight, will be forced to fly to Austria and then make the more than four-hour drive to Munich, a Romanian embassy official said.

It is the latest in a series of strikes and protests that have hit major European economies, including France, Britain and Spain, as higher food and energy prices knocked incomes and living standards following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Around 295,000 passengers are affected by the cancellation of some 2,340 flights at Bremen, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Stuttgart airports, according to the ADV airports association.

"We really haven't had such an escalation through strike action," ADV's Ralph Beisel told broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk. "When we look at the airport terminals this morning, it reminds us more of the worst days of the coronavirus and less of a warning strike."

German trade union Verdi announced the strike on Wednesday after it said collective bargaining efforts for ground service staff, public sector officials and aviation security workers had made little progress.

The union has pressed for a 10.5% wage increase, or at least 500 euros a month.

"If nothing is done about pay now, we will all be in for another chaotic summer," Verdi Deputy Chair Christine Behle told Inforadio on Friday. "It's about sending a really strong signal."

Among the airlines affected, Lufthansa said it had been forced to cancel more than 1,300 flights and suspend operations at the hub airports Frankfurt and Munich on Friday.

The carrier declined to give an estimate of the cost of the strike but has on previous occasions said such action costs it 10-15 million euros a day.

The head of Verdi, Frank Werneke, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that strike action could expand to hospitals and garbage collection.

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