A couple of days ago, Lufthansa announced plans to not only expand the presence of its low-cost tourist-oriented airline brand Eurowings at its Munich hub but to also introduce the airline at its Frankfurt stronghold for the first time. Eurowings has been quietly building its presence over the last few years and while it’s become a major player (the third largest low-cost airline in Europe in fact) the airline has largely been kept at arm’s length from the premium Lufthansa brand.
The airline is most known for its intra-European short haul services but it has also been growing its long-haul network. The carrier has a big presence in Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Cologne – cities where the Lufthansa network is typically weaker. From Dusseldorf, holidaymakers can fly to Newark and Las Vegas, as well as a number of Caribbean destinations and Bangkok.
Lufthansa’s decision to introduce Eurowings at its main hubs is a significant one but it’s not without precedent. The airline says it follows the success of deploying long-haul low-cost Edelweiss flights in Zürich alongside its premium full-service SWISS brand. The brands will be closely integrated with Lufthansa actively marketing and selling Eurowings flights to “actively shape the future of tourism”.
As of October 2019, Eurowings will start flying from Frankfurt to Mauritius and Barbados, as well as Windhoek in Namibia. Further destinations are said to be in the works. Meanwhile, Eurowings will be expanding its Munich network (the airline first set up long-haul operations in the Bavarian capital last year) with a new service to Bangkok beginning in the 2019/2020 schedule. Again, more destinations are expected to be announced in due course.
But the Independent Flight Attendants Organisation (UFO) which represents cabin crew at the mainline Lufthansa brand has reacted with fury to the decision. They claim, the Munich-Bangkok service was originally meant to be operated by Lufthansa but was switched to Eurowings as part of a new cost-cutting strategy.
If true, it’s all very reminiscent of Air France’s failed Joon airline experiment. The soon to be defunct carrier was marketed as a new airline for millennial travellers but in reality, the company was set up to reduce costs by hiring cabin crew on lower wages and less generous conditions. Joon took over a number of routes from Air France but the plug has since been pulled on the airline after significant pressure from French unions.
The UFO says Lufthansa is awarding new flights to Eurowings because cabin crew at the low-cost airline “play better” – as in, they earn less money and don’t enjoy as many perks as their Lufthansa colleagues. They say more routes will be awarded to Eurowings – taking over Lufthansa routes rather than complementing them just like what Air France tried to do with Joon.
“Our first assessment is that this has been the biggest threat to working conditions at Lufthansa for years,” the union said in a statement.
They say that recent investments in the Eurowings product – like the exact same Business Class seats that feature on Lufthansa aircraft – make Eurowings almost indistinguishable from Lufthansa to most consumers.
This all comes at a particularly sensitive time for relations between Lufthansa cabin crew and management. A number of grievances concerning working conditions have already been filed and contract negotiations are set to begin soon. The decision to expand Eurowings could inflame tensions even further.
In a statement, Lufthansa said it took the decision because of rising demand for tourist flights, saying it was “only consistent that we offer an additional product line in Frankfurt and expand our portfolio in Munich”.