Pilots for German airline Lufthansa have announced they will extend until Friday a strike that has already hit tens of thousands of passengers and seen hundreds of flights cancelled in a dispute over a retirement scheme.

Just over half of the carrier's scheduled 1,400 domestic and European flights to and from Frankfurt and Munich were grounded on Wednesday, affecting around 80,000 passengers, a Lufthansa spokesman said. 

The one-day stoppage initially planned is set to continue throughout Thursday, when it will shift to target long-haul and cargo services.

Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) announced late on Wednesday that it would be also extended to Friday for short- and medium-haul flights. 

The walkout is the twelfth strike action to hit the German airline since last April over management plans to change the pilots' transitional pension arrangements.

Flights operated by Lufthansa's subsidiaries Germanwings, Eurowings, Swiss and Austrian Airlines were not affected.

A Lufthansa spokesman said the airline had sought to warn passengers of Wednesday's strike ahead of time via text messages and email.

Strike criticised

At Munich and Frankfurt airports, there were no reports of large groups of stranded passengers on Wednesday, national news agency DPA said.

Lufthansa slammed the latest action as "incomprehensible" and said that it expected 42 of its 85 flights scheduled to leave Germany on Thursday to be scrapped, but added that no cargo services were set to be cancelled. 

Long-haul services are expected to resume as far as possible on Friday, the airline said. 

It had earlier said that short- and medium-haul traffic was also set to be back to normal from Thursday.

The company said it had called on other airlines within the Lufthansa group to help to cover routes.

The dispute hinges on plans by Lufthansa to scrap an arrangement under which pilots can retire at 55 and receive up to 60 percent of their pay until they reach the statutory retirement age of 65.

Pilots are also concerned over Lufthansa's aim to further develop its low-cost activities as it faces growing competition.

Lufthansa said in a statement late on Tuesday that the decision to call the strike lacked "any proportionality", and that the extension was "completely incomprehensible".

Source: AFP