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Originally published Monday, February 22, 2010 at 11:00 AM

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Lufthansa strike cut short, but France and Britain face air-travel snarls

Thousands of travelers are grounded Monday after Lufthansa pilots began a now cut-short walkout. Strikes in France also hamper hundreds of flights and British Airways also faces strike.

FRANKFURT — A four-day walkout by Lufthansa pilots that disrupted travel for thousands of people was cut short after the airline and their union agreed to suspend the strike and hold talks, both sides said Monday.

They reached an agreement after a two-hour long hearing at a Frankfurt labor court, union spokesman Joerg Handwerg said.

Lufthansa confirmed the decision and said the walkout would end at midnight in Germany. "The parties agreed in front of the court that the strike is to be suspended through the 8th of March," Lufthansa spokesman Andreas Bartels said, adding the 4,000 pilots will return to work Tuesday though it would take some time for normal operations to resume.

"They're going to go back to work tomorrow," he said. "I can't say when we are back to normal operations. It takes a lot of time."

Some 10,000 Lufthansa and Germanwings passengers were upended by the strike Monday.

Lufthansa pilots announced the walkout last week over their concerns that cheaper crews from Lufthansa's smaller airlines in other countries could eventually replace them.

The Lufthansa strike disrupted plans for 10,000 passengers worldwide, but that was just the tip of the travel chaos iceberg.

Also Monday, five unions representing French air traffic controllers announced a four-day strike of their own starting Tuesday that is forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. France's DGAC aviation authority ordered airlines to cancel 50 percent of the flights at Orly and 25 percent of the flights at Charles de Gaulle.

French carrier Air France said it would maintain all of its long-haul flights during the strike, with the protest movement affecting only its routes within France and Europe.

British Airways, meanwhile, faced a renewed threat of cabin crew strikes, after the Unite union announced Monday that most of its members had voted in favor of a walkout.

In London, Unite — Britain's biggest labor union — said after the vote that it was not announcing any strike date and its members will meet Thursday to discuss the ballot result before deciding on a strike date.

A previous strike threat by BA cabin crew — planned for the Christmas and New Year's holidays — was canceled only after the airline obtained an emergency court injunction blocking it.

Fears about job security were the underlying theme for all the airline work actions.

The French air traffic controllers are upset about plans to integrate European air traffic operations, leaving them to face new work rules, the loss of their civil servant benefits or even job cuts. British Airways cabin crews don't want the company to slash the number of employees working on flights.

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