[TAIPEI] Taiwan's largest airline, China Airlines, grounded most of its flights for Friday as hundreds of its flight attendants went on strike over changes to working conditions.
The flight attendants' industrial action comes as the peak summer travel season begins and coincides with the Taiwan president's first foreign trip since taking power in May - on a China Airlines flight.
The company said that Friday's chartered flight for the president's trip to Panama and Paraguay will not be affected by the strike.
China Airlines, which is partially owned by the state, asked the government to intervene to help to resolve the stand-off and Taiwan Premier Lin Chuan urged the company's management team to negotiate with the workers, ensure flight safety and restore normal service as soon as possible.
The strike forced the suspension of China Airlines flights out of Taipei's Songshan Airport and at the main international airport in Taoyuan because of safety concerns for crew and ground staff, the company said in a statement issued an hour before the strike began at midnight.
It had earlier said that only eight out of 92 flights, mainly bound for Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, would be cancelled on Friday.
Flights out of Taiwan's smaller domestic airports are expected to operate as normal, the company said, adding that it would make a decision about Saturday's flights at a later time.
Hundreds of the airline's flight attendants protested outside the company's office in the capital Taipei on Thursday evening, blocking half of the street and chanting: "Flight attendants strike. We will succeed."
"We want to let China Airlines know that this will affect its operations. This is the purpose of the strike," protester Angus Tsao told Reuters. Mr Tsao, 43, has been a flight attendant for 17 years with China Airlines.
China Airlines asked flight attendants from this month to report for work at the company's headquarters in Taoyuan, the main international airport and nearly an hour's drive from Taipei, protesters said.
Flight attendants said they were previously able to report for work at the local airport in Taipei.
The new requirement effectively reduces the rest period for flight attendants between flights, said one union representing the striking workers.