There was total chaos at major airports across the country on Tuesday, with 360 pilots of Jet Airways going on sick leave in protest against the ouster of two senior pilots of the airline last month.
Around 180 flights of the airline were affected or cancelled in the metros after several pilots failed to report for work. Passengers travelling from Mumbai suffered the most, with 115 of the 345 flights not taking off.
A Jet Airways statement said about 25 per cent flights took off until noon; all JetLite flights operated as per schedule. “All Jet Airways wide body long haul flights are currently operating as normal having been crewed by foreign pilots who have been pulled out from leave and standby.”
Jet Airways said the pilots resorted to a “simulated strike” by reporting sick. Since 10 p.m. on Monday, 163 captains and 198 first officers had reported sick. These represent nearly 40 per cent of the total airline pilot strength of 760. “This significant increase in the percentage of pilots reporting sick and disrupting flights is regarded by the airline as simulated strike,” it added.
The airline said 186 flights — 154 domestic and 32 international — were cancelled or disrupted and about 13,000 passengers affected. A majority of the passengers have been transferred to other carriers. Passengers could get full refund or rebook themselves on an alternative date without cancellation or reissue charges.
The recently formed National Aviators Guild (NAG) has demanded the reinstatement of the two pilots.
The senior pilots, D. Balaraman and Sam Thomas, were reportedly asked to go as they were instrumental in forming the NAG. The airline has not recognised the union.
The NAG had threatened to go on strike if its demands were not met. Talks between the airline and NAG were to resume on September 14. Girish Kaushik, president, NAG, told The Hindu that there was no response so far from Jet Airways. “It looks like the pilots will continue the protest. We just want the two pilots to be re-instated. The decision to go on sick leave was a voluntary decision by the pilots.”
Jet Airways said it had been in conciliatory talks with the union and the regional labour commissioner had warned that any strike during this period would be deemed illegal as per the Industrial Disputes Act. Jet CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer has said, “The Bombay High Court has passed an order restraining any kind of strike.”