The settlement reached between the Jet Airways management and pilots late on Saturday night has come as a relief to passengers. The strike, even if the pilots chose to call it ‘sick leave,’ paralysed operations for five days, forcing the leading private airline to cancel 200 to 250 flights per day. It also meant a revenue loss of Rs.200 crore over the strike period. In a bid to boost the bookings, Jet Airways has even offered a 50 per cent discount for passengers travelling from September 14 to 18. After last week’s disruption, the passengers may want to wait for normality to return in the airline’s operations. Though the protest by the pilots, who joined the National Aviators Guild seeking the right to form a trade union, left the stranded passengers complaining, the management was in no position to deny that right of association. Even after the settlement was reached, Executive Director Saroj Dutta kept speaking about a consultative group to address all the issues raised by the pilots. His argument was that a union was not necessary to deal with the problems of the staff, especially the pilots. But there was no word from the pilots, including those reinstated, about their giving up the membership of the guild.
Whatever the agreement, or the redoubled efforts to get back to normal operations, the image of Jet Airways has undoubtedly taken a hit. It is not merely the revenue loss that should be worrying. No airline can afford a disruption in service at this juncture when air travel is down and the carriers are facing huge losses. Some of the private airlines even tried to make a fast buck by doubling their fares, prompting the government to step in and ask them to stick to the fares prevailing earlier. It will take a while for Jet Airways to win back the trust and confidence of those who were put to hardship by the cancellation of flights, especially foreign operations. The Jet management must realise that the right to form unions is a fundamental right which cannot legitimately be denied. Be it in Britain or the European Union, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of interests, have been guaranteed. Jet Airways will do well now to build on its brand image, continue to offer the kind of services — on ground and in the air — that it did earlier, run to a near 100 per cent punctuality in operations, and regain the endorsement of passengers that had won for it so many awards in the past. At a time when competition in the air is getting tough, good service can make a huge difference.