Centre asks Air India Express to resolve staff issue promptly

Airline cancels 90 flights as 200 cabin crew report ‘sick’ as merger pain spreads across Tata Group airlines; crew members say ex-AirAsia India staff get preferential treatment in the merged entity

Updated - May 09, 2024 12:08 am IST

Published - May 08, 2024 10:39 am IST - New Delhi

An Air India Express spokesperson said the airline is engaging with the cabin crew members to understand the reasons for reporting sick and also apologised for the flight disruptions. File

An Air India Express spokesperson said the airline is engaging with the cabin crew members to understand the reasons for reporting sick and also apologised for the flight disruptions. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

At least one in four Air India Express flights were cancelled on Wednesday, as over 200 cabin crew reported “sick” to protest issues related to the airline’s merger with the erstwhile AirAsia India, forcing the government to step in and ask the airline to resolve its employee issues “promptly”. This comes within weeks of another Tata Group airline, Vistara, facing similar turmoil.

Air India Express cancelled 90 of its 360 daily flights on Wednesday, due to what is the biggest industrial action in the airline industry since 2012. Flight disruptions are expected to continue for the “next few days”, according to an email sent to employees by the airline’s CEO Aloke Singh.

The airline has also urged passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

Air India Express cabin crew have been upset over alleged discrimination in postings and contractual terms, saying that staff from the erstwhile AirAsia India have received preferential treatment in the merged entity. They are also unhappy over the removal of allowances that have impacted their take-home salaries. Through the Air India Express Employees Union, the cabin crew also moved the Kerala High Court regarding some of these issues in March.

After the privatisation of Air India and Air India Express in 2022 and their transfer to Tata Sons, the salt-to-software conglomerate moved to merge them with the two airlines it already co-owned. Air India Express and AirAsia India were merged to form a low-cost arm to rival IndiGo, while Vistara and Air India were merged to form a full-service arm. According to the terms for privatisation, the new owners were obligated to retain old staff only for two years.

Also read | Air India Express cancels several flights to Middle East from Kochi; travellers protest

“The Ministry of Civil Aviation has called for a report from Air India Express regarding cancellation of flights and asked them to resolve issues promptly,” a Ministry official said. The airline has also been advised to ensure that passengers are provided refunds, accommodation on alternate flights, and other facilities, as per the norms laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

“A section of our cabin crew reported sick at the last minute, resulting in flight delays and cancellations. While we are engaging with the crew to understand the reasons behind these occurrences, our teams are actively addressing this issue to minimise any inconvenience caused to our guests as a result,” an airline spokesperson said.

Delays and cancellations started on Tuesday, as the rising disquiet among employees since the merger formalities started 18 months ago came to a head. Last month, Vistara was forced to cancel 1,000 flights after similar discontentment among its pilots followed a new pay structure announced ahead of its integration with Air India, dovetailed with a shortage of cockpit crew.

“The problems at Air India Express are typical in any airline merger, each group tries to protect its own vested interests. The current situation appears to be a turf war between the two merging airlines,” said Sanjay Lazar, CEO Avialaz Consultants and former head of the Air India Cabin Crew Union.

In 2012, Air India’s pilots went on a 56-day strike over concerns emanating from its merger with the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

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