AI Express sacks errant cabin crew members, 74 flights cancelled today
Air India Express cancelled more than 100 flights since Tuesday night as a section of cabin crew reported sick to protest against the alleged mismanagement at the Tata Group-owned airline, impacting around 15,000 passengers | Representative photo: Wikimedia Commons

AI Express sacks errant cabin crew members, 74 flights cancelled today

Civil aviation ministry seeks report from airline on flight cancellations, asks airline to resolve issues promptly; airline, airports told to ensure facilities for fliers

Air India Express cancelled 74 more flights on Thursday (May 9) after issuing termination notices to 25 cabin crew members who had reported sick to protest against alleged mismanagement at the airline. The mass no-show resulted in the cancellation of more than 100 flights over Tuesday and Wednesday, affecting around 15,000 passengers.

The airline said Air India will operate services on 20 of its routes to minimise disruptions and asked the rest of the staffers to join back for duty by 4 pm on Thursday.

“We will be operating 292 flights today. We have mobilised all resources and Air India will support us by operating on 20 of our routes. However, 74 of our flights stand cancelled and we urge our guests booked to fly with us to check if their flight is affected by the disruption before heading to the airport,” the airline said in a statement.

In case their flight is cancelled or delayed beyond three hours, the carrier said the passengers may opt for a full refund or reschedule to a later date without any fees.

The number of cancelled flights at 74 translates to around 20 per cent of the airline’s scheduled daily flights.

Action against errant crew members

Air India Express said it was taking appropriate steps against certain individuals.

“While we will continue to engage with our cabin crew colleagues with a commitment to address any concern, we are taking appropriate steps against certain individuals as their actions have caused grave inconvenience to thousands of our guests,” it added.

The Tata Group-owned airline has also given an ultimatum to the remaining cabin crew members reporting sick to join duty by 4 pm on Thursday or face termination, airline sources told news agency PTI. There are around 1,400 cabin crew, including about 500 at the senior level, at the airline.

In view of the ongoing trouble, the airline, which operates a significant number of flights to the Gulf, has decided to curtail flights till May 13. It will operate around 360 flights daily to domestic and international destinations, sources said on Wednesday (May 8).

Passengers furious

Passengers who were promised travel to various destinations from airports in Kerala were left stranded on Thursday as their flights were unexpectedly cancelled for the second day in a row.

Travelers at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kannur airports faced disappointment when flights to Gulf nations were called off at the last minute for the second consecutive day.

"I was assured by Air India Express yesterday that I can travel to Qatar on Thursday. But they did not keep their promise. I was told at the last moment that my flight has been cancelled again for the second consecutive day," an aggrieved passenger at Karipur airport in Kozhikode told reporters.

Another passenger, who claimed his work visa would expire on Thursday, told a TV channel at Thiruvananthapuram airport that when his flight to the Gulf region was cancelled on Wednesday, he was given a ticket for Thursday.

"When I arrived here (Thiruvananthapuram airport), the airline told me that the flight was cancelled. If I do not reach my place of work by tonight, my visa will expire and I will lose my job," he said.

Another passenger at the Thiruvananthapuram airport said that AI Express asked him to take a ticket on another airline, but he was unable to do so. "Why can't they help us get tickets on another airline? Let them charge us for that," he said.

Ministry seeks report

The civil aviation ministry on Wednesday sought a report from Air India Express on the flight cancellations and also asked the airline to resolve the issues promptly.

In a post on X, the civil aviation ministry said it has called for a report from Air India Express regarding cancellation of flights, and asked it to resolve issues promptly.

The airline has also been advised to ensure proper facilities for passengers while airport operators have been requested to provide proactive assistance to affected passengers.

The regional labour commissioner will also reportedly seek inputs from aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in the ongoing conciliation process between Air India Express management and a section of the cabin crew members.

Full refund for affected fliers

On Wednesday, the airline told the staff that the leadership is available for any discussions to address the concerns.

“A section of our cabin crew has reported sick at the last minute, starting last night, 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,” the Air India Express spokesperson said in a statement.

Apologising to the customers for the “unexpected disruption”, the spokesperson said those impacted by the cancellations will be offered a full refund or complimentary rescheduling to another date.

Airline ready for dialogue with staff

In a message to the airline’s staff, Air India Express CEO Aloke Singh on Wednesday said the company leadership is available for any discussions if there are concerns that need to be addressed.

“All comms channels remain open — departmental townhalls, monthly all-hands townhall besides formal and informal reach out to leaders,” he said.

According to him, senior cabin crew colleagues who have seen the airline evolve from a small, niche operator to what we are today — “a rapidly growing 350+ flights-a-day carrier, with a strong network footprint across India, Gulf and SE Asia — have a deeper stake in helping build and achieve the vision we have set for ourselves”.

Passengers protest

Over Tuesday and Wednesday, apart from cancellations, scores of flights were delayed and the airline’s passengers, mostly scheduled to travel to the Gulf nations, protested at airports in Kerala against flight cancellations as many of them were informed only after the security checks.

A woman passenger, who was to travel from Kannur to Sharjah with twin babies and her husband on an Air India Express flight, said she had to rejoin work on May 9 but the airline was offering her a flight from Kochi only on May 10.

Flight disruptions happened at various airports, including Kochi, Calicut, Delhi and Bengaluru. Domestic as well as international services, including to various Gulf countries, have also been hit. At Delhi airport alone, 14 flights of the carrier were cancelled from 4 am to 4 pm on Wednesday.

To tackle the situation, Air India Express will be tapping the synergies with other Tata Group airlines — Air India and Vistara — sources told news agency PTI.

Discontent among staffers

Discontent has been brewing among a section of the cabin crew at the low-cost carrier for some time now, especially after the start of the process to merge AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India, with itself.

The latest development at Air India Express comes a month after Tata Group full-service carrier Vistara witnessed pilot woes, forcing it to temporarily cut down capacity by 10 per cent, or 25-30 flights daily.

As part of consolidating its airline business, Tata Group is merging Air India Express and AIX Connect, as well as Vistara with Air India.

Last month, the Air India Express Employees Union (AIXEU), a registered union, which claims to represent around 300 cabin crew members, mostly seniors, had also alleged that mismanagement of the affairs has affected the morale of the employees.

Cabin crew grievances

Room sharing, lack of proper support, revised salary structure and alleged differential treatment of experienced crew members and mismanagement are among the issues being flagged by a section of the senior cabin crew members.

There is a lot of stress and apart from requiring to share rooms during layovers, sometimes the assigned hotel rooms do not have adequate facilities, a senior cabin crew member told PTI.

Another cabin crew member claimed the airline’s management was not ready to look into their issues and that those who have been with Air India Express for many years are being meted out different treatment compared to those from AIX Connect.

Ongoing conciliation process

The AIXEU had filed a complaint before the labour department last year. The union had raised various concerns at the airline, including room sharing during layovers. The matter is now under the conciliation process as per the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

A source told news agency PTI on Wednesday that the DGCA has also been made a party to the ongoing conciliation process to seek inputs with respect to various regulations. Apart from room sharing by the cabin crew members during layovers, curtailment of service contracts of some members and assessment, were among the issues on which the conciliation process is on.

In November 2023, the AIXEU had written to civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on various grievances about the airline’s cabin crew members.

About the concerns of the cabin crew members, Air India Express, in November last year, had said that as part of the ongoing integration between the airline and AIX Connect, the policies and practices across the two entities are being aligned.

“This includes crew members sharing rooms on layovers. This is consistent with the market practice followed by many other airlines in India and the region,” the airline had said.

(With agency inputs)

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