Air India Express Cancels Over 80 Flights Amid Mass Leave by Cabin Crew

Skift Take

The disruption in Air India Express operations comes as the airline sector prepares for a peak travel period.

Air India’s low-cost subsidiary Air India Express canceled 85 flights on Thursday amid mass sick leave by cabin crew. The cancellations affected almost one-quarter of its entire flying program. In a statement, the airline said that it would operate 283 flights on Thursday. 

“We have mobilized all resources and Air India will support us by operating on 20 of our routes,” the airline spokesperson said. The company has advised customers to check if their flight is affected before leaving for the airport. 

“If their flight is canceled, or delayed beyond three hours, they may opt for a full refund or reschedule to a later date without any fees,” Air India Express said.

According to Indian media reports, the airline planned to cancel 40 flights every day until May 13. However, cabin crew have since withdrawn its protest as Air India Express has agreed to look into the matter, according to news agency PTI. 

What is the Issue?

Starting Tuesday afternoon, reports suggested about 300 cabin crew members of the airline started calling in sick. The personnel also switched off their phones. This led to the cancellation of more than 90 Air India Express flights by Wednesday evening. 

The cabin crew’s mass absence comes amid the merger of Air India Express with sister low-cost airline AIX Connect, previously known as AirAsia India. 

Tata Sons, which owns the two airlines along with full-service carriers Vistara and Air India, is consolidating its airline business. As part of its strategy, the two budget carriers are being merged to operate as a single low-cost airline. 

A section of the cabin crew staff has alleged mismanagement on the part of the airline, saying that the staff has been treated unequally. The employees are unhappy as some staff members have reportedly been offered jobs at lower positions despite clearing interviews for senior posts. 

They have also alleged that internal job postings are being filled by external candidates, bypassing qualified internal personnel. Changes in the compensation package of the employees as the airline prepares for its merger are also a factor.

Air India Express Reaction

Reacting to the action by cabin crew, Air India Express reportedly issued termination letters to 25 cabin crew. According to news agency PTI, the remaining cabin crew members on sick leave were given an ultimatum to report for duty by 4 pm IST on Thursday to avoid facing termination. The airline has now withdrawn these termination letters. 

“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,” the airline spokesperson said. 

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation has sought a report from the airline on the mass cancellations and has asked Air India Express to resolve the issue promptly. 

A Repeat of Vistara Cancellations?

A similar protest was seen recently among pilots of full-service carrier Vistara, which is also being merged with Air India by parent company Tata Sons to form one full-service carrier.

Between March 31 and April 4, Vistara canceled over 150 flights, while more than 200 were delayed by more than two hours due to “crew unavailability”. The airline’s pilots went on mass leave due to stretched rosters and revised pay structures ahead of the Air India-Vistara merger. 

The new pay structure reduced guaranteed flying hours for First Officers from 70 hours to 40 hours, leading to cuts of almost INR 80,000 ($960) to INR 140,000 ($1,680) from a salary of INR 340,000 ($4,080).

Some Air India Express employees are also facing a pay cut ahead of the merger. In a letter to Tata Group chairman N Chandrasekaran, the Air India Express employees said that several benefits, including the house rent allowance, have been removed from the new compensation structure. This has led to significant cuts in their pay packages despite the airline’s consistent profitability.

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