The 16,500-plus employees of Jet Airways were on a wing and a prayer Tuesday evening as a three-hour meeting of Jet Airways’ board of directors to secure emergency funding from lenders remained inconclusive.
From running a Save Jet Airways campaign on social media and knocking at the Prime Minister’s Office to just checking in every day despite delayed salaries, to playing cricket when it is not too hot, most employees reported to work as usual across states, hoping that “one of India’s finest airlines” will stabilise soon.
“What is encouraging is we get regular updates from management,” said a manager in the finance department in the company’s Mumbai office. The employees received a mail Tuesday morning from Jet Airways Chief Executive Officer Vinay Dube stating the future course of action for the airlines will be decided in by the board.
The previous day, the CEO had informed employees again by mail that the promised Rs 1,500 crore interim funding by lenders to keep the flights operational had not yet been received. “Tension gripped the office in Mumbai with pilots and flight cabin crewing walking in to know more about the situation,” said an employee who did not wish to be identified.
“The airline has not let off any employee so far,” the woman manager said. “We are hoping for the best. But employees have started quitting. I am looking for a job myself,” she said.
A male executive, who has been with the airline for 11 years, said, he had heard of internal talks that operations would be temporarily suspended and some employees may be asked to go on leave. “Sensing trouble, people started quitting a couple of months back,” he noted.
Employees in Delhi plan to gather at Jantar Mantar on April 18. “We don’t know what to do; services of the company need to be restored. All employees of Jet Airways are individually submitting a complaint to PMO are hopeful that a favourable decision will be taken soon,” said Captain Ankit Tyagi, General Secretary of Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots.
Last six months have been troublesome for Captain Rajesh Handa and his family. “Our salaries were irregular for almost six months but if I look back at my bank account now, the last three months did not show any additions. No amount has been credited. So far, we are managing from our savings, but this will soon exhaust. What then?” he asked.
The oldest private airlines, that once had a fleet of 123 carriers, has suspended its international operations till April 18 with seven domestic flights operational until Tuesday. “The workload has reduced in all departments since December,” said a female employee in Mumbai. “We are coming to work every day only to keep the morale high.”
Personal finances are just one aspect. The suspension of a large number of flights is also affecting the future career graphs of pilots. A pilot license is valid for six months after which he/ she needs to undergo a test. Pilots also have to take three take-offs and three landings in the preceding 90 days.
“Ours is a skilled job and it needs to be current all times. Maintaining flying hours is crucial for those who have lesser experience in the field and may want to apply to international airlines. To avoid this situation, many pilots are moving to domestic airlines,” said Captain Asim Valiani, vice president of National Aviator’s Guild (NAG).
The debt-ridden Jet Airways’ pilots body which claims representation of around 1,100 pilots of the total 1,600, had in late March called for no-flying from April 1 over the issue of unpaid salaries. However, on March 31, it deferred the agitation to April 15, saying it wanted to give more time to the new management.
“A pilot becomes a captain after 7 years and once he settles down, he blocks money in purchasing a house or invests in family or kids education. The entire future is planned and now everything has been put on stake,” added Tyagi who has spent 18 years with the airline company.
Nidhi Chapekar, the flight cabin attendant, who was injured while on duty during the terror attack in Brussels airport in 2016, said, “The airline has supported many employees and many plan to stick on and wait for their salary for a few months if needed.”
Elsewhere in Ahmedabad, near the cargo bay at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International airport, black and yellow uniformed employees of Jet Airways are playing cricket. “There have been no flights since April 1 and we are not sure when it will begin, so we are playing cricket to keep ourselves engaged,” said a 25-year-old loader who did not wish to be identified.