Passengers stranded as Air India Express cancels 80 flights over cabin crew’s mass ‘sick leave’

Meanwhile, the civil aviation ministry sought a report from Air India Express on the cancellation of flights.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 08, 2024 | 10:55 AMUpdatedMay 08, 2024 | 2:34 PM

Air India Express

Protests erupted in Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur and Cochin airports as the Tata Group- owned Air India Express has cancelled and delayed scores of domestic and international flights on Wednesday, 8 May.

According to the news agency PTI, as many as 80 flights have been cancelled, and many more have been delayed.

The flights have also been cancelled in Bengaluru due to alleged cabin crew shortage. It is learnt that four services from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi each and three services from Kannur were cancelled, leaving passengers stranded at airports.

According to the Bengaluru Airport sources, on Wednesday, from 4.30 AM to 6.10 AM, five domestic Air India Express flights have been cancelled. However, flights post 6:10 AM are functioning according to schedule.

Passengers, mostly travelling to the Gulf nations, claimed that they were informed about the flight cancellations after they completed their security check and were waiting to board the flight.

While Air India Express has offered a full refund or complimentary rescheduling to another date, passengers are not happy with that.

Many of them claimed that they could lose their jobs if they did not reach their place of work today, while some others’ work visas are about to expire.

Meanwhile, the civil aviation ministry sought a report from Air India Express on the cancellation of flights.

An official on Wednesday said the ministry has called for a report from Air India Express regarding the cancellation of flights and asked them to resolve issues promptly.

The airline has also been advised to ensure facilities to passengers as per DGCA norms.

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Flash strike by crew members

As per the reports, the cancellation is because of the lightning strike by its employees for alleged mismanagement by the Tata Group.

Air India Express group confirmed through an official release that the flights have been cancelled, as “The section of our cabin crew has reported sick 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.”

Following widespread ire from the passengers at airports and on social media, the team apologised to the affected passengers, “We sincerely apologise to our guests, those impacted will be offered a full refund or rescheduling.”

They have also urged the guests flying with them on Wednesday to check if the flight is affected, before heading to the airport.

Troubled passengers

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

“What would be the point in me travelling on May 10? If I do not reach there before May 9, my boss will say not to come and I will lose my job,” she told media.

Similar concerns were aired by many others who have to rejoin their places of work in the Gulf nations today or tomorrow and failure to do so could result in them losing their jobs.

The woman also said that she had been waiting at the airport since Tuesday night, when her flight was scheduled to leave for Sharjah, but no accommodation or other facilities were provided to them by the airline.

Another woman, who had booked tickets on Air India Express to meet her husband who is hospitalised in Muscat, said that she was told about the cancellation only when she reached the Kannur airport in the morning.

Congress, CPI seek Aviation Ministry intervention

Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly VD Satheesan wrote to Union Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia highlighting the plight of the passengers and seeking his urgent intervention to ensure alternative travel arrangements for those affected.

Satheesan, in his letter, said that the majority of the travellers learned about the cancellations only after they arrived at the airports.

“Many people heading to the Middle East face the risk of losing their employment since they will be unable to return on time,” he said.

Citing reports, he said the airline did not even extend the basic courtesy of providing the stranded passengers with food or accommodation.

“In these urgent circumstances, I request your good self to provide alternative arrangements to resolve the bottleneck due to the unreasonable cancellation of multiple international and domestic services of Air India Express from Kerala,” Satheesan said.

CPI state secretary Binoy Viswam also sought urgent intervention from the ministry to solve the travel problems of passengers.

In a statement, he said thousands of passengers were stranded at various airports across the country after more than 70 services of the Air India Express were cancelled.

“It has also affected the employment prospects of those seeking a job abroad and those who have to rejoin work after holidays,” Viswam said.

He said that according to the airline, the present predicament was due to the mass leave taken by the cabin crew of Air India Express.

Viswam said the airline’s employees were forced to take such a step as the management did not try to address their concerns and problems.

“This shows that the privatisation of Air India, which was a public sector entity, has not only affected the employees but also the passengers,” he added.

Passengers take to social media

An X user by the name Naseeh nasi took to X, to complain about the cancellations, he wrote: “One of my friend was supposed to travel from ccj to rkt (ix331) today, only after reaching airport, he realised that flight was cancelled & travel agent have no information regarding cancellation! Terrible service ”

Responding to the post, Air India advised him to reach out to the respective airlines (Air India Express) in this regard.

Another user, by the name Saji too reported about his flight cancellation.

Tagging Prime Minister’s Office and  Civil Aviation Minister JM Scindia requested for immediate action.

He further wrote, “Cancellation after boarding caused several issues, affected many families”

Air India’s response was the same.

Another passenger took to Facebook to complain about their cancelled flight from Sharjah to Kannur.

They wrote, “What will the passengers do, there were medical checkups, and onward travel planned.”

Further questioning the Tata group, they wrote: “Is this how we serve the market even after Tata taking over Air India?”

Mismanagement by Air India Express

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 of merger of AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India, with itself.

Late last month, a union representing a section of the Air India Express cabin crew alleged that the airline is being mismanaged and there is a lack of equality in the treatment of the staff.

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.

The 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 perent 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.

(With PTI inputs)