Air India Express issues termination letters to 25 cabin crew members, gives ultimatum to others

Air India Express cancelled 74 flights and said Air India would operate services on 20 of its routes to minimise disruptions.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 09, 2024 | 10:38 AMUpdatedMay 09, 2024 | 3:53 PM

The airline said the curtailment of flights will continue till 13 May. (Facebook)

Air India Express has issued termination letters to around 25 cabin crew members who reported sick, which led to the cancellation of more than 90 flights, airline sources said on Thursday, 9 May.

The Tata Group-owned airline has also given an ultimatum to the remaining cabin crew members reporting sick to join back duty by 4 pm on Thursday or face termination, they added.

Meanwhile, Air India Express on Thursday cancelled 74 flights and said Air India will operate services on 20 of its routes to minimise disruptions.

A section of cabin crew has reported sick to protest against alleged mismanagement at the airline, which has resulted in the cancellation of more than 90 flights since Tuesday night.

“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.

There are around 1,400 cabin crew, including about 500 at the senior level, at the airline.

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 percent of the airline’s scheduled daily flights.

“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.

Flights cancelled second consecutive day

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

Travellers 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.

This sudden cancellation has sparked frustration and caused inconvenience among passengers who relied on the airline’s assurance for their travel plans.

“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.


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

Passengers protest in Kerala

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.

The cabin crew shortage has resulted in the cancellations of more than 100 flights since Tuesday night and around 15,000 passengers have been affected. More than 200 cabin crew have reported sick, the sources said.

Flight disruptions happened at various airports, including Kochi, Calicut (Kozhikode), 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, they added.

To tackle the situation, one of the sources said Air India Express will be tapping the synergies with other Tata Group airlines — Air India and Vistara.

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.

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.

Airline being mismanaged: Union

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.

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 percent, 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.

In a message to the airline’s staff, Air India Express CEO Aloke Singh on Wednesday said since last evening, more than 100 cabin crew members have reported sick prior to their rostered flight duty, “at the last minute, severely disrupting our operations”.

More than 90 flights have been disrupted due to the situation, he added.

“The disruptions have cascaded across the network, forcing us to curtail the schedules over the next few days. We had to do this to cope with the non-availability of crew and to recover schedules,” Singh said.

AIX management open to talks

The curtailment of flights will be till 13 May, a source said.

Singh also said the company leadership is available for any discussions if there are concerns that need to be addressed.

“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.

In its second statement of the day, the airline said that a “small section of the cabin crew” reported sick at the last minute, disrupting operations since last night.

“We have mobilised all our resources and revised our flight schedule. We are also accommodating affected guests on alternative flights, including those of Group airlines…,” the spokesperson said and asked passengers to check if their flight is affected by the disruption before heading to the airport.

Civil Aviation Ministry seeks report

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 to passengers while airport operators have been requested to provide proactive assistance to affected passengers.

Last month, the Air India Express Employees Union (AIXEU), a registered union, that 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.

On Wednesday, 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.

Congress leader KC Venugopal sought immediate intervention from Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia to resolve the strike at the airline.

(With PTI inputs)