Air India pilots' strike leaves flyers in lurch

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New Delhi, April 28: Flyers today (April 28) bore the brunt of the strike by Air India pilots with some complaining that they were not informed about the status of their flights and some coming to know about the cancelled flights only after reaching the airport.

Air India cancelled 60 flights this morning leaving many flyers stranded.

"Me and my family had to attend a marriage in Srinagar today and we had booked our tickets about a month ago, but now our plans are ruined as Air India has cancelled the flight and they don''t have the courtesy to inform us before hand," said Mohammed Sahil Sheikh, a businessman.

"We came to know about it only after we reached the airport, even their helpline could not give us correct information about the flight, this is how our national carrier works," he said angrily.

At the AI counters, passengers were seen enquiring about their flights and collect printed copies of their tickets but many had to return empty handed.

Many flyers had either postponed their travelling plans or cancelled their tickets. Some of the passengers were seen trying their luck at the counters of other airlines to get a seat in their flight.

"I had to reach Bangalore for a conference but my flight is cancelled and now they are showing their helplessness in accommodating me in other airlines, saying their seats are already full," complained K Krishna, a software professional.

"I am trying hard to get a ticket on any other airline but everyone is refusing saying they have no seats vacant," he said.

Demanding a fixed salary, removal of Air India CMD and a CBI enquiry into the alleged mismanagement, 800 pilots have gone on strike from Tuesday midnight.

Several unions, including those representing air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers, the IPG and Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots of Jet Airways, have supported the stir, Kapur said.

In Delhi, 33 domestic and five international flights to Kathmandu, Kabul and Dubai were cancelled as the airline management decided to operate only those flights for which cabin crew as well as adequate pilots were available.

Similarly, unavailability of cockpit crew forced the national carrier to cancel around 19 flights, including two international ones, out of Mumbai.

Terming management's attitude towards them as authoritarian, the pilots alleged, "Now they are taking action against those pilots who are refusing to fly a snag-hit plane, forcing us to violate flight safety rules."

The ICPA General Secretary said prior to the merger, Air India and Indian Airlines had a loss Rs 455 crore and Rs 280 crore respectively, which rose to Rs 16,000 crore within three years and that too after hiring consultancy firm Deloitte at a cost of Rs 90 crore.

The ICPA leader also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to review the appointment of the "high headed and dishonest management" to restore the glory of the airline.

The agitating pilots, all from the erstwhile Indian Airlines, have demanded pay parity with their counterparts in Air India, saying their fixed salary component was much lower than the latter's.

Sacked ICPA President Capt A S Bhinder said the management had instigated the pilots to go on a strike so they could derecognise the union by not taking any decision on their demands, despite agreeing with them in principle before the Chief Labour Commissioner.

He said the management had "adopted this tactic earlier too in the case of two major unions - Air Corporation Employees Union and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association."

The management had violated the memorandum of settlement signed in November 2009 on implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the ICPA president alleged.

The union also demanded CBI probe into cancellation and withdrawal of profitable routes and bilateral rights "given away" to either private airlines or foreign carriers, probe of aircraft acquisition orders of 111 new planes between erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.

PTI

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