400 Air India air hostesses declared absconders

NEW DELHI: This is a telling comment on the decline of Air India from a glamorous airline where dreamy eyed girls dreamt of getting a job in the heydays of JRD Tata’s stewardship, to asarkari organization now fraught by uncertainty following years of government mismanagement. The Maharaja has discovered that almost 400 air hostesses of its cabin crew strength of 3,600 who had taken a two-year leave without pay as per company policy have simply not returned to work although their leave got over a long time back.

AI has now declared them absconders and is beginning a process to sack all those who fail to give a convincing reason for their continued absence from work. Almost 300 of the 400 absconding airhostesses are learnt to be from Delhi alone.

“They must have left at a time when the airline faced uncertainty (which it still does); salary payment was irregular and must have taken up job elsewhere. Once they got jobs elsewhere, they should have resigned from here and not remained on the rolls. However, we officially have no information on them. The probe of the first tranche of 44 absconders will soon be over and we may sack many of them,” said a senior official.

The government’s questionable decision to buy 111 new planes for over Rs 50,000 crore and drowning the airline in debt has led to a state of complete penury in AI, forcing it to survive on taxpayers’ bailouts. “Salary payments remain uncertain and the airline’s survival looks bleak. In this atmosphere, a number of people are eying jobs elsewhere,” said a senior employee.

The airline stumbled on the absconders while asking all of its cabin crew to appear for medical test from January. After much reservation from the mostly unfit and overweight AI cabin crew, a majority of whom are airhostesses, the airline conducted fitness tests on 3,200 employees from January to March while having a total strength of 3,600.

“Almost 40% of the 3,200 cabin crew was found to be unfit, with 557 of them being ‘morbidly obese’. These personnel face the risk of being put on ground duties unless they get back in shape within a deadline of six months. The second round of tests is going to begin now for those who gave the medicals in January. A majority of the airhostesses found really overweight are from erstwhile AI,” said the official.

The management’s move is being backed by the parent aviation ministry with the latter now toying with an idea which is a norm for all private carriers but not heard of in AI — fixing a lower maximum age to remain an airhostess. The retirement age for AI employees is 58 and an airhostess can fly till the day she retires.

Many years ago (in its heady days) the age limit was 45 to have a mix of youth and experience. “The ministry is now planning to have a lower age ceiling for AI airhostesses after which they will transferred to ground duties where they will remain till the age of 58,” said an official. Outgoing CJI’s bid to appoint SC judge nipped.

Source: The Times of India


Striking Air India pilots begin indefinite fast

NEW DELHI: Striking pilots of erstwhile Air India on Sunday began an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar and have vowed to remain there till the government starts a dialogue with them on their demands.

The agitating and now-derecognized Indian Pilots’ Guild said 11 pilots would be on fast for at least 48 hours after which their place would be taken by fresh set of strikers.

 

The agitating and now-derecognized Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) said 11 pilots would be on fast for at least 48 hours after which their place would be taken by fresh set of strikers. A similar exercise will begin at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan from Monday.

“Our agitation has entered the 48th day and no one has even spoken to us. We want to get back to work and someone needs to tell us how we can do that. Private airlines are going full and benefitting from the stalemate in AI,” said Sumit Dhir, a sacked commander.

A senior ministry official said the airline would have no problem taking the sacked people back. “Only serious thought would have to be given the 10 sacked leaders of the derecognized IPG,” he said. However, the IPG has said that either everyone goes back together or no one does. Close to 450 members of the IPG have been on strike since May 7.

Source: The Times of India


Flyers to pay more for heavy bags, changed travel plans

NEW DELHI: Flying with heavy bags, changing travel plans and not showing up for your flight will be an expensive affair from next week. Air India has decided to reduce the free check-in weight from 20 kg to 15 kg for economy class domestic flyers from Monday. Jet and JetKonnect will follow suit from Wednesday. The Jet group and AI will charge Rs 250 per kg for excess baggage (beyond 15 kg) from people flying within the country. Registered frequent flyers and business class passengers have been spared this new rule.

Flyers who have heavy bags, change travel plans and do not show up for thier flight will have to pay more from next week.

In addition, AI has also hiked the no-show, cancellation and itinerary change fees. Jet had earlier made its lowest fare tickets non-refundable and now AI has done that and a lot more.

For lowest fare economy tickets, re-issue or date change will now cost Rs 1,500 — twice the earlier fee of Rs 750. These tickets remain non-refundable in case of no shows.

Mid range fare bucket tickets have now been made non-refundable while AI earlier used to charge Rs 500 as penalty from no-shows and allow them to use it on some other flight. Changing this fare level’s tickets will now cost Rs 1,000, up from earlier Rs 500.

Not showing up has also been made expensive for passengers with highest fare levels of economy and business class tickets of AI. The no-show charge has been hiked to Rs 1,000 from the earlier Rs 200. The airline has decided to continue with its policy of not charging anything from such passengers for an itinerary change.

A senior AI official said: “Our flights are going 80% full now and business class is also seeing good occupancy. We are offering economical fares and not showing up means a dead loss for us. These charges have been hiked as an attempt to help us keep offering low base fares to passengers and keep flying affordable.”

AI earlier had excess baggage charge between Rs 150 and Rs 400 per kg, depending on the distance. While passengers had to pay Rs 280 per kg for extra baggage on Delhi-Mumbai route, the charge for Delhi-Kochi was Rs 400. The airline has now moved to a flat rate of Rs 250, which has been the practice at other Indian carriers like Jet and IndiGo.

AI is now tweaking its software to start charging from pre-booking of seats. Low-cost carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet, which used to charge for this facility till two years back before the Directorate General of Civil Aviation stopped them from doing so, may restart this fee anytime now. IndiGo will charge a fee of Rs 500 for sitting in row numbers one, two, 12 and 13 (emergency rows that have extra leg room) on domestic flights and Rs 800 on international routes. Pre-booking other window and aisle seats will cost Rs 200 and Rs 300 for domestic and internationals flights, respectively.

After domestic flyers, Indian carriers will look at international flights too to increase ancillary revenue. AI is first going to re-examine the free baggage check-in on flights between India and Gulf and Southeast Asia. Later it may change baggage norms for flights to Europe and North America too.

“Airlines know what charges are to be put where but are just waiting for someone to make the first move,” admitted an official.

Source: The Times of India


Kingfisher Airlines declares partial lockout, suspends flights till Thursday

MUMBAI: Kingfisher Airlines tonight declared a partial lockout with immediate effect and suspended till Thursday flight operations which came to a grinding halt following a strike by a section of its employees.

In a statement, the Vijay Mallya-owned private carrier said it has been forced to declare a “partial lockout” following a series of “protracted and unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault, wrongful restraint and other illegal acts” including refraining from attending work, by a small section of “recalcitrant” employees.

Kingfisher airlines management earlier in the day warned of a temporary shutdown, citing lack of funds to pay salaries even for a month.

The airline said the action by the recalcitrant employees who have regrettably chosen to take law into their own hands forcing a complete paralysis of operations were all “unnecessary and unprovoked.”

“It has been decided that flight operations will be suspended for the next 3 days, i.e. until October 4, 2012,” it added.

The operations got completely paralysed today after pilots and some other staff joined the strikingengineers protesting non-payment of salaries for the last six months, sending the shares of the airline tumbling by 5 per cent.

Before commencing legal action, the airline said it will make efforts to continue to engage withstriking employees to persuade them not to indulge in any intimidatory tactics.

The management earlier in the day warned of a temporary shutdown, citing lack of funds to pay salaries even for a month.

“We had a long meeting with the CEO Sanjay Aggarwal but no solution has come out rather he threatened a temporary shutdown saying it did not have funds to pay salaries even for a month,” a representative of the striking engineers who was part of the meeting told PTI here tonight.

The meeting between the representatives of striking engineers and Aggarwal lasted for around two-and-a half-hours.

With its engineers on strike, Kingfisher reportedly approached Air India and others for getting its aircraft checked for certification.

Earlier in the day, the aviation minister Ajit Singh had said, “We can’t allow Kingfisher to fly until their aircraft are certified. (Since) their engineers are on strike, they can get the planes certified by other engineers also.”

However, the minister warned that if the DGCA finds that Kingfisher is not sticking to its schedule or violating safety norms, action will be initiated.

Significantly, Singh ruled out shutting down the airline saying, “the government is not in the business of shutting down businesses,” as that will “create lot of problems. Even with the 3 percent market share Kingfisher has, such a move will create a havoc.”

For the second day today, operations of the private carrier were paralysed as most of its pilots and engineers, who have not been paid for the six months, struck work.

Source: The Times of India


Airfares to rise as AI sheds below-cost tag

NEW DELHI: Get ready to shell out more for flying as cash-strapped Air India – which has been accused of charging below-cost fares in the last few months to show higher aircraft occupancy – has finally decided to do “course correction”. Private domestic airlines, both full service and low-cost carriers (LCC), which were also forced to cap their fares due to market compulsions, are also likely to go for hikes in the coming days. While no airline was willing to give an estimate of the increase, industry sources said a 10%-15% increase in basic fares was on the cards.

While the aviation ministry said it would not interfere in fares – unless airlines gang up to exploit a situation by hiking fares exorbitantly like last Diwali – it is monitoring AI’s cash flow very closely. Aviation minister Vayalar Ravi has ordered a twice-daily monitoring of AI that is conducted by aviation secretary Nasim Zaidi and the new CMD Rohit Nandan.

“In the past few months, AI was offering very low fares and there has to be a correction as the airline needs a strong cash flow to survive. As oil companies have put us off the cash-and-carry list, we now have a flexibility of Rs 225 crore every month, from which we’ll pay salaries,” said a senior official.

Some fare ‘correction’ has already started happening in the last few weeks that has led a slight improvement in collections for the virtually bankrupt Maharaja. “Comparing August 2010 with same month this year, AI has carried 12,000 more passengers with revenue rising by Rs 110 crore. This 12% increase in yield is expected to strengthen with peak travel season coming and fare correction on the anvil,” said the official.

Instead of the earlier daily payment of Rs 15-16 crore to oil companies, AI is now putting Rs 7.5 crore daily in a special account to pay for oil dues every two months. AI has total dues of over Rs 2,300 crore to oil companies. “August’s basic pay to the over 30,000 employees has been dispatched and their performance-linked incentives could be paid next week,” said sources.

Working in close cooperation after a virtual cold war in the past two years, the ministry-management duo is trying to get AI’s grounded planes back in air. A substantial chunk of AI’s Airbus (A-320) fleet is on the ground due to maintenance requirements. Sources in Delhi airport said at any given time, six to seven A-320s remain grounded at IGI alone. Nandan has released some funds towards this end so that the planes can get back in air.

Source: The Times of India