Mumbai, Oct 15: The largest lay-off in the history of Indian aviation is expected to take place on Wednesday when as many as 850 Jet Airways cabin crew members, mostly on probation, will receive termination letters. The airline couriered these letters late on Tuesday night.
The tremors brought about by the worst downturn yet in the airline industry were felt on Tuesday itself, hours before the first Jet Airways flight of the day took off. Said a crew member, "About three and a half hours before a flight, the office transport reaches your home to pick you up. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, hundreds of cabin crew members in Mumbai who were rostered for early morning flights waited in their uniforms to be picked up." When the worried flight attendants called up the airline dispatch office, they were told they had been de-rostered till further notice.
Though the Jet Airways spokesperson declined to comment on the extent of the lay-off, she did confirm that terminations were in the offing. "Because of the slowdown in traffic, both on international and domestic routes, we have announced discontinuation of a number of flights. As a professional organization we had to do a comprehensive rationalization of our network by taking into account the current traffic demand, our capacity utilization, etc. Consequent to this, we will have to release the unconfirmed staff to match up with the changes," the spokesperson said.
Jet Airways has a total of 1,903 cabin crew (as of last week) at its Mumbai base and 850 of them, who will now be "released", were those who were on probation or had put in less than a year and a half in the company. "The rumour doing the rounds here is that more cabin crew lay-offs are on their way. Even the people who de-rostered the crew today fear that they may soon be at the receiving end themselves," said an Jet official, on condition of anonymity.
The retrenched crew are said to have taken it very hard, particularly since they were given a verbal job assurance as recently as two months ago by the top management. Chief commercial officer Sudhir Raghavan in one of his weekly Friday interactions with the cabin crew had said that their jobs were insulated. "Irrespective of whatever cost cuts we make, Mr Goyal has told me not to touch the cabin crew, he had said," a crew member recalled Raghavan saying. "So no one pressed the panic button when Goyal and Mallya made the tie-up announcement," he adds.
The airline generally has about 8-10 stand-by crew to operate flights in case of delays when the crew originally assigned for the flights are not available. "It's the first time ever that they brought in so many senior flight attendants as stand-by and utilized most of them," a flight attendant said, requesting that she remain unnamed.
Experienced employees will face the axe too
"It's not just the junior staff, even experienced personnel like the crew and ground staff at Jet's San Francisco base will be laid off once the airline calls off its flights in January," the source said.
Even though the recently-introduced Mumbai-Shanghai-San Francisco flights operated at a low of 40% occupancy (for the Shanghai-San Francisco-Shanghai leg), no one saw this coming. The airline was on a cabin crew hiring spree and the last batch (of 18-20 flight attendants) was inducted just three months ago. Last year, interviews were held on a bi-monthly basis all over India.
About 20-30% of those recruited were from places like Darjeeling, Sikkim and the north-east. These girls come to Mumbai, take a bank loan to pay re
nt and brokerage for a place to stay, and now they have no option but to go back in debt," said a flight attendant.
"Sixty per cent of the recruits are women. They paid a deposit of Rs 55,000 through demand draft towards training expenses. The starting salary was Rs 24-28,000 and many had taken home loans after months in service."