Mumbai: Khan, 24, had joinedJet Airways India Ltd as a trainee cabin crew member last September, only to be laid off a month later as the airline retrenched 1,900 employees to counter the worst slowdown in the domestic aviation industry.
Different work: Passengers at Delhi airport. Jet has deputed some of its cabin crew for airport duty to meet the shortage of ground staff. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
He was reinstated a day later as Jet retracted its decision, and Khan’s happy now assisting business class passengers to the lounge at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport while they wait for their flights. It’s a temporary assignment and he doesn’t mind so much that he’s not flying.
Khan did not want his first name taken in this report.
Typically, cabin crew members earn additional allowances for working on late shifts or flying outside the country.
Jet, which jostles with rival Kingfisher Airlines Ltd for the top spot among airlines in the country by passengers flown, last month started deputing some of its cabin crew on airport duty by turns for two weeks to a month, making use of its surplus cabin crew as it slammed the brakes on its international expansion and reduced domestic flights by at least 15%.
“There are excess cabin crew with our capacity rationalization and shortage of ground staff owing to the freeze in the recruitment process,” another Jet executive said on condition of anonymity. “In order to retain them and extend better customer services, we are deploying them at airports for assisting passengers, smoothening check-in process and taking feedback.”
A Jet spokeswoman only said the decision was aimed at enhancing the level of service at airports.
“A group will be selected randomly by the management to do service at airports where Jet Airways has a strong base. I am happy to do this as there is no danger to my job and it is the time of economic slowdown,” said a second cabin staffer who had been suspended and reinstated by the airline a month after he joined. The person, who didn’t want to be identified, is now assisting passengers at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
“My salary has come down by 20% because of fewer flying hours. (But) I am happy to have this short assignment at airports since the slowdown has resulted in poor demand in aviation jobs for at least two years,” said Khan.
Shiv Agrawal, chief executive officer of ABC Consultants Pvt. Ltd, a human resources consultancy that counts various airlines among its clients, said such redeployment of employees is happening across the industry.
Various companies are trying different business models to hold on to their employees rather than letting them go. The idea is to bring back these employees to (their) original portfolios when things get back to normal, said Agrawal.
Kingfisher, which has also postponed expansion on its international routes and is reducing its domestic flights, is also contemplating a move similar to Jet’s staff redeployment, according to a senior company executive.
National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, which runs Air India, is also redeploying its staff but as part of integrating Air-India and Indian Airlines, which had merged in 2007 to form the larger company.
Other low fare carriers in India—including GoAir, SpiceJet and IndiGo—say they already maintain lean staffing.
While announcing its financial results for the December quarter, Jet had said in January that its focus on domestic market consolidation and cost reduction would continue.
“Over the next few months, we will rationalize our workforce. We have renegotiated various agreements for goods and services including for maintenance services, crew layover, procurement, etc., the impact of which will be seen starting the current quarter,” the airline had said in a statement.
Jet is in dialogue with pilots and top management to take a pay cut. Domestic carriers are expected to post a combined loss of $2 billion or Rs10,334 crore in fiscal 2009 primarily over losses from high jet fuel costs and intense competition earlier in the fiscal year. Not all airlines have attempted such redeployment of staff. Leading European airlines, including Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, have issued termination notices to some cabin crew in India as they are reducing flights to India.