Air India relents, allows staff to change seats from economy

Air India relents, allows staff to change seats from economy

As a peace offering to its warring employees, the Air India management has reversed a May order that forced employees all the way up to the chairman to fly economy class.

The embattled national carrier, operated by National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, is weighed down by losses of Rs5,548 crore in 2008-09 and a staggering Rs15,241 crore of debt. The state-owned carrier is expected to receive an initial Rs400 crore in equity infusion from the government if it cuts costs. In one of its early cost-cutting moves, the airline barred business and first-class travel for its senior management staff, provoking an employee backlash.

Also Read Air India: A timeline of the crisis

On 27 November, Air India executive director (headquarters) V. Srikrishna issued a circular stating that employees from deputy general manager or higher would be allowed to travel at least business class on duty and on vacation, but with caveats.

“After a long time, today, I had planned to take my papers with me on the flight. Two hours of flying is good enough time to work. In economy, you just can’t do that," a senior Air India executive said, adding that the new rules are not open ended. “It’s a moderated order which takes care of the numbers and also of aspirations of the retired and serving officers, and limits have been set."

Till May, for example, senior executives at the level of director or higher were allowed to fly first class, but can now travel only business. Their business-class travel has also been capped to not more than 25% of the total business class seats. For personal travel, seats would be allotted subject to availability.

Only Air India’s chairman and managing director would be allowed to fly first class both on duty and on personal travel. Retired chairmen of Air India and the erstwhile Indian Airlines, their immediate family members, and retired officials of the rank of deputy general managers or higher can travel only business class, subject to availability.

Air India’s chairman Arvind Jadhav is likely to hold a press briefing this week on the progress of the airline’s turnaround plan.

“They have opened up a little bit, which is fair," said a second Air India executive. Several senior Air India executives have been using either the front row of the economy class or the emergency exit row that provides more legroom since the May order, the executive added.

A civil aviation ministry official, who declined to be named as he isn’t authorized to speak to the media, said the Air India management has been asked to adopt a humane approach to employees and convince them to participate in the turnaround process. “The government can’t stomach a strike. Whatever the plan was, has been abandoned," said the official, referring to cost-cutting and other measures previously announced and those still being considered.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association had withdrawn a strike notice for the midnight of 30 November on Sunday after assurances by the management.