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Business News/ Industry / Human-resource/  Smile, but if you have tattoos, you’re not welcome at Air Asia
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Smile, but if you have tattoos, you’re not welcome at Air Asia

Response to Air Asia’s ads in English dailies for cabin crew recruitment has surprised the management

Air Asia’s joint venture with Tata Sons and Arun Bhatia’s Telstra Tradeplace to start a domestic airline in India seems to have held out a ray of hope for the debt-laden aviation industry, which has been struggling with a decline in passenger demand and concerns about possible job cuts. Photo: Sharp Image (Sharp Image)Premium
Air Asia’s joint venture with Tata Sons and Arun Bhatia’s Telstra Tradeplace to start a domestic airline in India seems to have held out a ray of hope for the debt-laden aviation industry, which has been struggling with a decline in passenger demand and concerns about possible job cuts. Photo: Sharp Image
(Sharp Image)

Chennai: Hundreds of women in crisp white shirts and knee-length skirts, with their hair tied in neat buns, and men in black suits and tuxedos—some even dressed in wedding suits—were nervously waiting for the gates of Chinmaya Heritage Centre in Chennai to open on Saturday. They had gathered for Air Asia Bhd’s walk-in interviews, scheduled to start at 9am.

Many had come from Mumbai and Kolkata and other parts of India and those who working with other airlines such as SpiceJet Ltd and IndiGo were holding on to luggage of the kind carried by cabin crew.

By the end of the registration process at 3pm, nearly 3,500 people had signed up for the walk-in and about 200 candidates, roughly one in 17, were shortlisted for the second round of interviews the next day at the Taj Coromandel hotel. Finally, 39 were hired, according to two candidates who were selected.

Air Asia’s joint venture with Tata Sons and Arun Bhatia’s Telstra Tradeplace Pvt. Ltd to start a domestic airline in India seems to have held out a ray of hope for the debt-laden aviation industry, which has been struggling with a decline in passenger demand and concerns about possible job cuts. Kingfisher Airlines Ltd has been grounded since October, first because of labour unrest over unpaid salaries and later regulatory issues.

Final approvals for the joint venture to take off are still pending, but the new airline expects to start operations by September with two aircraft.

Air Asia now has 50 employees in India who assist in international operations.

It had advertised that it would recruit at least 100 cabin crew in Chennai. Air Asia’s chief executive Tony Fernandes had tweeted on 10 April, “13th April is the date! Meet us in Chennai, looking for girls & guys to fly with us as flight attendants."

The response to Air Asia’s advertisement in major English dailies surprised the Air Asia management.

“We are amazed to see the turnout. There are people from SpiceJet and Kingfisher and they have come from far-away cities. We are glad that we have brought enough people with us from Malaysia to handle the recruitment process," said Suhaila Hassan, group head of flight attendants.

She herself flew down from Malaysia to select the cabin crew members. “The first recruitment drive is always the biggest and we wanted it to go through smoothly."

Was the Tata brand a big draw? It does not seem to be the case. “I am keen on working with Air Asia because it is an international airline and the exposure will be immense," said 23-year old Remya AR from Kerala. She currently works as a call centre executive for SBI Life Insurance Co Ltd.

She was selected for the final interview but did not get a job.

Another candidate, Tiren Karki, said that it was not just about the Tata brand, but the fact that it connected Asian countries.

Both Remya and Karki found the recruitment process “fun".

Catwalk with a smile

The recruitment exercise was divided into three stages—height test, catwalk and a personal interview.

The catwalk required candidates to walk on the stage in three groups of 10 and smile at the judges—senior cabin crew members of Air Asia.

The men were asked to roll up their sleeves so that the judges could check for tattoos or piercings.

Air Asia employees, not involved in the process of selection, were dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ and entertaining the candidates awaiting their turn to go on to the stage. “This is our way to keep off the nervousness that the candidates may be going through...more like an ice-breaking session," said Ang Yu Shon, who had flown in from Kuala Lampur. Shon has been working with Air Asia for the past four years.

A group of Kingfisher employees—past and present—who turned up at the centre found the hiring process rather shallow. “They just wanted to see our smiles. The recruitment process lacked professionalism," said 28-year-old Abhishek Poddar, one of the Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) employees.

Poddar, who has been with Kingfisher for five years, came to Chennai from Kolkata. He said he loves working with the Vijay Mallya airline and hopes that it will be revived.

“We were treated well at KFA and loved the work culture there. I will join KFA again if it revives," said Poddar’s friend and former colleague at Kingfisher, Cecilia Roy, also from Kolkata.

Roy joined IndiGo after quitting KFA, but left the job at the low-cost carrier.

Another KFA employee, who did not want to be named, blamed Mallya and Kingfisher’s bankers for unpaid salaries. Mallya owes a consortium of banks at least 7,000 crore. There is a salary backlog since June 2012. However, according to some KFA employees, the airline is paying them in bits and pieces.

Among other things, Air Asia wanted to gauge how prospective employees look in their uniforms.

“We are not differentiating between experienced and fresh candidates. If they do not have work experience, it will be easier for us to mould them," said Hassan of Air Asia, who has been with the airline since its inception in 2000.

The 39 hires will be sent to Air Asia’s training academy in Kuala Lampur for three months, a procedure followed for all new employees at the airline. How much would the new recruits earn? Air Asia executives said the pay would be a shade over the industry average; the airline’s advertisements in newspapers have put the salary band for cabin crew at 20,000-50,000 per month.

In March, Air Asia held its first interview for cabin crew in Bangalore—some 50 candidates appeared and only three got selected. After Chennai, it will hold recruitment camps in other places, the airline’s chief operating officer Bo Lingam, who was present at Chennai to oversee the selection process, said.

The airline will next look to hire pilots. Fernandes tweeted on Friday: “We are hiring Pilots for #AirAsia India! Find out how you can be part of the world’s best low-cost airline."

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Published: 16 Apr 2013, 02:33 PM IST
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