Mumbai: The writing had been on the wall for some time now.
Sensing imminent shutdown, many Jet Airways (India) Ltd employees had been looking for work elsewhere. On Wednesday evening, when the airline announced its plans to temporarily suspend domestic operations after failing to secure emergency funding from lenders, not many were surprised. Yet, not many expected the announcement quite so soon.
“A lot of cabin crew staff began looking out for jobs when salary delays (for senior management) became a norm rather than an exception last year," said a Mumbai-based flight attendant, who has been with the airline for around five years, requesting anonymity.
At a recent event in a five star hotel in a Mumbai suburb, Qatar Airways had held job interviews for cabin crew. The event was filled with Jet Airways employees seeking to join the Gulf-based airlines.
“Since there were so many people, there was hardly any place to sit. The organizers probably didn’t expect so many applicants. So, we all sat on the ground waiting for our turn to come as we really wanted the job," the flight attendant added.
Jet Airways has held back salaries since January to a section of its staff, including pilots, engineers and general managers. Besides, the carrier has deferred the salaries for March to all employees, as it continues to battle financial woes.
“It is very unfortunate that we have to see this day," said Karan Chopra, president of Jet Airways’ pilots union, National Aviators Guild (NAG), after Jet announced the temporary closure of domestic operations.
“We are hoping that this is a temporary suspension of operations and, once the bids are out, which I am hopeful of, the operations will resume," Chopra said, adding that he will continue at the airline for the time being. NAG has decided to take legal recourse against the management for failing to give pilots’ salaries.
“We haven’t got salaries for three months, and this has led to a major disruption in our lives. I have EMIs (equated monthly instalments) apart from funding my parents’ medical expenses and my children’s education," said another pilot with Jet Airways, who didn’t want to be named.
“With the airline deciding to shut shop, things look bleaker than ever now. I just hope that we don’t see a repeat with what happened to the employees of Kingfisher Airlines," he added.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltd shut shop in 2012 after the authorities suspended its flying licence. Many employees are yet to be paid their salary dues.
“We are blank at the moment. We don’t know if there will be any buyers for Jet as banks have not given any assurance. Nobody knows where (founder) Naresh (Goyal) is—whether he is even in India or not," an engineer with the airline said.
Jet Airways has over 16,000 employees, including about 1,300 pilots in workforce.