More than 16,000 Jet Airways employees are staring at an uncertain future
According to several employees, lack of communication from the company is making it difficult for them to decide whether to stay on or look for a new job
“If you happen to hear the audio of a cockpit of any past air crash, you would know that the pilot never gives up till the very end. When a plane goes down we fight to the end to recover. It’s hard-coded in our DNA as pilots to not give up, and that’s what I am doing with my employer of 16 years that has been fantastic in all respects thus far," said Nishanth Sequeira, a Gurugram-based senior commander at Jet Airways India Ltd, which halted operations a little over a week ago.
Sequeira, 43, has decided to sell his parents’ house in Mangaluru to keep his head above water for now, and remains hopeful that the airline will find a new buyer and take to the skies once again. “There is a bidding process on and I will wait till then to see how things work out. Of course, the window is narrowing for me because I have to manage my household and I have some big-ticket expenses lined up," he said.
Sequeira is among many Jet Airways employees who are willing to wait for the airline’s revival despite the financial crunch they are facing at home due to delayed salaries for more than four months, and uncertain future. “It’s impacting every employee. From someone who’s been a captain for 20 years to someone in the ground force who makes just about ₹15,000 a month. I know first officers who after getting their jobs thought they’d retire in this company. They bought a house by taking a loan and the EMIs (equated monthly instalments) are massive," said Captain Asim Valiani, vice-president, National Aviator’s Guild, a trade union of Jet Airways’ pilots. More than 16,000 Jet Airways’ employees are now staring at an uncertain future.
Ashwani Tyagi, 53, a senior commander, has been working with the airline for 25 years. “For me, to restart my career with another airline is not easy," said Tyagi. But the bigger issue for the Tyagi household is the uncertain future of his 20-year-old son, who is a first officer with Jet Airways and has only completed 160 hours of flying—which is not enough to become a full commercial pilot. “My son had just started off. He doesn’t have any future as of now because he hasn’t completed the minimum required number of flying hours yet," added Tyagi. The family is now forced to dip into their savings to manage household expenses and huge EMIs.
The younger employees are facing other problems as well. “Some young boys bought Harley Davidson or Audi because who would have thought anything could go wrong. I know of people who were due to get married and they bought a house or planned for a lavish wedding and are now stuck," said Sequeira.
Coping with it
According to several Jet employees, lack of communication from the company is making it difficult for them to decide whether to stay on or look for a new job. Many of them are dealing with the crisis with the help of credit cards or falling back on family. Vatsla Malik, 32, who is part of Jet Airways ground staff, said despite the delay in salaries, she was able to manage for a month by dipping into her savings, but it may be difficult for her to manage in future as she has a couple of personal loans to repay. “I am from a small town near Agra. If I don’t get a new job or if Jet doesn’t revive, I’ll have to fall back on my parents or I’ll just have to pack my bags and go back," she said.
SA, a 32-year-old member of the ground staff, who didn’t want to be named but gave his initials, said he is living off credit cards as he’s not able to get a personal loan. “Given that I am an employee of a grounded airline, banks are unwilling to give me a personal loan. What’s worse is that I may have to settle for less as other airlines are offering lower salaries. But I will have to take up something soon because I have a wife and children to look after," he said.
But what can hurt the most in the middle of a financial crisis is a medical emergency. Nobody knows this better than this young couple, both Jet Airways employees, who chose to remain anonymous. They had to go through a traumatic abortion procedure because they didn’t have the money for a less invasive laparoscopy. “We haven’t got our salaries for nearly two months now. My father-in-law who is already on dialysis recently got diagnosed with mouth cancer which required immediate surgery. A few days later I was advised to abort the baby but we were left with no money for a laparoscopy," said the wife. After borrowing about ₹70,000 from their landlord, the couple opted for a surgical abortion which left her in a lot of pain and a long recovery period. “My husband is struggling to get me medicines now. He’s taking up any kind of job just to make some money. I’ve watched all this only in movies," she said.
While prolonged financial difficulty can wreak havoc in anyone’s life, saving for a rainy day helps to a great extent. For instance, Sequeira dealt with little or no salary months by dipping into his savings. It held him in good stead for nearly six months, but now having exhausted his savings he is selling his parents’ house and therein lies his big money lesson. “What I realise is that you shouldn’t have too much exposure in real estate because it’s illiquid. We would have never settled for the price that we have settled for now had it not been for the circumstances. I have to pay EMIs of my house in which my parents are currently residing and my children are going to start a new session at school," he said.
Sequeira has already cut back on some expenses. “Every Sunday after Mass we would head out to a restaurant for lunch and would doggy bag the dinner. We don’t do that anymore. We were due for holidays in Europe and the Middle East which I cancelled and took a smaller break instead. Even for Easter, we only bought new clothers for our children," he said.
Uncertainty on the job front can cause a lot of mental trauma and it’s perhaps best that employees begin the process of looking at alternatives, said Lovaii Navlakhi, managing director and CEO, International Money Matters, a financial planning firm. “Jet Airways may or may not revive. So with whatever experience the employees have, they must explore other similar opportunities," said Navlakhi. The employees of Jet Airways have to take some tough decisions, but this brings home some basic money lessons for everyone, the most important being: always save for a rainy day because it’s never going to stay rosy forever.