Thousands of passengers were inconvenienced on Wednesday as the ground staff and cabin crew of the state-run Indian airlines went on strike for better pay, impacting over 50 flights and services at airports across the country.
About 12,000 ground staff of the carrier, including security personnel and baggage handlers, had been on strike since Tuesday night, demanding pay hikes and payment of arrears. They were joined by the cabin crew Wednesday, leading to a complete breakdown in services.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel warned the strikers that they must call off their agitation by Wednesday evening. "Looking at the financial condition of the airline and the inconvenience caused to the passengers, employees should reach some agreement by this evening," Patel said on Wednesday.
"Till midday, 15 flights have operated from Delhi with marginal delays. But two flights - one to Hyderabad and another to Bangalore - were delayed by several hours," said Indian spokesperson Ashok Sharma.
"We are negotiating with the protesting employees and hope for some positive development soon," Sharma told IANS.
Officials said more than 50 flights had been affected since Wednesday morning all over the country.
However, JK Badola, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees' Union (ACEU), which is demanding wage revisions and promotional parity with their Air India counterparts following the merger of the two state-run carriers, told reporters that about 75 per cent of operations had been affected.
"We decided to go on strike after the management failed to meet our long pending demands," he added.
There was chaos at airports all over the country.
At the domestic airport in Delhi, from where 45 Indian flights a day operate, harried passengers waited for hours to get their bags checked, scanned - and for their flights to take off.
Hundreds of passengers were also stranded at Mumbai's Chhattrapati Shivaji airport's domestic terminal with flights being delayed or baggage going missing. Basic facilities like ferrying passengers from the aircraft to the terminal and luggage transfer went for a toss, airport sources said.
"The strike has disrupted the normal flight schedules and luggage clearance is taking over an hour after the delayed flights land," an airport official said.
"Flight operations to and from Mumbai have been seriously hit as Indian's cabin crew have joined the agitation. Delays are affecting the schedules of other airlines too," he added.
According to sources, the carrier's flights on international routes have also been hit. Long queues were seen at the airline's ticket counters as passengers lined up to cancel their flights. In Kolkata, most Indian flights failed to take off. "Only one flight has taken off till 12 noon of the 12 scheduled to leave," said spokesperson P Mukherjee.
Four flights, including those from Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai, had arrived in Kolkata since Wednesday morning, he added.