The civil aviation ministry on Tuesday asked the Jet Airways management and its pilots to sort out issues through dialogue rather than inconvenience thousands of passengers. It also asked states to examine administrative action to ensure normal flight operations.
Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar's appeal came after some 400 Jet Airways pilots reported "sick" on Tuesday, resulting in the cancellation of nearly 200 flights leaving an estimated 20,000 passengers stranded.
"Our view is very clear. We have said we'd like this to be solved. Both sides should come to the table," Nambiar told a news conference in New Delhi. He added that all states were also requested to examine the need to invoke provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act.
When asked how the government was treating the mass "sick leave" being resorted to by pilots, the aviation secretary said both the ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation were examining the issue.
"We will see what are the violations. These are matters that will be examined," he said. "Any act on the part of pilots that results in last-minute cancellation of flights and harassment of passengers will be treated as an act against the public interest."
He said Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal had met with him and Director General of Civil Aviation S N A Zaidi to give an update on the issue and had sought their help in ensuring that the pilots report back at work.
"Jet Airways understands that the pilots are also meeting. They have to sort it out."
Asked to respond to the complaints by passengers that they were not informed about the mass strike in advance, the aviation secretary said Jet Airways has been asked to look into the matter on an urgent basis.
"Jet Airways has to take real proactive steps to ensure proper re-endorsements (of tickets) and proper warning to passengers in the next couple of days," said Nambiar and hoped the matters will be sorted out at the earliest.
Passengers lament some airlines jacked up fares
Faced with cancellation of nearly 200 flights by Jet Airways on Monday, several stranded passengers claimed rival carriers even doubled their fares arbitrarily to cash in on the sudden rush for tickets.
"I had to pay Rs 6,000 extra. This is double the amount I usually pay for my Delhi-Mumbai tickets," said Annu Kumar, an IT professional, who said he had to buy a ticket from Kingfisher after his Jet Airways flight to Mumbai was cancelled.
"They have clearly taken advantage of this situation," Kumar said in Delhi, adding his colleague, also a frequent traveller, had to face a similar situation here Tuesday.
Chennai-based private sector official Gautam, who uses only one name, said Jet Airways did not intimate the passengers about the cancellations.
"They (Jet Airways staff) kept us hanging for too long and announced the cancellation of their flights very late," said Gautam, adding: "This obviously allowed other airlines to cash in on the situation."
V S Sharma, who was to fly to Mumbai, had a similar complaint. "The least the airline people could have done is informed me that my flight is being cancelled. I could have made alternative arrangements. Really, this is very, very bizarre."
But officials of other airline said they did not resort to any undue price hikes. They maintained that if passengers compare the fares for a ticket they bought from Jet Airways some time ago with the current fare, it would obviously be higher.
"When passengers approached us with a Jet Airways ticket, they got a seat on Air India on the same very fare," said Jitendra Bhargava, spokesperson for the national carrier.
"But in case somebody gets a refund and then comes to book a fresh ticket, it will be at current rates," Bhargava said.
He said as far as Air India was concerned, many stranded passengers were accommodated not only on the existing domestic routes but also overseas flights that transit through Indian cities.
The national carrier, he said, also had both aircraft and crew on stand-by for immediate deployment should Jet Airways be forced to cancel more flights in the coming days.
"We are in talks with the government and Jet Airways officials. In the event of need to operate special flights to help stranded passengers, we would do so for which we have kept on stand-by aircraft and crew."
Some 20,000 passengers were stranded after the pilots of Jet Airways went on mass 'sick leave', leading to cancellation of nearly 200 flights - both domestic and international.