On April 21, 14-year-old Prakriti Saran reached Mumbai airport with her 65-year-old grandmother to catch Air Sahara’s 6.30 pm flight to Bangalore. The flight was delayed, at 8.30 pm the airline announced that the flight would leave at 9.30 pm, and offered passengers "light refreshments".
Prakriti, who was taking only the second flight of her life, became anxious. She did not know the snacks were complimentary and called up her father to rush in money so that she could buy some food. "They should have guided us for food. They were rude. We took off after five hours," she said.
Four days later, 35-year-old Rajiv Adhikari, who works for a software company in Mumbai, had a similar experience. On April 25, he reached Delhi airport to board the Air Sahara flight to Mumbai at 8.25 pm. The airport’s flight information board was displaying that the flight was late, and would depart at 10.15 pm.
Adhikari was worried as he had to catch a connecting international flight at 3.00 am from Mumbai. "When I went to reconfirm the departure time with the staff in the check-in counter, they blamed the airport for the wrong display. When I said I had a connecting international flight, she rudely told me I should have taken an earlier flight," recalled the software professional.
"The staff looked clueless and disinterested, which surprised me," said Adhikari.
Insecurity over jobs among the 2,000-odd people working in airports, ticketing, customer service seems to be impacting Air Sahara’s operations, causing distress to passengers dogged by flight delays.
A lack of commitment by Jet Airways —it agreed to retain 1,100 (pilots, engineers and cabin crew) of the 3,000-odd people working in Air Sahara after it took over the airline in April — to retain the staff has made them callous, allege passengers. Jet Airways did not respond to an email questionnaire from the Hindustan Times.
"It is logical. There is confusion at the airport level due to uncertainty over jobs. I am not surprised if some of these people have become indifferent. They do not know whether they will be retained by Jet or will have to go back to Sahara," said an Air Sahara executive on condition of anonymity.
"We are not afraid of losing jobs. But the uncertainty is killing us. Air Sahara has assured us of jobs along with a loyalty bonus irrespective of where we work. But Jet must decide fast," said a Sahara employee based in Delhi who did not wish to be identified.
Air Sahara’s outgoing president Alok Sharma said: "We are committed to run the airline smoothly during the two-month transition. I request passengers to lodge complaints so that we can address them." Jet plans to rechristen Air Sahara as Jetlite and position it in between a full-service airline and a budget carrier.
Many of these 2,000 people, who have not been committed to be retained by Jet, are clueless about their future. Sahara does not know how many are returning to the group, says a group spokesman. A merger could have helped avert this but both airlines will be run independently though they will explore synergies.
Partly, the problem is because Jet is yet to take full control of Air Sahara. Though a 25-member Jet team headed by Gary Kingshot has moved to Delhi to take over Air Sahara’s operations, the earlier management still continues to run the airline.
But sources said Jet was gradually taking control of the airline, asking its department heads to keep an eye on Air Sahara. "We can set things right in a few weeks. Air Sahara’s engineers, pilots and cabin crew are happy to be with us as Jet is a more stable company. A third of the ground staff might be disgruntled, but they are not much of a worry," said a Jet executive.