Just when a new generation of aspiring pilots and air hostesses were fastening their seat belts to fly into a dream career, comes an announcement of these passengers being offloaded after over-booking of flights. Layoffs are a messy business anywhere in the world, especially in a vibrant democracy with a history of trade unionism. This week’s quick-gun job cuts in Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines in the middle of warm hugs between their chairmen, Naresh Goyal and Vijay Mallya have revealed the ground realities of a high-flying business. The two gentlemen face the difficult task of dealing with an angry young generation in a service industry where smiles and courtesy are among the greatest assets. They also must deal with the likes of upstart politicians like Raj Thackeray, who was quick to speak for the disembarked staff.
But consider the fact that India's airlines ran up a combined loss of Rs 4,000 crore in 2007-08. The man who planted the dream, ‘Everyone can fly’, Captain GR Gopinath, is now playing co-pilot to Mr Mallya after selling off his visionary budget liner, Deccan Aviation, to Kingfisher. These are not easy times for entrepreneurs and it is only to be expected that they are turning some of the heat they face on the well-attired and well-groomed staff, many of whom have borrowed money to finance their careers.
So where do we go from here? Having experienced the fruits of free-market globalisation in sectors that include aviation, information technology and even entertainment, this is no time to go back. Mr Mallya’s promise of the apocryphal ‘Good Times’ is not exactly unreal. But then, bad times are part of the same reality and one must know how to deal with them. It is time for the aspiring youth of globalising India to realise that risks and rewards are both part of the same game.
It would be wise for industrialists to try everything they can to soften the blow, and make sure that severance packages and the details of cost-cutting carry some of the style and grace usually reserved for premium passengers. Policy-makers and politicians would be well advised to avoid dogfights in troubled skies and work towards a consensus that avoids ideological fetishes of any kind. We can only wish all of them a safe journey.