International passengers booked to travel on Air India (AI) flights could be stranded at airports over the next few days as more than 40 cabin crew personnel working with the airline refused to operate flights on Monday.
Cabin crew members have alleged that the company has not paid them “sustenance allowance” to bear expenses for their stay abroad since August last year. The allowance is paid to cabin crew in foreign currency for meals (other than breakfast) and other expenses such as laundry during lay over in a foreign country.
According to airline sources, about eight international flights plying to destinations such as London, Paris, Chicago and New York could be affected, as more cabin crew personnel are likely to join the protest. “If more cabin crew members join the protest, the airline might have to cancel some flights as flights cannot operate without the stipulated number of flight attendants,” said a member of the Air India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA), the airline’s cabin crew union.
The airline has 1,956 cabin crew personnel for international flight operations of which about 1,700 are available for operations at a time.
Last month, AICCA had warned the AI management about possible flight disruptions. Acting on several complaints from flight attendants, the union had written a letter to AI chairman and managing director Rohit Nandan on December 23. “There is a limit to which the crew can spend from their own pockets,” said an AICCA member requesting anonymity.
An AI spokesperson said that the problem did not affect international flights on Monday. The spokesperson refused to comment on what steps the airline was taking to quell the protest.
If the dispute is not resolved, sources said that international flights scheduled to take off from Mumbai and Delhi in the wee hours of Tuesday could be operated with minimum crew.
“Operating flights with minimum crew count is a safety concern and could also lead to slow service to passengers on board,” said an airline official with in-flight services department requesting anonymity.
The AICCA has now asked the AI management to revise its contract with hotels booked for crew stay at international destinations.
“We have requested them to allow the crew to sign for small expenses during their stay aboard until they are in a position to pay sustenance allowance,” said another AICCA member.