Thursday brought more bad news for fliers facing the brunt of the Air India pilots’ strike that began at midnight on Wednesday.
Air India cancelled 71 flights to and from Mumbai on Thursday after 150 management cadre pilots joined the protest by going on sick leave. Another 21 were cancelled between Thursday midnight and 8 am on Friday. About 660 pilots of the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association, one of Air India’s two pilots’ unions, started the stir opposing the pay policy.
Santacruz resident Jitendra Singh was moist-eyed when he had to pay Rs 4,000 extra for a flight to Varanasi after the Air India flight he was booked on was cancelled. “I cannot explain how much it pinches my pocket, but there is no choice,” said the government employee. His family was waiting for him to begin his sister-in-law’s funeral ceremony.
Singh was among thousands of fliers hit by the flight cancellations. Eight of these flights were to nearby countries such as Singapore while the rest were domestic.
The worst hit were fliers travelling in groups. “Our trip cost has tripled for no fault of ours,” said Shailaja Parekh, a homemaker from Wadala. Parekh was headed to Shimla with her husband and two children. Having paid for the hotel in advance, the family had no option but to book tickets on another flight.
The Air India management said it had augmented its call centre operations to avoid the harassment experienced by fliers on the first day of the strike. “The staff at major airports has been increased to assist passengers in getting full refunds and getting accommodated on other airlines,” said an airline spokesperson. The airline has also stopped accepting new bookings till May 3.
With no sign of the strike ending, airfares continued to climb. Peak-hour tickets on busy routes such as Mumbai-Delhi were close to double the regular price. The hike was steeper for fares to smaller towns. “Private airlines are making a killing,” said Rajesh Rateria, MD, Cirrus Travels.