On Friday afternoon, text messages and emails started pouring into cell phones and inboxes of striking Air India pilots. “The airline management had given pilots an ultimatum to report to duty by 5 pm or face the consequences,” said Captain Rishabh Kapur, general secretary, Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), the union spearheading the strike.
The pilots refused to blink and Air India was forced to cancel 76 flights flying in and out of Mumbai on Day 3 of the strike.
The airline threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act or initiate a lockout. “There are trying to corner us. But we will not buckle under pressure,” said an ICPA member.
On Friday, Air India doctors visited several pilots who joined the strike by calling in sick. “Since I was not at home, the doctor left after telling my wife to inform the airline about my health,” said a pilot on condition of anonymity.
Though the management and the pilots held their ground, the events unfolding backstage reflected the pressure at play. Pilots alleged that the police asked hotels to not provide space for media briefings. The ICPA has changed three hotels in the last three days.
On the other hand, support poured in for the pilots. The Air Traffic Controllers Guild and aircraft engineers issued letters of solidarity. Senior Jet Airways pilots told the union that they would not operate additional flights if Air India asked them to in a bid to sabotage the strike. The Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots, a Jet Airways pilot body, is sending out a directive on the matter to its members. The Indian Pilots’ Guild, the other union in Air India, had criticised the management for de-recognising the striking union.
Dinesh Trivedi, minister of state for health, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in support of ICPA. Trivedi’s letter — Hindustan Times has a copy — stated his personal experience of bad management in the airline.