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Second wave: Airlines, DGCA help staff fight anxiety, fear

Restrictions on domestic and international travel due the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have resulted in massive job losses, pay cuts and furloughs in the domestic aviation industry over the past 14 months, leading to increased stress for airlines and employees
By Neha LM Tripathi, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 31, 2021 12:15 AM IST

Restrictions on domestic and international travel due the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have resulted in massive job losses, pay cuts and furloughs in the domestic aviation industry over the past 14 months, leading to increased stress for airlines and employees.

While air crew are stressed and suffer from anxiety, ground staff have also reported being stressed due to the present work situation as they have to ensure seamless movement of passengers and cargo. With no escape from work, the country’s aviation regulator and airlines are helping their employees cope with the situation and their fear of getting exposed to the virus.

In addition to following all directives and protocols issued by the ministry of health and family welfare and other related organisations, Arun Kumar, director general of Directorate of General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), said, “Besides providing a facility of a consultation with doctors of the medical cell, a core group has also been formed to interact with various officers and staff and see to their immediate needs and requirements. We are also processing remuneration of employees and contractual staff on time.”

Airlines are doing their bit to ensure a stable work environment.

IndiGo, for instance, has tied up with a leading employees assistance programme 1to1help desk. “Under this initiative, employees are free to avail telephonic counselling services to adapt to the changing reality and manage the psychological effects of the pandemic,” IndiGo said.

Under VistaraCARE, the management of Tata Group-Singapore Airlines jointly owned airline has been engaging in one-on-one check-ins with department heads and regular virtual meetings that help managers detect and address concerns and foster team collaboration. “Activities like online yoga, inspirational talks by experts, contests using various tools and digital platforms are conducted to reunite and motivate everyone. However, the tonality, humour etc. in communication is moderated in light of the current situation,” said the Delhi-based full service airline.

An international study conducted in April last year, stated that levels of stress, anxiety and depression among air crew have risen because of the pandemic and the societal response to it.

“When you come to know that a colleague is critical or has passed away due to Covid-19, it becomes very disturbing. Initially you fail to realise the tragedy but then gradually, reality sets in and impacts your mental health,” said a pilot.

As the fear and anxiety of contracting the virus continues, DGCA has arranged vaccination camps for both full-time and contractual staff and their family members. Airlines, too, have started organising vaccination camps, catering to not only the flying crew but also ground staff which includes loaders, air side staff and desk staff at airports to help reduce their stress levels.

“Every employee, be it on air or on ground, is worried about stepping out and working. The possibility of contracting the virus cannot be ruled out at airports. However, from the first week of May, majority of airlines have been setting up vaccination camps for their employees for a healthy working environment,” a former airline official said.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) also organised regular online awareness and training sessions to allay fears and doubts among employees. “The training programmes were conducted through empanelled hospitals to raise awareness about Covid-19 and its effects. We began with dos and don’ts in the times of Covid, covering 100 participants. We have conducted sessions on diet, exercises, mindfulness, stress management and relaxation. To extend the benefit of online sessions, contract workers were also covered through online training programmes.”

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Aviation is a high-risk, high-reliability and safety-critical industry. Covid-19 pandemic, with all its associated consequences, has had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of both passengers and aviation personnel, which could impact operational safety. For majority of the workforce in the industry, factors such as salary deductions, furloughs, risk of getting infected themselves and even becoming a carrier for their loved ones, affect their mental health. Their fear of catching the virus either during the commute or at work is always lurking in their mind.

- International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations, document.

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