Air India Express leaves thousands stranded after cancelling 70 flights

Budget airline announced move after cabin crew reported sick en-masse, in what reports say is a strike

More than 70 domestic and international Air India Express flights were cancelled on Wednesday following mass sick leaves by its crew. Photo: Wikimedia Commons /  Aero Icarus
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Air India Express has cancelled more than 70 flights since Tuesday, after cabin crew called in sick en masse, in what reports say is a strike over pay and promotions.

Tempers ran high and commotion ensued between passengers and ground staff at several Indian airports on Wednesday, as thousands of travellers found themselves stranded.

The affected Air India Express international services included flights to Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dammam and Muscat.

The budget airline was offering full refunds or complimentary rescheduling to other dates, but many passengers were dissatisfied.

A section of our cabin crew has reported sick at the last minute, starting last night, resulting in flight delays and cancellations
Airline representative

"I had to fly to Muscat this morning at 8am but my flight was cancelled,” said Amrita, from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala's capital city.

"After an argument with the airline staff, I was provided with a ticket for Thursday. The passengers have been informed that there are no tickets until 17th May and a refund will also be provided after 14 days."

The airline said the flights were cancelled after more than 300 senior cabin crew reported sick.

They were protesting over disparities in pay and promotions following the merger of several entities by parent company Air India, local media reported.

With its headquarters in Kochi, in Kerala state, Air India Express is run by a fully owned division of Air India, which conglomerate Tata Group purchased from the government in 2022.

Air India Express operates more than 2,500 flights weekly across 31 domestic and 14 international airports.

“A section of our cabin crew has reported sick at the last minute, starting last night, resulting in flight delays and cancellations,” an airline representative said.

“While we are engaging with the crew to understand the reasons behind these occurrences, our teams are actively addressing this issue to minimise any inconvenience caused to our guests as a result.”

The airline has a fleet of more than 70 aircraft comprising Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.

Satish, a passenger from southern Hyderabad city, told a local TV news channel that travellers were not given any advisory.

"When we reached the airport, they said there was a one-hour flight delay, but it was later cancelled," he said.

"There was no management to give assurances. I have rescheduled my flight but until now haven’t got any confirmation."

The cancellations and long delays started late on Tuesday.

By Wednesday morning, many crew had reportedly switched off their mobile phones and were incommunicado.

Videos shared on social media showed commotion at Delhi's domestic airport as angry passengers protested against the cancellations.

The Tata Group is merging Air India Express and AIX Connect, another low-budget airline formerly known as AirAsia, into one budget airline - the Air India Express.

The staff were dissatisfied over certain changes brought about because of the merger.

Issues in dispute include a merit-based system of promotion, lack of equality in the treatment of employees, lower positions offered to employees, and salary cuts.

Employees sent a letter in April to Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Air India, expressing their grievances.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 11:21 AM