More than half the flights operated by IndiGo were delayed on Saturday after a large number of the airline’s cabin crew members did not report for work. Sources said they actually went for job interviews but called in sick at the last minute, putting the airline’s operations in jeopardy. Tata-owned Air India, as well as Jet and Akasa, are in the midst of a massive recruitment drive.
IndiGo, known for its on-time performance, had only 45 percent of its flights departing on time; more than 850 flights took off more than 15 minutes after their scheduled time. The airline operated about 1,600 flights on Friday and had to cancel about 50 flights. Angry passengers took to social media to express their displeasure at the delays, which saw many of them miss their connecting flight or train.
The airline uses its planes for around 14 hours a day and a delay in the first flight has a cascading effect on the entire network. Air India’s recruitment drive, for example, is spread across five major cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
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“Most of the delays happened in Delhi – IndiGo’s biggest base. As a result, the entire network saw a cascading impact,” said a person familiar with the development.
An airline pilot who was operating a flight from Bengaluru said he waited inside the plane for two hours for the cabin crew members. The A320 aircraft operated by IndiGo requires at least four cabin crew members for a flight. An IndiGo spokesperson did not comment on related queries.
Crew members have the right to report illness up to five hours before the flight takes off.
Sources said the IndiGo management has raised the issue with Air India and asked the airline not to hire crew without a “no-objection certificate” or a relief letter from the current employer. DGCA rules mandate that the cabin crew must give a notice period of at least three months. However, it can be reduced with the agreement of the airline.
An Air India spokesperson did not comment on the matter. When asked, Arun Kumar, who heads the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, according to PTI, said, “We are looking into it.”
Aviation worldwide suffers from a shortage of trained manpower. People laid off by airlines during the pandemic have started working in other sectors, particularly hospitality.
European airports are also witnessing huge disruptions affecting airlines as people resume air travel in large numbers following the Covid-19 pandemic.
A senior IndiGo executive denied the airline had a shortage of cabin crew members, but explained that the sudden last-minute departure was difficult to cover up. “There is an adequate crew and we are prepared for unforeseen circumstances. But aviation is a highly regulated subject in terms of the working pattern and it is impossible to cover up if so many crew members call in sick at the last minute,” he said. IndiGo has also increased recruitment in various departments.
Being a cabin crew member is a specialized job and regulations require 30 days or 240 hours of training for new recruits before they can be inducted. The training is for communication, handling medical emergencies and security training.
In addition, the fatigue management regulations require that a cabin crew not assign any duties to a cabin crew who has exceeded 65 hours of duty in the last seven days and 210 hours in the last 28 consecutive days.