NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, April 29 (IANS): About 100 flights were cancelled and airfares soared Friday as the strike by some 600 Air India pilots entered the third day, despite contempt notices by the Delhi High Court.
With both the management and the agitating union members hardening their positions, the airline has suspended bookings on domestic and regional international destinations till Sunday. "Fresh bookings will only start May 4," an Air India spokesperson said.
The Delhi High Court Thursday asked the pilots to end immediately their agitation, while initiating contempt proceedings and threatening to attach the properties of the their union if they failed to call of their strike.
Private airlines hiked their fares, leading to thousands of passengers, stranded after their Air India flights were cancelled, shelling out between 50 percent and 75 percent more money on bookings.
Passengers complained that the base fare on a Delhi-Mumbai flight, which goes up to Rs.2,400-Rs.3,000 for last-minute bookings had gone up to as much as Rs.7,500 on some airlines -- resulting in a total one-way cost of Rs.11,500, including various levies.
The disruptions were mostly at the Delhi and Mumbai airports. The airline cancelled 52 flights in the national capital and 33 in the financial capital.
"We are only operating 15 flights from Delhi, whereas on an average we have 67 flights from Delhi," a senior Air India official told IANS.
He said the airline had since Thursday adopted a reduced operations plan, where fewer flights on large body aircraft would be operated.
"Currently, our operations are going on smoothly. As we have stopped ticket bookings, passenger loads will also come down and we will be able to tide over this period," the official said.
On Thursday, Air India curtailed its regular operations by 20 percent - with 60 flights - from its normal daily schedule of 320.
Members of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), who were on the rolls of the erstwhile Indian Airlines before it merged with Air India, struck work midnight Tuesday, demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other issues related to work conditions.
They also want the airline to reinstate the six pilots, sacked since the day the strike began, as well as four others who were suspended. Besides, they want the union to be recognised again and Arvind Jadhav ousted as chairman and managing director of Air India.
But the government has so far decided to fully back the airline management.
"We cannot hold any talks with pilots till they return to their duties," said Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, who had briefed the federal cabinet Thursday.
Overall, the carrier has 1,600 pilots on its rolls, including those who were co-opted from the erstwhile Indian Airlines, which was merged with Air India in 2007. Under normal operations, the carrier runs 320 scheduled flights daily.
The airline also made arrangements to lessen the impact of the strike by rolling in some 150 of its management pilots -- senior executives with wings who have now been given administrative duties. The striking pilots said some 70 of them had reported sick.
An executive pilot, Capt. V.K. Bhalla, has been sacked.