Tears, threats, triumph in Jet Airways layoff drama
Outside the Delhi airport, TV news channel vans had lined up; inside, Jet staff at the counter tried not to meet the sympathetic eyes of passengers. Aboard the aircraft, which had telltale empty seats, newspapers folded into seat pockets had headlines of the layoffs.
I wondered if any of the efficient stewards and stewardesses had been tempted to rip off the covers, or if they were just relieved they were not on probation.
On Thursday, ministers and political parties weighed in on the retrenchments, some calling them illegal, others calling them ill-timed.
Chairman Naresh Goyal, late on Thursday, said he was reinstating the sacked employees because he “could not sleep at night”. The tired protesters cheered.
No one questioned the logic of Jet returning leased aircraft or putting its international expansion on hold to cut costs. So why the furore over the layoffs?
Because the sight of the well-groomed stewards and stewardesses in their smart uniforms, shouting “We want our jobs back”, struck a chord with us.
Because thousands of middle-class Indians had boarded an aircraft for the first time in recent years as new discount carriers and low fares had given them an opportunity to fly home for the festival season or take their family on vacation.
Because new airlines had given thousands of young men and women, many from small towns, a ticket to glamorous jobs in the city.
Because an industry that had grown at an average pace of more than 25 percent, headed by a suave politician, with its promise of gleaming new airports and shiny aircraft, had come to symbolise “India Shining” again.
“During the boom we hired people, gave them big salaries. Now, in the downturn, there will be layoffs,” said Kapil Kaul, chief executive in India for the Centre of Asia-Pacific Aviation.
“It’s the new reality that we have to adjust to.”