New Delhi : Tens of thousands of passengers were forced to call off their journeys as employees of the state-run Indian airlines Wednesday went on a snap strike over pay with union chiefs vowing to continue the stir until their demands are met.
Across the country, the industrial action crippled air services, forcing passengers to either cancel their flights or sweat it out – in blistering heat in some cities – waiting for a delayed departure.
Nationwide, over 25,000 domestic passengers were affected as the airlines employees went on strike demanding better pay packages and payment of arrears that they say have been pending since 1997.
The airlines' union chief warned of further action if its demands were not met and said the management had suspended 23 ground staff following the strike action.
"Both the minister and the management are not bothered about our interest," J.K. Badola, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees' Union (ACEU), told IANS.
"The minister gave us a threat and all our 12,000 employees are ready to face the consequence.
"We have not been getting promotions and arrears since 1997. In comparison to Air India, we are lagging behind by a decade. Demand of equal wages and arrears cannot be termed as illegal," Badola said.
According to Badola, the management had earlier agreed to pay Rs. 4.65 billion in arrears.
"However, they cheated us," he said, adding: "We will continue our agitation."
According to reports, the strike action paralysed Kolkata and Mumbai airports but its impact in Bangalore and Chennai was comparatively low.
Ashok Sharma, General Manager Public Relation of Indian, said that till 3.30 p.m, 64 flights had operated with marginal delays.
Indian operates more than 100 flights daily, carrying around 31,000 passengers to and fro 54 destinations inside India and 18 abroad.
"We are negotiating to bring relief to our passengers," Sharma said.
Nevertheless, there was chaos at airports all over the country.
At the domestic airport in Delhi, from where 45 Indian flights operate every day, harried passengers had to queue for hours to get their bags checked and scanned – and for their flights to take off.
Basic facilities like ferrying passengers from the aircraft to the terminal and luggage transfer went for a toss.
"I have cancelled my ticket to Bangalore," a commuter told reporters. "Though I had to wait in a queue for almost two hours I am happy. It's better to stand in a queue for two hours rather than wait in the lounge for a whole day."
He said his brother has to wait at least four hours before his flight took off for Bangalore Wednesday.
In Bangalore, the strike affected 50 percent of the airline's operations, leading to long delays, cancellations and combining of flights to some destinations, an official said.
About 300 of the 520 Indian employees, affiliated to the Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) joined the strike in Bangalore.
International flights too were affected. Two Indian flights to Sharjah – from Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports in Kerala – were cancelled, as was a Chennai-Singapore flight.