Praful Karochi and his wife, Ashiwni, are proud of their 20-year association with India’s oldest private airline – Jet Airways. Outside their marriage, however, they are disgruntled employees of a defunct airline.
For Praful, a senior cabin crew with Jet Airways, wearing his uniform: pining the gold-plated wing badge with pride and hanging his ID over the white shirt, fills him with nostalgia.
He knows he cannot fly after Jet shut down its operations over a month ago, but he is getting dressed to visit the Mumbai international airport where some of his colleagues still show up, in the hopes that things would turn around.
Thousands like Praful were rendered jobless overnight after India’s popular airline shut shop for want of funds.
Their lives have turned upside down.
Ashiwni and Praful have been busy trying to make ends meet. With no earning member in the family, the couple along with their 4-year-old daughter had to shift out of their high-rise apartment in Andheri to a chawl in the neighbourhood as they couldn't afford the rent anymore.
Struggle for Survival
Sitting in a tiny, crammed house, Praful tells CNN News18, "When we joined Jet Airways many years ago, we had everything - name, fame, status. We were financially strong too. We were doing really well. Now life has come to a standstill all of a sudden. Financially I don't know what to do, where to go. I have EMIs, house rent, child’s education to take care of. We are struggling for basic survival.”
Ashiwni, who works in the admin department of Jet also echoes the same sentiment. "We had to shift to a smaller house and sacrifice a lot to make our ends meet. We think twice before going out. Since both our salaries have stopped, we cringe to buy anything," she said.
Close to 20,000 Jet employees have been in limbo after the airline shut its operations on April 17. The employees are still in the payroll of the company but have stopped receiving their salary since months.
While the pilots, engineers and senior managers stopped receiving their salaries since January, the rest of the employees including ground staff and cabin crew have not been paid since March.
Chaitanya Mainkar, a manager in the security department has been working for Jet for 25 years when the airline had just two aircraft and was embarking on its glorious years. He is forced to leave his home, stay with in-laws and pledge his wife's jewelry to pay his EMIs.
"We are broken financially and mentally. I don't have money to pay for my child’s tuition fees and school fees. We bought a house when Jet was doing well. My EMI is Rs 35,000 per month and I just can't pay it," he said.
The airline had to shut down after SBI, on behalf of a consortium of lenders, refused an interim emergency funding of Rs 400 crore that was sought by the airline.
While some of the employees are waiting it out in the hope that investors will come forward to infuse money and take the airline out of the limbo, majority of the employees have started knocking many doors for jobs.
Other airlines, private companies, hotels, and even start-ups are hiring jet airlines but at lower salaries. In some cases, well-trained, experienced people are being offered entry-level positions.
Tina John, ground staff of Jet, has been attending job interviews almost everyday but has not been offered a single job that matches her experience of ten and five years.
Tina said, “We have applied in a lot of places but have not found a single suitable position. It’s being said everywhere that SpiceJet, Indigo and other airlines, etc are giving preference to Jet but that is completely false. Nobody is doing any favours like how they portray everywhere. They are taking us on fresher’s salary and we face real humiliation when we go for interviews because of the position and pay they offer.”
Glimmer of hope
A lot is at stake for the employees as they face an uncertain future but most of them have kept their hopes alive.
A string of unions and employee associations of Jet have been holding several protests and peace marches across the country urging investors and lenders to help the cash-strapped airline.
Krishna Naidu, a cargo supervisor in Jet, despite serious hardships, is busy roping in employees across the country to join protests, candlelight vigils, meetings and approach the labour commissioner, in an attempt to save the airline.
Naidu, along with other employees had visited chief minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis recently. “We were promised that after elections, the government will interfere and help in the revival of Jet. We are still waiting. Nobody seems to want to help but we will fight till our voices are heard,” Naidu said,
Bincy Zaxon, a ground staff, who has been working for nine years for the company is hopeful for the airline's revival. “I’ve been working for about nine years in the company. I still sometimes go to the airport although we have nothing to do there. We were a proud, successful family and I’m sure we will fly out of this and get back to work.”
Pilots like Praful, however, miss the sheer joy of flying the aircraft and serving the flyers.
While showing the weekly work roster of the airline, he said, “The roaster still shows the leaves I had applied for Diwali this year. Our system is so structured and world-class…I miss wearing my uniform to work. I miss meeting people. It’s an emotional moment for the Jet family. I hope we get out of these turbulent times and get back to work,” he said.