Mumbai, Jan 19: Questions hung unanswered at Mumbai’s busy domestic terminal as news of the first big-ticket merger in India’s airline industry swirled.
Jet Airways’ $500-million takeover of Air Sahara made work a little more difficult for the staff at the check-in counters of both the airlines.
Apprehension over how things would pan out in the future was quite palpable among both airline officials and passengers. Ironically, people manning the two counters that face each other across a ramp were dealing with the same questions from passengers.
“How will this move affect us,” asked one dogged passenger. “Your guess is as good as mine,” was the reply.
“We have not got any letter from the management as of now; so we are functioning as before,” said an Air Sahara ticketing official.
The biggest worry for some passengers was over the frequent flyer miles that they had logged up on Air Sahara and how these would be redeemed.
“Till things are finalised, you can use your flying miles as you did before. In a month’s time, you will receive a letter from the management explaining any changes, if any,” said one Air Sahara official. There were nervous smiles at the Air Sahara counter when officials were asked about their future. “We may not be able to comment on the future,” whispered an Air Sahara porter, adding in a hushed tone that some ground staff may be asked to leave.
“There will be no change in the way we are operating,” confirmed the duty manager of Jet Airways.
Most passengers, rather amused by the turn of events, were more busy finding out whether they would reach their respective destinations on time or not.
Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal told reporters earlier in the day that the airline would absorb only ‘suitable’ Air Sahara personnel ' and the comment has sent a frisson of fear through those affected by the takeover.
But within hours of Goyal’s statement, Sahara group chief Subrata Roy issued a statement assuring Air Sahara officials of job protection along with pay and perks if the new owner did not absorb them. “If the employees find it difficult to work under the new management, Sahara India Pariwar, in the spirit of true pariwar (family) shall be responsive to any of their genuine difficulties and would take all steps... to mitigate their difficulties,” Roy said in an internal communication to Air Sahara employees.
But the news hadn’t reached the employees at the Mumbai airport where the mood was sombre.
Meanwhile, sources said pilots of Air Sahara’s smaller CRJ aircraft had already put in their papers over the past two to three days. “There is no synergy between the two airlines,” STIC Travels chairman Subhash Goyal said. “It will be difficult for Jet to absorb the entire staff at Sahara.”
The travel and tourism industry has mostly adopted a wait-and-watch policy. “We have not seen too many changes in flight plans by our passengers,” said an official of Kesari Travels.