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Pilots desert Sahara

New Delhi, Feb. 12: A flash strike by Air Sahara pilots today grounded at least 20 flights of India’s third-largest airline, soon to be acquired by Jet Airways, and brought chaos to airports across the country.

The striking pilots said they were seeking protection of their pay and seniority on a par with those of Jet’s pilots in the merged organisation. A Sahara official confirmed that “at least 30 pilots have not reported for work and 20 flights were affected”.

The strike is likely to continue tomorrow though some of the pilots may join work, Air Sahara vice-president Alok Sharma said.

Scores of passengers were shifted to Jet and Kingfisher flights or, in rare instances, accommodated in trains by the airline’s ground staff, Sahara sources said. But dozens more were stranded, with many missing connecting flights to their destinations.

None of Sahara’s flights from Calcutta ' to Delhi, Lucknow, Gorakhpur and Patna ' operated. The airline refunded the fares.

A senior Air Sahara official said the pilots had together reported “sick” instead of handing a strike notice.

“We’ll take some kind of action but right now we are bothered about our passengers,” Sharma said. “We have planned things and should be able to minimise the impact on passengers. The Jet flights and strength are with us.”

Sources said Jet and Sahara may ask the government to step in as both airlines feel the strike is illegal.

A Sahara official said the merger would not cost the pilots, technical personnel or cabin crew their jobs. Sahara has promised to absorb all ground and commercial staff whom Jet declines to hire.

Sahara pilots, unhappy with the sale from the start, have formed a welfare association that has been discussing their future pay and perks with the management.

At most airports today, passengers complained that Sahara ground staff were more keen on posting “delayed” or “cancelled” notices than trying to solve their problems.

The ground staff are unhappy because Jet has let it be known that they would be reviewed individually before being inducted into the merged airline.

Northeast-bound passengers bound are the worst off. Entry into Assam will be blocked from Monday because of bandhs; so they must quickly find seats on other airlines or trains.

Jet last month announced the acquisition of Air Sahara for $500 million (about Rs 2,300 crore). The merger is expected in a couple of months after regulatory approvals.

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