Air India Pilot Was Forced To Fly Passengers To Bangalore – After Being Fired

Airlines have too many employees for the number of flights they’re able to operate, and for the number of passengers they’ll have for the foreseeable future. So many are looking for any excuse they can to fire people.

On Thursday Air India fired 48 Airbus A320 pilots who had resigned in 2019, but who “withdrew their resignations within the six months notice period time” consistent with government and airline regulations. The terminations were effective midnight Thursday night.

Air India’s pilots union says the immediate terminations were illegal. The airline acknowledges that resignations were properly withdrawn, but says they had no choice under the economic circumstances and suggests that an Indian Supreme Court ruling last year makes the move possible “given the nature of pilots’ job requiring long training periods and costs” that resignation withdrawals incur on the airline. 14 of the pilots have commenced legal action.

I have no particular expertise in Indian labor law. What’s striking about the story though is that after the pilots were terminated effective August 13, one of them continued to fly passengers.

On August 14 one of fired pilots flew Air India flights AI 804 from Bangalore to Delhi and then flight AI506 from Delhi back to Bangalore, though they were no longer even an employee of the airline. Both flights departed early.

As the union put it,

In this case, were the crew, passengers and aircraft insurance valid? The pilots who operated these flights were not technically employees of Air India from the close of office on 13.08.2020. This is a violation of comical proportion, not to mention a grave flight safety hazard. What would have been the mental state of these pilots after knowing their services were terminated?

Air India, which had put employees on unpaid leave, had previously said they wouldn’t be laying anyone off. And I think it goes without saying, it was reasonable they wouldn’t lay anyone off and then have them work.

Even before the pandemic Air India was having difficulty meeting payroll, was being refused jet fuel for failing to pay its bills, and didn’t have enough money to replace an engine on a grounded plane. They were facing forced shutdown if the government didn’t find a buyer for the failing business. So very little surprises me about Air India’s operations at this point.

Here’s what it’s like flying Air India with pilots who actually work for the airline:

Here’s what it’s like flying Air India when they don’t spend money to fix the air conditioning.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’s no wonder that my friends from India say “No, you don’t want to travel in India.”

  2. So… many airline pilots in the US, especially those at Expressjet are flying people around knowing they are getting fired. What is the difference?

  3. Normally commodity commands price as per availability and demand, it is policy, intent of regulator which encourages corruption of compromised qualification and employing only well connected , at high pay and forces system to inhibit selection of large number at lower Maret driven price. The tax structure makes pilot training costly , consequently also encourage corruption related to qualification and appointment.

  4. The catch here is that the communication of the pilots’ firing was only sent to them 10PM or so the previous night. With the flight leaving at 06:19AM, the pilot likely didn’t check said communication before going to work. Of course that does not diminish the comical absurdity of the situation where the airline basically allowed a random dude, who effectively had nothing to do with the company at that point in time, to fly. With the stress people are going through right now, having the pilot somehow come to know of his firing during the flight could’ve been catastrophic.

  5. As a former expat pilot for a low cost carrier in India based in Delhi and Mumbai . . . I very much agree with “ I N D I A “ I’ll Never Do It Again. Generally nice people but entirely too many of them. If you’re thinking about going, better hurry up and go, it’s not getting any better!

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