Air India sacked a contract employee “with immediate effect” while he was in Rome as part of its cabin crew, and then had to persuade him to continue performing his duties on the return flight to New Delhi three days later.
The employee, who received the letter of termination on July 2, wrote back asking how he was supposed to return to India if he was no longer an employee of the national carrier. Realising its mistake, the airline asked him to serve as cabin crew on a July 5 flight with 250 passengers on board. His services were then terminated again on his arrival in India.
Airline officials from the crew management system described this faux pas as a “safety hazard” because members of the crew are not supposed to work under stress.
The crew member’s services were terminated on the grounds that he had taken more off days than he was entitled to, and that had been “repeatedly reporting sick”. He had been sacked once before — in 2016 — but was reinstated soon after.
“On July 1, I operated flight AI-123 (Delhi to Rome) and on July 2, I was informed that my services have been terminated with immediate effect. I wrote an email to the IFS (in-flight service) department saying `I am in Rome and cannot come back as staff on duty since I am no more in the service, and I cannot come back as a passenger because I don’t have ticket and visa’,” said the employee, who asked not to be named.
Air India then told him that crew members could not be let go at a foreign station due to administrative reasons. “Kindly complete the assigned flight. You can take up the matter with IFS on return,” the airline wrote.
“I was forced to work though I was in shock and stressed due to my termination. This is an act of harassment and the management forced me to violate all norms of civil aviation. But still I operated flight AI-122 on July 5 (Rome to Delhi) because I was left with no option,” the employee said.
When contacted, an Air India spokesperson said the termination letter was issued by the administrative department, which was not aware that he was in a foreign location. “Once the employee informed that he is flying, the termination letter was recalled and he was asked to operate the flight,” the Air India spokesperson said.
According to the airline, the employee had been repeatedly reporting sick and was not available for duty for 84 days during the period June 2017 to December 2017 and for 48 days during the period January 2018 to May 2018 citing various reasons.
He was also cautioned several times before the termination letter was finally issued, the airline said.
The employee, however, denied the charges and said that he had taken leave for “genuine reasons” after approval from the medical board.
Airline experts described Air India’s action as dangerous and highly irregular.
“This is simply not on. The crew member might not be visibly stressed but a terminated employee is bound to be under stress. Guidelines by the aviation regulator clearly states that an employee under stress should not be allowed to perform cabin crew duty,” said another Air India cabin crew member, asking not to be named.
“Air India should have shown some maturity,” said Mark Martin, founder and CEO of Martin Consulting, a Dubai-based aviation consulting firm. “Such matters (termination of service) can be addressed face-to-face to avoid such an episode.”