As flights are grounded, Jet staff faces turbulence
From pilots to engineers to cleaners, the sudden cessation of salaries has left jet airways staff in dire financial straits. These are their stories
Anil Kumar Kashyap could have never imagined that it would be his last day as a senior engineer with Jet Airways as Flight No. S2 3502 took off from Delhi for Amritsar at 8:20 pm on April 17.
That day, the popular airline temporarily grounded all flight operations after banks rejected its request for Rs 400 crore emergency funding. Anil Kashyap is one of the more than 20,000 employees whose livelihoods were snatched from them.
The news came as a complete shock to Kashyap, who has worked with Jet Airways for the past 23 years. He vividly recalls his last day at work – a day that brought his life to a standstill.
As he had not received any intimation from the management, Kashyap only got to know when he saw his fellow staffers taking selfies with the plane. On asking why, he was told that it could be their last flight. “My heart filled with a sense of dread as I thought about what would follow,” recounts Kashyap, sitting in his house at Mahavir Enclave.
Kashyap is the sole earner in his family, which consists of his mother, wife and three children. It has been three months now since he got his last salary. “Leave alone three months, even if it got delayed for three days, it used to cause hardship in the good old days.”
The financial crunch is troubling not just Kashyap but has affected his entire family. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as he has three school-going kids. The burden became heavier when school bills became due at the end of March. “Not just school fees, even the tuition classes are asking for advances. How am I supposed to manage?”
Seeking help from others is not an option. “How much can we borrow? People are avoiding us nowadays because they fear we are going to ask for money. Even our relatives are staying away,” says his mother, breaking down in tears.
She keeps a cut-out of an aircraft along with the Jet Airways logo in her puja ghar and offers prayers religiously. With their medical insurance policy lapsing, they feel only prayers can ensure that no one falls ill in the family.
“Now conditions are such that before stepping out, I have to check my pocket if we have enough even for the bus fare,” Kashyap says. He has been spending sleepless nights checking his phone at odd hours in the hope of receiving some positive update from the company. “Our age and predicament are such that no one will hire us. Even if they do, the amount offered is simply not enough,” he laments.
Despite all this, even now if he gets an intimation from the company, Kashyap will go back to Jet in a heartbeat. “We have always kept our duties first,” he says.
‘I lost my house’
For 51-year-old Karamjeet Singh, it seems as if there is nothing to look forward to any more. A senior assistant in baggage makeup area, he too has worked at Jet for the past 23 years now.
Forced to sell off his house, he has shifted to a rented home in Mahavir Enclave. “Conditions are so bad now that I was compelled to sell it. To sustain myself for the next few months, this was the only way out. This sudden lack of money has left me helpless and we are not getting our provident fund,” Singh says.
His ordeal will not end here. If he cannot raise the money to pay the school fee, he feels there is no choice but to send the children to work. His children study in a CBSE English medium school where the quarterly fees for both goes up to Rs 40,000.
“Where do we get the money now? I will probably have to take them out of school. For now, I have sent them to work at a real estate company in the neighbourhood,” he adds, dejected.
Looking out for work in the aviation sector has been futile as the other airlines are offering them jobs for less than half their previous salary. “Half of my life I dedicated to this company but what am I getting in return? Shouldn’t the company look after us now?” Singh questions.
‘Kids’ futures at stake’
Chandrasekhar Mondal, a driver supervisor, had been working for Jet Airways for the past 24 years. He was shattered to hear the news of the company’s demise.
Like most other employees who lost their jobs, Mondal’s biggest concern is the future of his children. He had enrolled his son, who studies in Class 12 and a daughter who is in her final year of graduation into Spoken English and computer classes, but had to withdraw them. “I don’t know for how long they will be able to continue their education,” he says.
To make ends meet, his wife has started working. A nurse by profession, she quit her job after she lost vision in her right eye in an accident. But now, after Mondal lost his job, she was left with no option but to work again.
His mother also started working in a baby care centre to support the family after he lost his job. “Even my daughter, who was preparing to be an air hostess post graduation, has told me that she wants to take a break from studies and do a job to support the family”, adds a helpless Mondal, his voice shaking.
At 50 years, it would be difficult for him to get a job despite several years of experience under his belt. “At this age, who will hire us? Companies prefer young blood over us, as we cannot match their energy levels. On top of that, other airline companies are offering us a third of what we used to get at Jet Airways,” he says.
Breaking down, he recalls how his children used to point towards the sky whenever they spotted an aircraft and say, “My father works there”. “That filled my chest with pride. Now their future is at stake and I feel so helpless as I can’t do anything for them.”
Kumar, who lost his job as an assistant engineer, has two children – a girl who studies in Class IX and a son in Class VI. Now, he says, their futures too are at stake, as he had to withdraw them from their private tuition classes and is wondering how to pay their school fees.
“Every summer vacation, we used to take our kids for a trip, but for obvious reasons we cannot do that this time,” says Suresh’s wife. The children are disappointed about this, and it pains them to see their children in this state. “They are children. How will they understand what we are going through?” she asks.
‘Every penny counts’
“My husband and I had planned everything in accordance with our combined salary”, says Suparna (name changed), a ground staffer with Jet Airways, who worked for 11 years with the company.
Now all her plans have taken a backseat and the one that hits her the most is abandoning her dream to admit her three-year-old to a reputed school. As she searches for cheaper options, she feels her chances ensuring a good education for her child are now dim.
Confined to the home, Suparna has started cutting down household costs to survive. Having done away with the maid, she is doing all the household work by herself – from cleaning the house to washing clothes to buying the groceries. “Earlier I did not think twice while taking a rickshaw when I had to go somewhere nearby. Now I tend to walk the same distance, just to save Rs 30-40”, she says.
Suparna recalls that a few days back, she had gone to buy groceries with her child in tow. On the way back, there was a toy shop which caught the eye of the toddler. “I couldn’t buy a single toy for my child. That was such a heart-breaking moment for me. I have been reduced to such a bad condition,” she says, choking back tears.
To make things worse, the banks are also rejecting applications for personal loans, as all of them have blacklisted Jet Airways. “The only option left for me was to mortgage my gold, so that I get some money at least”, she says.
Other airlines are also refusing to hire her, and when they do, they are offering a third of what she used to get at Jet. “They always mock us during the interviews and are bent on downgrading us. I guess they are just trying to benefit from this situation,” she adds.
‘From six lakhs to zero’
Senior commander Rohit Choudhary and his wife, were both pilots with Jet Airways. While Rohit was working in the airlines for 21 years, his wife had been flying since 2004.
“We had been receiving pay cuts for the past year or so”, says Chaudhary. At first the authorities told them that they would receive a 50% pay cut because of the company’s difficult financial situation. After suffering subsequent cuts of 75% and 87.6% respectively, they stopped receiving any salary for the past three months, and now they are left with no job after the airline was grounded.
“From earning around Rs 6 lakh a month, our family income suddenly came to zero, after we both lost our jobs”, says Chaudhary.
It was especially difficult for them since both of their sons are pursuing higher studies in the US, and to pay for their expenses is a huge ordeal. “We broke two of our fixed deposits, but we don’t know how to manage once this money gets over in the next two months”, he says, with a tone of uncertainty, adding that he has to pay Rs 47 lakh for his sons’ education.
While he has received a job offer from a reputed international airline, it has come with a significant deduction of salary. “I still hope that our airline resumes services again, as joining that job will be my last option”, says a despondent Captain Chaudhary.
One thing that comes out clearly is their devotion to the company. Every employee is fighting panic attacks, hoping and ardently praying for Jet Airways to take off again. But the question is – how long can they wait?
A life lost
The whole Jet Airways fiasco has not only claimed peoples’ livelihoods, but also their lives — as a total of four people have committed suicide after they lost their jobs.
One of them is Anil, who worked as a cleaner for Jet Airways on contract basis for the past 10 years. His uncle Chanderpal, who worked as an assistant engineer for the airlines, recommended him for the job. Chanderpal describes him as a frail man, who was a diligent worker, always willing to put in extra hours if needed.
After the airlines shut down, his source of income was completely cut off. He became depressed, didn’t speak much and kept to himself. Tragedy struck on May 15, when his family found Anil’s lifeless body hanging from the ceiling of his home in Gurugram. He had taken his life, having succumbed to the pressure of being unemployed.
Anil left behind three children, aged eight, six and two-and-a-half years respectively. He was the sole earner of the family, which consisted of his mother, wife, children and two siblings.
Chanderpal says that they were in such poor state, that Anil’s wife had to borrow money from their neighbours to perform his last rites. His wife and children have now moved to their native village in Uttar Pradesh, leaving their life in the city behind.
Incidents like this have raised an alarm in the mind of other Jet employees like senior executive engineer Vijay Jha. “Whenever I step out of my house, the fear that my family may take a drastic step in my absence, always looms over my mind”, he says, with an undertone of fear in his voice.