At least 175 flights have been cancelled in the past two days and several others delayed after more than 100 cabin crew took sudden sick leave on Tuesday night. Image Credit: Reuters

Mumbai: Air India's budget carrier abruptly cancelled 74 flights on Thursday, a day after its operations were severely disrupted by dozens of cabin crew calling in sick at the last minute. The airline was taken over by Indian conglomerate Tata Group in 2022 after a government effort to privatise the heavily indebted carrier.

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Media reports linked the sudden mass sick leave by the airline's staff to simmering discontent over new policies on hiring and promotion imposed by its new ownership. Air India Express said in a statement that it had made "every possible effort to minimise the inconvenience caused to our guests" but had been forced to cancel 74 flights on Thursday.

The airline expressed its commitment to minimising inconvenience caused to passengers amidst the unexpected situation. The spokesperson assured that the airline would be operating 292 flights today, utilising all available resources, with additional support from Air India on 20 routes.

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"Air India Express is making every possible effort to minimise the inconvenience caused to our guests by this unexpected situation. We have mobilised all resources," said the spokesperson.

"This act is certainly not representative of the 2,000-odd cabin crew colleagues in the company who continue to respond to the call of duty and serve our guests with dedication and pride. I am thankful to all who are standing by the airline in this hour of crisis," Air India Express CEO, Aloke Singh said in a statement.

Singh invited staff for discussions to address any concerns they may have and assured that all communication channels are open.

The cancellations and delays prompted the Ministry of Civil Aviation to seek a detailed report from Air India Express. The ministry urged the airline to promptly resolve the issues and ensure that passengers are provided with facilities as per DGCA norms.

Full refund or rescheduling

Passengers affected by cancellations or delays beyond three hours are offered the option of a full refund or rescheduling to a later date without any additional fees. They can avail of these options through Tia on WhatsApp (+91 6360012345) or on

The spokesperson added, "However, 74 of our flights have been cancelled and we urge our guests booked to fly with us to check if their flight is affected by the disruption before heading to the airport. If their flight is cancelled, or delayed beyond 3 hours, they may opt for a full refund or reschedule to a later date without any fees on Tia on WhatsApp (+91 6360012345) or on"

It added, "While we will continue to engage with our cabin crew colleagues with a commitment to address any concern, we are taking appropriate steps against certain individuals as their actions have caused grave inconvenience to thousands of our guests."

More than 90 other flights had been "disrupted" since Tuesday by the resulting staff shortages, the airline said in a separate statement on Wednesday, without clarifying whether they had been delayed or cancelled.

Chief executive Aloke Singh said Wednesday that the airline had been forced to curtail its flight schedules over the coming days.

"Since last evening, over 100 of our cabin crew colleagues have reported sick prior to their rostered flight duty, at the last minute, severely disrupting our operations," Singh said.

"This act is certainly not representative of the 2,000-odd cabin crew colleagues in the company who continue to respond to the call of duty."

Crew members sacked

The airline has reportedly sent termination notices to approximately 25 cabin crew members who called in sick, according to airline sources on May 9. The number of job terminations is likely to increase.

According to sources within the airline, the management on Wednesday terminated cabin crew members who took sick leave between Tuesday and Wednesday due to their unprofessional behaviour, which resulted in inconvenience to thousands of passengers.

In the termination letters issued by the airline management, it stated, "In view of the above, the Company has decided to terminate your employment with immediate effect on and from the date of this letter...The terminated crew members are no longer considered employees of the company and are required to return all company property immediately."

The mass sick leave was considered a pre-meditated and concerted abstention from work without any justifiable reason, violating Air India Express Limited employee service rules.

The decision to terminate the employees was made as their actions violated the conditions outlined in their employment contracts, leading to their immediate termination.

Crew revolt over merger

Despite a meeting held on Wednesday between the management and unhappy crew members, the issues remain unresolved. The crew members have outlined seven demands, primarily focusing on rectifying mismanagement post-privatisation under Tata Group.

In response, Air India Express issued a statement apologizing to passengers for the disruptions, attributing the delays and cancellations to a section of the cabin crew reporting sick at the last minute. The airline assured guests affected by cancellations of a full refund or complimentary rescheduling.

"A section of our cabin crew reported sick at the last minute, starting last night, resulting in flight delays and cancellations. While we are engaging with the crew to understand the reasons behind these occurrences, our teams are actively addressing this issue to minimise any inconvenience caused to our guests as a result."

"We sincerely apologise to our guests for this unexpected disruption and emphasise that this situation does not reflect the standard of service we strive to provide. Guests impacted by cancellations will be offered a full refund or complimentary rescheduling to another date.