Earn the benefits

State-run carrier Air India (AI) continuing to offer ‘concessional’ air tickets to its employees -- whose strength is around 24,000 – comes as no surprise. This has been in practice for the last several decades and the only difference now is that the number of such trips has been reduced. Never mind the airline is bleeding and has been in the red for close to two decades.

The airlines claims that under the scheme ‘Passage Entitlement-Vacation Travel,’ the tickets are not free and the employees do pay fixed fare, along with all applicable taxes.

Its justification is that other loss-making airlines also offer such facilities to their employees. But in Air India the benefit is available to the extended family of the staff also: to brothers, sisters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law! The retired employees too enjoy the largesse: he/she can avail this facility on par with what they were getting at the time of superannuation. Depending on their designation and seniority, the employees are entitled to get 12 to 24 free tickets each year and half of these tickets can be used for international travel. Imagine, prior to 2007, the staff of the pre-merger Air India and Indian Airlines used to enjoy unlimited free domestic trips!

The defence of AI management for this is that the arrangement is a substitute for the leave travel concession scheme for government employees which its employees do not get. But the question is whether the management is serious about achieving a turnaround for the airlines or mindlessly continue to sponge on the tax payers’ money. 

The AI is likely to end the year 2013-4 with a loss of Rs 3,900 crore besides a growing debt burden currently to the tune of Rs 35,000 crore. Not long ago, the AI secured from the government a bailout package of Rs 32,000 crore. It has been given a total of Rs 12,200 crore primarily for paying off loans due to aircraft acquisition. Besieged by its own problems, along with losses, AI’s domestic market share, from being the leader, had dipped drastically to 14 per cent. It now stands close to 20 per cent, relegated to the fourth place. Some recent measures, have, however, ensured that AI is slowly moving on a better track especially in reducing losses and workforce strength but still a lot more needs to be done if the airlines wishes to regain its past glory.

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