Grounded Jet Air Takes a Toll as Airfares Spike and Staff Protest

(Bloomberg) -- Passengers stranded, employees protesting on the streets of India’s capital and authorities scrambling to put more flights in the air -- that’s the view on the ground after Jet Airways India Ltd. pulled its final few aircraft from the sky.

Once India’s biggest airline by market value, Jet Airways’ dominance and profitability were slowly whittled away by competitors, whose no-frills options forced base fares down to as low as 2 cents. Since the start of this year, Jet has scrambled for a capital infusion to meet payments to lenders, employees and aircraft lessors. With no respite in sight, the carrier finally accepted defeat, saying on Wednesday that all flights would be temporarily halted.

About a hundred people, including uniformed Jet Airways pilots, took to the streets on Thursday in New Delhi to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene. As they pressed for a rescue, airfares for domestic travelers are expected to climb 30 percent on average as capacity is squeezed heading into a peak travel period, according to flight-booking website Yatra Online Pvt Ltd. Fares of some international routes have also spiked.

Grounded Jet Air Takes a Toll as Airfares Spike and Staff Protest

“Jet Airways is very important to the economy,” said Rajesh Handa, a pilot with Jet Airways for 18 years. “We request the prime minister to come out and help us -- not just us but the economy of the country.”

Jet Airways has 23,000 employees and scenes of staff and their families protesting are particularly concerning from Modi, who is in the middle of a sprawling six-week general election where opposition parties have hammered his government on its jobs record.

“There’s people whose families are completely dependent on this airline," said Renu Rajora, a Jet Airways cabin crew member for the past five years. “We don’t have salaries, we don’t have any money. It’s April, and admissions are going on for schools.”

Separately, the civil aviation ministry said on Wednesday that it’s assisting airlines and airports to rapidly bring in capacity to ensure fares remain stable and competitive. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation and others are monitoring the situation to ensure existing rules regarding refunds, cancellations and alternate booking are followed, it said.

Grounded Jet Air Takes a Toll as Airfares Spike and Staff Protest

“It is indeed very sad to see Jet Airways grounded,” said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer of the business-to-consumer segment at Yatra. “Fares are likely to further go up if Jet Airways delays getting planes back in the air or the capacity gap is not filled by other carriers.

Fifteen-day advance fares have risen as much as 10 percent compared to last year, while three-day advance fare levels have shot up by 25 percent to 30 percent with the grounding coming at a time of peak summer vacation demand, he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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