Friday, December 30, 2011

Over 50% of cabin crew of Air India to be under 37 years of age.

NEW DELHI: Last week when 36 "flying models" of Kingfisher joined national carrier Air India - long notorious for its virtually senior citizen cabin crew - as air hostesses, the airline started a journey back in time to its glamorous old days. These 36 were among the 670 twenty-somethings who joined as cabin crew, altering after many years the age profile of the aged Maharaja's air hostesses. Now, 1,800 of the airlines 3,500 cabin crew (90% of which are women) are below the age of 37.

This ratio is all set to improve further as the management on Friday cleared hiring of 100 more young air hostesses who would join by mid-January. The airline is working on a voluntary retirement scheme for employees and for the first time cabin crew is going to be included in this scheme. Since VRS usually covers those who have served for over 20 years, a substantial chunk of the 1,400 cabin crew in the age group of 45 and 58 would be eligible to opt for it - making way for more young faces.

Apart from correcting the age profile of its air hostesses, the Maharaja has also decided to give them a new look. For this purpose, it has asked Delhi's National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) to design new uniform for them. And in a first, the management has asked NIFT to come up with option of western wear for cabin crew of international flights. Till now, AI air hostesses have only worn Indian dresses like sarees, salwar kameez and churidars.

"Cabin crew was considered as technical staff and never included in VRS but now we will include them in VRS. A number of old timer cabin crew members have expressed a desire to leave if given the option of VRS. We did not recruit for so long that the crew aged. Now we are aiming the right balance of youth and experience in our flights," said sources. In past few years, AI drifted so far away from its original glamour image of days when icons like Parmeshwar Godrej or Maureen Wadia worked for the airline. Today, as many as 600 cabin crew are in the age group of 52 to 58!

A senior AI commander said: "A very large number of young cabin crew has joined the airline despite knowing its financial health. We last got paid in first week of December. Now five months' allowance and salary is unpaid. Still being a government company, youngsters feel safe in joining AI as they feel the state will keep funding it. This explains why so many Kingfisher air hostesses have joined us."

The aviation ministry is for months trying to make a case of infusing Rs 33,000 crore into the airline, with immediate infusion of Rs 6,600 crore to clear dues to employees and vendors. While this is long term survival prescription, in reality the airline is fighting to get about 100 crore by this weekend to pay something to employees in January.

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