Vistara cancellations put travel agents in quandary

Facing losses & irate customers, travel agents caught in cross fire
/ New Delhi
Vistara cancellations put travel agents in quandary

A significant share of the 800 pilots that Vistara employs have proceeded on mass sick leave

The ongoing string of cancellations of flights by Vistara airline due to a protest by pilots against a new contract that reduces their wages has not only led to thousands of travellers being stuck at airports or facing delays of several hours, but has also put travel agents in a spot as helpless customers turn to them.
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Travellers using full-service airline Vistara faced massive delays or outright cancellations on Wednesday as a protest by Vistara’s pilots continued.

Vistara’s pilots are protesting against a revised contract they have been asked to sign which effectively leads to a significant reduction in their income. The revised contract is part of the process of merger of Vistara, a joint venture of the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, with Air India, which is now part of Tata Group.

The pilots of Vistara are reportedly unhappy with the terms of the contract which reduce their minimum flying hours to 40 from 70 and a corresponding reduction in their income. Initially, the airline adopted a stern stance saying that those pilots who did not sign the revised contract would be considered as not being interested in becoming a part of the merged entity and that they would be passed over for promotions and international duties.

In response to this stance, a significant share of the 800 pilots that Vistara employs, have proceeded on mass sick leave, leaving dozens of aircraft and thousands of passengers, both domestic and international, stranded on the ground and total chaos at the airports.

As the undeclared strike continues, Vistara is facing mounting criticism, not just by the impacted passengers but even by aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation which asked the airline to take steps to minimise the inconvenience to the passengers and even Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has expressed concern over the situation.

Finally, on Wednesday, the management showed signs of flexibility in its approach and Vistara Chief Executive Vinod Kannan is reportedly likely to have a meeting with the representatives of the pilots.

Travel agents caught in crossfire

The impact of Vistara’s troubles is spilling over beyond the airline and the passengers. While the irate passengers have been complaining about the airline on social media and other platforms, many of them have also turned on their travel agents, asking them to find a solution.

Raghav Bhalla, Director of High Flyer, a Delhi-based travel services firm, says that his company has been getting a number of phone calls from passengers who had booked their flights or vacations with High Flyer and whose schedules have been upset by the cancellations or delays in Vistara flights.

Raghav Bhalla

Raghav Bhalla

“Since cancellations have been made at the last minute by the airline, the passengers find themselves totally lost as the cost of taking an alternative flight, even if possible, is more than double than what they have paid. For instance, one of my customers was flying from Goa to Delhi and when he tried to look for an alternative, its cost is about INR 21,000 just for a one-way and in addition to that he may face cancellation fee from Vistara. So, he turned to us for help, asking if we could get some response from Vistara and resolve the issue,’’ Bhalla tells India Outbound.

It is not just the domestic flights that have been impacted, but a large number of international passengers, too, have been caught up in the problems with Vistara’s flights. Bhalla says that he has no real answers for his clients due to lack of clarity from the airline.

“We have tried to call them, but all calls get routed to call centre where no one responds even after 30-40 minutes of waiting. So there is little we can do to help our clients, except help them reschedule their journeys. But, it still leaves a still bill for the customers to handle due to the last-minute nature of these cancellations,’’ adds Bhalla.

Guldeep Singh Sahni

Guldeep Singh Sahni

Guldeep Singh Sahni, Co-Chair of FICCI Outbound Tourism Committee and the Managing Director of Weldon Tours and Travels, a travel firm in Delhi, says his company too has been caught in the middle as customers turn to the travel agents for finding a way out of the mess.

“Many of our corporate clients have not been able to find alternative flights to keep to their business trips. They have turned to us in the absence of any response from Vistara and even though we tell them that this is beyond our control, then they turn and ask us what is the point of going through a travel agent if the agent cannot help in such a situation,’’ Sahni tells India Outbound.

“Not only does this unpleasant situation lead to our customers becoming dissatisfied but we are also spending a lot of our time in intervening with the airline on behalf of our customers. So face double losses as instead of pursuing new business and sales, we are spending time in taking care of something which is not even our fault and in fact beyond our control,” Sahni adds.

Both Sahni and Bhalla fear that the Vistara crisis is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon and the disruptions may well continue for at least a few more days.

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