New Delhi: Tata Group airlines Air India and Vistara on Friday stepped in to support their sister network Air India Express, as the low-cost carrier continues to cancel flights amid network disruptions following mass sick leave by over 100 cabin crew members.

On Friday, Air India Express cancelled 120 flights and operated 246 flights, an official aware of the development said. He added that Vistara operated two flights and parent company Air India operated 20 flights for Air India Express, in order to support the network.

On 9 May, the airline cancelled 85 flights and operated around 283 flights. Broadly, the airline is curtailing its network by around 20% until it stabilizes its network by 13 May.

The airline has asked its customers to check their flight status 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 additional fees.

The airline has been facing a severe network disruption, as over 100 cabin crew called in sick in the evening of 7 May, just before their rostered flight duty, resulting in severe disruption to the operations of the airline. This caused cancellations of more than 90 flights on 8 May. 

The cabin crew members late on 9 May ended their protest, and the airline is gradually rostering them back to duties, and it will be a while before operations normalize.   

The sudden sick leave was primarily taken by senior cabin crew members, resulting in severe disruption. The company, which employs around 2,000 cabin crew members, has asked the staff to reach out to the airline for discussing their grievances related to the merger with AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India.

While the airline had terminated on 8 May the employment of around 25 cabin crew members who had reported sick under a “pre-meditated” plan, it reinstated them on Thursday after a conciliation meeting.

“This will help us swiftly restore our flight schedule and fulfil our commitments to our guests. We sincerely apologise to those inconvenienced by these unintended disruptions. It is not in keeping with our usual service standards, and we will review it internally to ensure accountability,” an Air India Express spokesperson said.

Air India Express was acquired by the Tata Group, along with Air India, in a government-led strategic divestment programme in January 2022. The airline is currently undergoing an integration exercise with AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India.

Simultaneously, there is also a transformation taking place within the Air India group, which will bring a more domestic focus for Air India Express and a more international approach for the merged entity of Air India and Vistara.

“There are concerns among senior cabin crew members about their roles, positions in the company as it is merging with AIX connect. There are changes that are taking place to bring a more corporate culture at Air India Express, in line with that of AIX Connect and the transition has also made Air India Express a domestic and international airline, not just international as was the case earlier. These are some of the issues,” one of the officials aware of the development told Mint.

Merger issues are not new for the Tata Group-backed airlines. Last month, Vistara had to cancel several flights due to shortage of pilots.

As per the latest data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, AIX Connect has a 5.8% stake in the domestic aviation market and independently, Air India Express is the third-largest Indian carrier for the international traffic to and from India. For October-December 2023, the airline had a market share of 7.1% and carried 1.2 million passengers. While it is a major carrier for the west Asia region, it is also expected to expand its network under the broader group synergy exercise with its parent company Air India.