The union said Air India was paying about 500,000 to 1 million rupees ($6,800 to $13,700) as compensation to the family if a pilot died of Covid-19 while performing their duties. The number, it said, was a fraction of what other airlines paid and might be just enough to take care of a deceased colleague’s hospital bills. Indigo, a private airline, was paying 50 million rupees or more than $680,000, the union said in one of its letters.
The union said that it had sent repeated requests to the government asking that flight crews be prioritized for vaccinations. In a letter addressed to India’s health minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, on April 16, the union urged the government to recognize crew members as “essential workers.”
“We urge you to vaccinate all aircrew at the earliest,” it said.
Two Air India pilots who requested anonymity fearing reprisals from the government said they were frustrated by the way their calls for better compensation and protesting salary cuts had fallen on deaf ears. They also said they feared being exposed to new variants of the virus circulating in other countries while doing their jobs.
Despite all of that, the pilots said they were being paid salaries that were nearly 40 to 70 percent less than what they received before the pandemic. The pay cuts came into effect in April last year as global travel came to a halt.
Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s civil aviation minister, has said that the country’s Vande Bharat Mission to evacuate Indians was the “world’s largest” repatriation drive, transporting more than 9 million people so far. “India did not cower in the face of this health crisis of the century,” he said in a tweet on Tuesday.
But neither Mr. Puri nor Air India have responded to their pilots’ requests. The Ministry of Civil Aviation in New Delhi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In May, the union wrote a letter to Air India, asking company executives to show “a similar kindness” to what it showed when it asked its pilots to show up for duty when it needed to rescue Indians from some of the worst-affected regions in the world, including the United States, China and Italy.