The employees of debt-laden Jet Airways, which stopped operations on Wednesday indefinitely, turned up today outside the Mumbai headquarters of the carrier that was once India's biggest private airline, to seek answers from the management on how they plan to pay the staff. The protesting group, standing in a loose human chain, blocked the gate of the airline's office.
"Where is the government when so many jobs are on the line?" a Jet Airways staff told NDTV, standing in front of the Jet Airways building along with his colleagues who were all in their uniforms.
"Gratuity, provident fund, nothing is being given. The Labour Ministry is not doing anything," the Jet Airways staff told reporters.
Kiran Pawaskar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and president of All India Jet Airways Officers and Staff Association, arrived at the building to hold talks with Jet Airways' management.
The last Jet Airways flight flew on Wednesday from Amritsar to Mumbai before the curtain was drawn for India's oldest private airline.
Amid the crisis, the former owner of defunct Kingfisher Airlines, Vijay Mallya, tweeted from Britain questioning why airlines were not doing well in India. "Even though we were fierce competitors, my sympathies go out to Naresh and Neeta Goyal who built Jet Airways that India should be extremely proud of. Fine airline providing vital connectivity and class service. Sad that so many airlines have bitten the dust in India. Why?" tweeted Mr Mallya, who is wanted in India for allegedly not repaying creditors.
For the last passengers of Jet Airways, it was like any other flight, except for the in-flight announcement that saddened them. "They announced that this is the last flight. They did it in Amritsar and did it here too. The flight was not full. Some seats were empty," a passenger told NDTV.
"There were 40-50 passengers and everybody was saying it is the last flight. There will be no Jet after today and I have been travelling since 1999 and even I felt bad about it," another passenger said.
Jet Airways leaves a vacuum in India's aviation sector, which other airlines like SpiceJet and IndiGo are trying to fill.
The pilots, ground staff and even vendors of Jet Airways continue to grapple with pending salaries. The pilots haven't been paid for three months as the airline now has accumulated a debt of Rs 8,000 crore.
"There is a lot of stress, frustration and depression. Not only the pilot but the entire family is going through a lot of stress and trauma. There is no future. It is uncertain," Asim Valiani, a senior Jet Airways pilot, told NDTV.
It's mid-level employees like Nitesh Kumar Singh, a customer service executive, who are taking a bigger hit. Mr Singh plans to switch to stand-up comedy, something he has been already doing, if he loses his job. "Life has been difficult without a salary this month," he says. "I have savings but you cannot manage for a long time on savings. I am also a stand-up comedian. I perform shows means I earn a little from there (Jet Airways). But I am hoping that I will be able to work with the airline for a longer time and the airline will survive," he told NDTV.
The worst hit are those who are earning the least or are on contact like drivers. They have spent many nights at airports, sleeping on cardboard sheets, in the hope of payments coming through.
"We have not been paid for one-and-a-half months. It is a huge problem and drivers are worried and there is no word on when we will be paid," said Laxman, a Jet Airways driver.
Another driver, Deepak Jadhav, said, "They are saying we haven't been paid and the vendor is saying that till the time Jet Airways doesn't make payments, drivers won't be paid. We don't know how we will meet our family expenses. We have to pay school fee."
Several others like auto drivers and snack counters at airports are also complaining of drop in business since Jet Airways started curtailing operations. With 20,000 jobs at stake, the entire business ecosystem around Jet Airways is likely to be affected with this closure.