Three years after she became the face of the 2016 Brussels terror attack when the photo of her bleeding face was published in newspapers across the world, Jet Airways flight attendant Nidhi Chaphekar is now the face of the grounded airline’s staff’s struggle to revive the airline.

Andheri resident Chaphekar underwent 23 surgeries and returned to duty around two years after the March 22, 2016 bombings at several locations in the Belgian capital, including the Brussels airport. After a lengthy medical struggle, she found herself at professional crossroads due to financial crisis in the airline. She has now formed an association of the airline’s cabin crew, is in talks with independent resolution professionals, and is meeting head honchos of banks including the State Bank of India in a hope to find a way to revive the airline, or at least ensure all employees get their dues.

“Several Jet Airways employees joined the airline when they were in their twenties. They have served the airline for two decades and suddenly they have nowhere to go. Many of them are selling their jewellery just to meet daily expenses,” Chaphekar told Mumbai Mirror. She herself has used up 70% of her provident fund. “My children’s education expenses amount to Rs 9 lakh a year. The provident fund is supposed to see us through post retirement, but we are forced to use it now,” she said.

Statistics obtained by this newspaper from the employees’ provident fund office show that out of 14,500 Jet Airways employees, 6,048 have withdrawn their provident fund, amounting to a total of Rs 161 crore. Giving instances of employees’ sufferings, Chaphekar said that a pilot couple who became parents of twins recently were forced to shift to Delhi because of mounting expenses and left behind the children with one of the spouses’ parents in Mumbai. “The woman travels to Mumbai from Delhi every week to meet her children,” she said.

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The airline employees are finding it increasingly difficult to land a job in a market that’s already battling slowdown. Many among the cabin crew and luggage loaders don’t have college degrees. “One of the luggage loaders told me that the only option he had was a job of delivering food parcels,” she said.

Calling it an unfortunate and stressful situation to be in, Chaphekar spoke about airline employees selling off their vehicles and facing humiliation at job interviews. “I hope Prime Minister Modi intervenes and finds a solution to this mess. It is heart-breaking to see people who have served a company loyally for years suffering,” she said.



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