Air India pilots demanding more pay continued their strike for a fifth day Sunday, defying a court order to return to work and forcing the beleaguered national carrier to cancel three-fourths of its scheduled flights.
The airline says the strike that started Wednesday is costing it around 12 million rupees ($2.7 million) a day.
Air India canceled all but 40 of its 165 scheduled flights Sunday, leaving thousands more passengers stranded around the country after similar cancellations each day since Wednesday. The airline is hiring chartered flights for some routes.
Last week, the Delhi High Court ordered the 800 striking pilots to call off their action, saying it was "brazen and smacking of sheer arrogance," and launched contempt of court proceedings Saturday when they refused to go back to work.
The pilots are demanding higher pay, an investigation into alleged mismanagement leading to losses of over 160 billion rupees ($3.6 billion), and removal of Arvind Jadhav as the airline's managing director. The Indian Commercial Pilot Association said Saturday it had no choice but to continue its strike since neither the government nor Air India's management had invited the pilots for talks.
The airline, however, has threatened to fire the striking pilots. Nine already have been let go and six suspended.
Other carriers were reportedly increasing fares as desperate Air India passengers looked for alternatives.
India's once-proud national carrier has been losing about a billion dollars a year as it struggles with the legacy of a poorly executed 2007 merger, debt costs, a swollen staff and a toxic gulf between management and powerful unions.
The government extended hundreds of millions in bailout funds last year to help the company weather the global economic slowdown and compete with international rivals.