Note to employees: Stop sending me flowers and meeting me at airports, says Air India chief

Gaining lost ground.
Gaining lost ground.
Image: EPA/Divyakant Solanki
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No one understands frugality like Air India.

The Indian government-owned airline, which is battling huge losses and a big debt pile, is looking to cut costs and improve operating efficiency. Among other things, the airline’s chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani has directed employees to stop bringing him flowers and give up travelling by luxury cabs.

Lohani—who calls himself as “Mr. Turnaround”—was appointed in August 2015 when the airlines’ finances were a mess. In the 2015 fiscal year, Air India reported a net loss of Rs5,547 crore ($832 million). It has a debt of over Rs50,000 crore ($7.5 billion). The airline has been losing money since 2007 when it merged with Indian Airlines. The new entity proved to be too big to manage with an expensive staff of 30,000 employees after the merger.

In a note to employees on Aug. 08, Lohani said they need to emphasize on work and not “petty courtesies.”

“I have also noticed a large number of staff waiting at the airports to receive me or see me off. This culture has to end. Emphasis in the organization has to be on work and work alone and not on petty courtesies. While bouquets shall be a big no from now on, only minimal officials should receive or see me at the airports,” the Press Trust of India reported quoting the note sent by Lohani.

Quartz has sent an email to Air India asking for more details but hasn’t received a reply yet.

The no flowers mandate isn’t the first such command. In the first week of August, Lohani had told employees to not use taxis from luxury service providers during travel and only use hotels that the airline crew does, so that costs are minimized.

“I have been repeatedly emphasising on economy, curbing of wasteful expenditure and maintaining immaculate conduct and behaviour,” he told the staff in a memo, the Times of India reported.

Air India is  expected to make an operational profit of Rs8 crore in the 2016 financial year, helped by low oil prices that have cut fuel costs for the airline. The government has mulled selling a stake to private firms to get some funds, but India’s aviation minister has agreed that the airline’s condition is so bad that no one would buy it.

Getting to net profit will take a lot of cancelled florist orders.