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    Oct 31, 2014

    Bag handlers' walkout led to Jetstar delays

    CHANGI Airport's newest ground handler, Aircraft Service International Group (Asig), might have thought it scored big time when it convinced Jetstar Asia to dump heavyweight handler Sats.

    But the joy of bagging its first customer was short-lived when its workers did not turn up on the first day of the contract on Oct 16.

    That led to massive flight delays and cancellations, as well as baggage issues, which affected more than a thousand frustrated Jetstar customers.

    As it turns out, market leader Sats - which controls about 80 per cent of Changi's passenger, baggage- and cargo-handling business - had offered the workers a better deal, The Straits Times found out.

    It is not known how many of them walked out, but it was enough to cause United States-based Asig serious problems.

    Jetstar Asia, Asig and Sats all refused to comment when contacted.

    Given the tight labour situation here, Asig could not recover in time, forcing Jetstar Asia to seek assistance from Sats.

    Since Oct 16, Sats has been taking care of the airline's ramp services, which includes the loading and unloading of bags and cargo, while Asig does passenger check-in.

    Confirming this, a spokesman for the airline said: "Jetstar Asia can confirm that we are working with Asig for ground-handling requirements in Singapore. Sats, Jetstar Asia's former sole ground-handling partner, is currently helping with the transition, providing ramp services."

    Yacoob Piperdi, Sats' executive vice-president, gateway services, said: "Jetstar approached us on the evening of Oct 16 with an urgent request to provide ramp and baggage-handling services for its flights."

    It took two days after services were disrupted on Oct 16 for all services to operate as scheduled.

    The problem may be solved for now but the question is how long Sats will provide assistance, industry observers said.

    Neither Sats nor Jetstar Asia would say when asked.

    In its first official comment since the hiccup, Asig apologised to affected customers and told The Straits Times that the firm remains committed to its operations here.

    But how long it can survive here remains to be seen, industry experts said, citing the exit of Swissport a few years ago.

    The global European firm, which began operations in Singapore in 2005, quit four years later after suffering losses of more than $50 million.

    With the year-end holidays approaching, the bigger concern for travellers is whether Jetstar Asia can find a permanent solution to its ground-handling woes.

    Portfolio manager Su Zhen, 30, who took a Jetstar flight from Bangkok to Singapore on Oct 16, had to wait two days before her luggage was delivered to her.

    "Understandably when there is a change in system or process, hiccups are bound to happen. But it's shocking that the hiccup is of such scale," she said.