New Delhi: Despite contempt notices by the Delhi High Court, 600-odd Air India pilots continued their agitation, which entered the third day on Friday, forcing at least 95 flights to be cancelled, even as grounded fliers faced steep fare hikes by other airlines.

With both the management and the agitating union members hardening their positions, the airline has suspended bookings on domestic and regional international destinations till Sunday. "Fresh bookings will only start on May 4," an Air India spokesperson said.

The Delhi High Court had on Thursday asked the pilots to immediately end their agitation, while initiating contempt proceedings and threatening to attach the properties of the their union if they failed to do.

But passengers, who were stranded after their Air India flights were cancelled, started facing another dilemma -- that of shelling out between 50 percent and 75 percent more money on bookings with other airlines.

Passengers were complaining that the base fare on a Delhi-Mumbai flight, which goes up to Rs 2,400-Rs 3,000 for last-minute bookings had gone up to as much as Rs 7,500 on some airlines -- resulting in a total one-way cost of Rs 11,500 including various levies.

Members of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), once on the rolls of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, had struck work since midnight Tuesday, demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other issues related to work conditions.

They also want the airline to re-instate the six pilots who have been sacked since the day the strike began apart from four others who were suspended and want the union to be recognised again. They also want chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav ousted.

But the government has so far decided to fully back the airline management. "We cannot hold any talks with pilots till they return to their duties," said Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, who had briefed the federal cabinet on Thursday.

Overall, the carrier has 1,600 pilots on its rolls, including those who were co-opted from the erstwhile Indian airlines, which was merged with Air India in 2007. Under normal operations, the carrier runs 320 scheduled flights daily.

The airline also made arrangements to lessen the impact of the strike by rolling in some 150 of its management pilots -- senior executives with wings who have now been given administrative duties. The striking pilots said some 70 of them had reported sick.

(Agencies)