of low fares, no frills and only a farce


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my friend, martin jalleh, forwarded this to me to ask me to put it up in my blog and hopefully other bloggers would be aware of it too.

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I wish to congratulate Air Asia (AA) for having achieved a record of sorts on 5th December, by changing its JB-Penang flight time six times within a day. Truly, in all my years of traveling I have never been treated to such an unique experience by an airline.

My fellow passengers on that flight echoed my sentiments when we exchanged notes on AA’s great and historic feat. We look forward to the day when we will be able to meet the CEO of Air Asia (AA) in person and present him with a well-deserved Tony Award for the best theatrics by his airline, which should be aptly called: “Now everybody can let fly”.

I had through a friend booked online on 1 November a ticket with AA for a JB-Penang flight on 5 December 2004. Initial information through the airline’s e-mail had indicated that the flight on that day was scheduled at 3.25pm.

On 23 November AA phoned to inform that the flight was changed to 10.35am.Then on the morning of 5 Dec my friend called me from KL informing me that she had received a SMS from AA saying that the flight had been postponed to1.35pm.All packed up and ready to go to the Senai Airport, I received another SMS from my friend again which said that the flight had been rescheduled to3.30pm. It looked as though Air Asia was improving its services by sending such “jokes” to its passengers via SMS.

to continue reading, please click on ‘jog over for more’.

Just as I was about to leave for the airport, I received news that thef light was “retimed” yet again to 6.35pm. I was very impressed by the SMS service of Air Asia. My heart went out to those who did not have handphones.They would have missed the fun “without frills”. How would they get to know of the changes, I had also wondered.

You have got to hand it to the airline. AA does not only make it possible for everyone to fly, it even adds an element of mystery when you choose to fly with the airline. Its latest secret promotional weapon is called “Guess when your plane will take off — 10.35am, 1.35pm, 3.30pm, or 6.35pm?”

On reaching the Air Asia counter, I was informed by their nervously-smiling staff that the 6.35 pm flight had been retimed – to 8.30pm! The short messages from AA must have been the airline’s ingenious way of helping us prepare ourselves for a long night at the airport. How thoughtful of AA!

The official story was that one of their planes was “grounded”. They had to buy a spare part from overseas (spare us the excuses, please). The part had to be flown in through Singapore. There was an unexpected delay at the Customs(how convenient!) and of course “we apologise for the inconvenience caused”.

It seems, to make life more interesting for its staff, AA has started a story-telling competition meant only for its staff. The winner –whoever is able to tell the tallest tale in the event of a long delay — will get a short holiday and have his/her named inscribed in the World’s Compendium of Excuses. As for the clients of AA, they would be dished a combo surprise –cheap fares — and cheap excuses!

“What about other planes? You mean to say that AA has only one plane? If you can’t even handle the local flights then don’t talk about expanding overseas. Please tell your boss this!” a lady roared at Raj at the counter.

“I have had to return to the airport four times today and now you tell me the flight is delayed again. Is Air Asia going to pay for my petrol? What about those who have nowhere to go and who have been here as early as 8am to catch the supposed 10.30am flight?” another razed at Raj.

I met Singaporeans who shared that they were at the airport since early morning. Some had left Singapore as early as 5.30am that morning to avoid possible jams at the Causeway and to be early for the supposed 10.30am flight. Their children must be grateful to AA for they can now return and write an essay on “A Day in the Senai Airport”.

The AA manager at the Senai Airport, Mr Lee, who had so selflessly hid behind the scenes and allowed his staff to receive the “accolades” for AA’s urprise year-end day-long party at the Senai Airport, agreed to provide the passengers dinner (which turned out to be a box of mee goring) after we had given him an education on the norm of who provides the food in a surprise party.

Then all of a sudden the schedules board and the TV monitor screens in the airport showed that the 8.30pm flight was retimed to 10.05pm! It was the fifth change of the day! Mr Lee, who seemed stumped, and who struggled and stuttered to explain, told everyone that he was very sure that there will be a plane and we will be able to leave at 10.05pm.

“Just as you were very sure of the 10.35am, 1.35pm, 3.30pm, 6.35pm and 8.30pm flight? And what if the plane does not arrive and we do not leave at10.05pm, what are your contingency plans?” I asked. It was very obvious he had none. There was no PR personnel to give an update. There was no crisis management team even though it was very clear that AA had a crisis in their hands. Every AA flight on that day was “retimed” – the latest (or earliest?) — a JB-KL flight at 4.25am!

Children cried. Adults cursed. Lee crawled quietly back to his office downstairs. At times we had to go downstairs to force him to call KL to find out what was happening. Every red-black uniformed staff of AA cringed when passengers approached them.

As it turned out there was no flight at 10.05pm! We were told that it was retimed to 11.20pm! Everyone had only the energy left to make a vow never ever to travel by AA.

Soon after everyone had settled down in the plane, we were told that we had to wait a while for 14 “missing passengers”. I raised my voice and said “Let’s get moving we have waited the whole day.” The crew ignored me. The captain came out of the cockpit and told the stewardess: “I am not waiting any longer. Close the doors!” It was the most sensible statement of the day by a AA official!

When we reached Penang International Airport, there was a long line of very angry people waiting to board the plane. I approached a steward and told him to tell his boss that what had happened and the manner in which AA had handled it was indeed very shameful. The people around rushed in to add intheir comments to the steward. AA had lost many clients that day.

Please don’t tell Tony Fenandez this, but I am planning to buy a 0.99sen kite and send it to him as a Christmas present. Now everybody on flight AK630 can tell Tony to go fly a kite.

Martin Jalleh
(7 Dec. 2004)

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