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AirAsia is in danger of losing its loyal customers

Posted by: lwaikuang, 31 March 2010

It is a sad day for me to write this about AirAsia. As a long time guest on AirAsia (I have more or less travelled exclusively on it for at least the past five years), I had great confidence in the able team lead by Dato’ Seri Dr Tony Fernandes. I have even invested some of my hard earned cash in AirAsia Berhad shares! One hot sultry Sunday night, all this came crashing down.

I could not believe this – what has happened to many AirAsia guests is now happening to me! In May 2009, I was overjoyed when I manage to book tickets to fly from Kuala Lumpur LCCT to Macau. I was taking my beloved mother for a well deserved holiday. I could not believe my luck when I managed to secure some “zero fare” tickets for this flight, as well as a return flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur LCCT. And so, I looked forward to our April 2010 holiday.

As a seasoned AirAsia traveller, I checked my flight booking status using AirAsia’s “Manage My Booking” facility at their website. I also monitored postings at the AirAsia Facebook page and Tripadvisor.com to alert me on potential problems that may crop up in AirAsia’s operations. I was saddened when I see the people who had encountered problems with their bookings and were not given very friendly customer service responses. Many had written out of desperation as they were not able to contact AirAsia’s call centre or their enquiries were brushed aside by the customer service agents. On Air Asia’s Facebook Wall, hollow apologies and telling them to contact their call centre is hardly what I expected to see from the world’s best low cost carrier.

AirAsia’s sister airline, AirAsia X also had some moments of shame when it had to suspend its Tianjin flights very suddenly. The newly launched Abu Dhabi services also suffered the same fate. These face losing episodes sent shivers down my spine. If AirAsia X can cancel a service so quickly after it was launched, is it no longer safe for me to plan my holidays well in advance? After all, AirAsia collects 100% payment upfront once the booking is confirmed. What if AirAsia failed to honour its part of the bargain? If I am forced to apply for a refund, I will need to wait many weeks to have my payment refunded. I believe that in some cases, refunds are not allowed.

These anxieties became real concerns when more and more complaints about AirAsia’s retiming and cancellations became regular features of their Facebook page. Instead of being a place to find out about promotions and other goodies from AirAsia, this page has become a place to read about other AirAsia guests’ worst nightmares. Little did I know that I will have my own little episode with my booking.

With my holiday looming on 6 April 2010, I did my own pre-flight countdown. I checked that all hotels are confirmed and booked, my itinerary for each day is finalised, my budget (very important for a budget traveller) are up to date, my foreign currency is procured, my taxi to LCCT is booked, etc.

On the fateful Sunday night of 28 March 2010, I logged into my AirAsia account and checked the flight schedule before I called my regular taxi company. Horror of horrors, my original flight AK52 departing early in the morning is no longer showing! Instead what was showing was flight AK54 departing some six hours plus later! Oh no the first day of my holiday is ruined! This is not something new – last year, the AirAsia flight to HongKong that I was on was also delayed. That meant that I arrived past midnight and my itinerary was compromised.

But this year, the long six hour delay will have a greater impact – I lost half a day of my holiday in Macau. Although I am covered by GoInsure, I am not sure if this kind of event is covered. I need to read the fine print!

As I sit here revamping my itinerary at the last minute, I am angry – angry that AirAsia has let me down. In my circle of friends and colleagues, I am known as the AirAsia “Ambassador”.  I am finding it increasingly difficult to fulfil this role.   

Each year, I tend to fly at least twice on AirAsia or AirAsia X. In 2010 I have not booked any additional flights.  The last flights I booked in July 2009 for travel this year will be in June. I do not have any more forward booking beyond that. AirAsia is trying to maximise yields on their flights – that is why they cancel flights and consolidated the passengers onto the remaining half empty flights. This does not augur well for AirAsia as people will no longer be making as many long term forward bookings from now on.

I am still looking forward to flying with AirAsia and AirAsia X. I hope that they will restore my confidence in them – but right now, there is a very high chance that these will be my last flights with them for some time.

Comments from readers

By woody_invincible, 31-Mar-2010

In Malaysia, it never pays to be a loyal customer.

If you sign up to be a registered customer with a company (TM Streamyx, for example), you would be tied down for 2 years, paying a certain monthly fee.

Then 6 months down the road, you will see ads promoting even lower rates for this service (that you just sign up).

(Yes, someone once said, you pay more as you get to enjoy it earlier)

The same occurred to a friend of mine, who was a loyal subscriber to a particular daily newspaper for 20 years. one day, the daily offered free gifts and subscription discounts to attract new subscribers, our loyal friend never gets to taste those new perks, he got so angry and ceased to become loyal.

This story teaches you , and i, not to be loyal to any company and be STUPID enough to sign up a contract and get bound for a few long years.

Now that you have the freedom to choose other airlines, buy as you need.

Cheers.

By ngguanhuah, 31-Mar-2010

Flight cancellations will always be a reality because AA operates like a "sapu taxi", meaning that the low fares are based on maximum load for each flight.

Eg., if there are 3 flights for that day and if only 2 are almost full up and the 3rd only [say] 10% full, they will cancel the 3rd flight and may transfer these 10% passengers to the 1st and 2nd flights. Businesswise it is a win for AA at the expense of the affected passengers of the 3rd flight. This is one of AA's sickness that don't seem to have a permanent cure.

Regarding the baggage fee, I think AA has done the right thing. Passengers with only one permissible hand-carry bag and no check-in baggage need not pay the baggage fee. Not many "no-baggage" customers know about this because this additional charge only appears at the end of the online booking transaction and many forget to delete this extra service and end up paying another ten Ringgit for nothing. It is actually tricking the customer and this must stop.

And I don't understand what "CONVENIENCE FEE" is. Can someone enlighten us on this?

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