I’m a flying person. Not that I could literally fly, but I love to travel and I fly a few times a year. Being a social development worker with limited resources, travel becomes possible for me because of low flight fares. I am able to visit family, attend training and conferences abroad, and see a sight or two because of budget carriers. I admit without them, not every Juan could fly.
But this boon for travelers has also become its bane. Delayed and cancelled flights, poor customer service, hidden fees, and unfair practices has caused so much trouble and stress to passengers like me. I could no longer count how much money I have wasted in booked flights that could not be used for various reasons, and the near impossibility of gaining anything from a booked flight that could no longer be rescheduled. Both Air Asia and Cebu Pacific have shaved money off of me because I was always trying to save on flights, while in truth, those lost flights cost me a great deal of my hard earned money. If both airlines are keeping a tab of my wasted flights, they could have seen the small fortune that should have been my life savings.
I had so much problems with both airlines, but recently especially Air Asia. Aside from my eventful India trip last year, I had many other incidences. More recently, having started a new job in Cambodia, in only three weeks, my office sponsored my trip back to the Philippines to be one of the trainors for the Futures Thinking/Futures Literacy Trainors Training for UNICEF Facilitators. However, my colleague who is used to seeing my name Shiela Castillo, used this for my flight, which of course does not match my passport name. She tried her darnedest best to have Air Asia to change my name. For several days, with no response to email feedback. Actual calls also gave us no hope, as we were told that change of surname is not allowed, even if the one in the ticket is my middle name. The ticket could also not be re-booked nor refunded. It’s like they were telling us simply, “say goodbye to your USD500+ because it’s our policy to make your life miserable and not to support you in any way when you need us most”.
So that happened. Of course if I were a participant in the training, I would simply choose not to attend anymore because buying another set of tickets is just too much. But then as trainor, I had no choice but to get tickets again. They finally did reply to the email feedback, once I’m back to Cambodia and no longer have a need for that useless booking. But then that is getting ahead of the story.
The reason I am writing this post is because while waiting for my flight back to Cambodia, passengers were sent an email alert that the flight would be delayed an hour. So it means we would be flying by midnight. Such delays, being so common, no longer fazed passengers. So many of us just shrugged our shoulders about it. By 12 midnight, we were told that the flight will be delayed another 12 hours! The passengers broke into a little commotion. There was nobody in authority to explain to us why we were not told earlier, as the flight should have left Kuala Lumpur four hours before, and we should have been told that the flight did not even take off. And the ground staff should have made arrangements for our hotel and transport, as well as booking to the next available flight so those that have connecting flights would still make it.
So in the middle of the night, in the cold unfriendly airport, the Air Asia crew just let the passengers disperse without proper explanation, not any offer of how to address multiple problems caused by a 12-hour delayed (read, cancelled) flight. But I had enough of this despicable treatment of passenger by budget airlines. So I spoke up asking for explanations. I read to them about passenger rights and even offered to send them the full text of the law. I was concerned about foreigners who must’ve been feeling overwhelmed, as I felt the same in other countries before. I was wondering about those, like me, who would miss their connecting flights, would have hotel bookings wasted, lose a precious day of the trip they planned for weeks, or even months before. I was thinking of those who had changed their money to dollars and would to change back again just to have some cash to spend. This was also my case, and I knew changing back to peso will shortchange me again as I would not get the same amount I changed it for. I was thinking of business schedules that would be missed, family that would be disappointed, and romantic rendezvous that would have to wait.
I told the passengers not to leave and to stay together until they send us somebody who had the authority to reply to our questions and address our concerns. Most of us did stay together. Later on, a young female supervisor arrived. She tried to address our concerns, got food for the passengers, called a shuttle service that would take the others to a hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before the noontime flight. So we marched back outside, passing through immigration that voided our stamps, then back to the check in counter where passengers got their checked in bags. Those of us who decided to stay to try and be chance passengers to the next KLIA flight were given P500, instead of the cost of hotel.
Since I only brought sliced fruits thinking I would be at KLIA in the morning, I was so hungry. I took every opportunity to tell the Asia staff that I couldn’t eat the food they were serving as I am vegan, to no avail. At least I was able to find a restaurant that would make vegan ramen for me, so at 5am, I was able to eat something hot and filling.
I must commend the young supervisor who did her best to help us out. Sadly, I did not get her name. I should say that she and people like her are a saving grace to the pathetic customer service (or lack of) of budget airlines like Air Asia. To save the day, I got a slot as a chance passenger to the next flight which would give me at least an hour to catch my connecting flight to Sihanoukville.
The whole time I was ranting on fb to expose the inefficiency of the airline. One fb friend, hoping to appease me (rightfully said) that she would meditate in that situation. If I did not self appoint to speak out for the passengers, maybe I would be meditating, but I just couldn’t leave them alone. Indeed, there is a reason for everything, and who knows having not boarded that flight have saved me from some wicked fate. Still I thought one’s magnanimity and capacity to be sober in such a situation does not give the airline an excuse to treat passengers shabbily.
I encourage everyone to always speak out for what is right, for our benefit or for others. Let us not let our resilience in such situations let those responsible off the hook. We have to keep on speaking out, not from a place of anger, but from a place of reason, if we want the world to be a better place. #SRC