Monday, July 4, 2022

International passengers unite to demand AirAsia refunds

Passengers from a number of countries say they have waited in vain for two years.

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AirAsia X passengers from a number of countries have voiced disappointment over the lack of ticket refunds for flights cancelled as far back as two years ago due to the border closures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, coming together as part of an organisation to hold the low-cost airline accountable to its customers.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said they and their rights as consumers had been ignored as they were unable to even speak to a staff member about their complaints. Instead, they said, they were forced to convey their problems through AVA, an artificial intelligence-based chatbot.

Katherine O’Brien, 62, said she had been a loyal customer since AirAsia X began its operations in Sydney. For years, AirAsia X was her airline of choice whenever she travelled to Japan, Malaysia or any other country.

But she told MalaysiaNow she had been left disappointed by the airline’s treatment of its passengers after spending A$2,010 (RM6,352) on two return tickets from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur on a flight scheduled for June 2020.

“I am very disappointed,” she said. “We have been left in limbo, not knowing whether we will receive our refunds or not.”

AirAsia shut down its flight operations during the movement control order implemented by the government as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in mid-March of 2020.

Many passengers had requested refunds for their tickets, but two years later, a large number of them are still waiting.

Glenn Bruce Andrew Priere, also from Sydney, said he was shocked to discover that his case had been marked as “resolved” as he was still waiting to be refunded for the six flight tickets he had bought for A$1,600 or just over RM5,000.

The flight – a round trip from Manila to Taipei – was supposed to take off on April 6, 2020. It was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak in Australia which sparked the closure of borders.

Priere, 51, filed a complaint with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority but it was rejected as the matter did not involve an Australian airline.

His complaint to the Malaysian Aviation Commission or Mavcom yielded no results either as he was told to contact AirAsia Philippines.

“As far as I know, when a case is labelled as ‘resolved’, it means the person who complained has been refunded his or her money,” he said, adding that this had been his first time using AirAsia’s services.

Within a year, he had received a refund of A$3,400 (RM10,745) from Philippine Airlines for his tickets from Sydney to the Philippines.

“But we are still waiting to receive our money back from AirAsia,” he said.

For Priere, the situation has turned into a once bitten, twice shy experience. Not only has he decided never to use AirAsia’s services again, he has also advised his family and friends to do the same.

“The money I used to buy those tickets was earned by the sweat of my brow,” he said.

“Now, I would prefer to pay more for tickets from other airlines whenever I need to travel.”

Rose Marie Jane Rementina, from the Philippines, was confused as well when she was told that she had been refunded 12,500 pesos for a ticket from the Philippines to Taipei although the balance in her bank account showed otherwise.

She tried to contact AirAsia about her situation but received no response.

“The flight was supposed to be on March 11, 2020,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“I filed an application for a refund before the Philippines implemented restrictions on movements, and I insisted on receiving my money back through my original payment method, not through credit.”

She was told that the process would take 30 to 60 days.

“It’s been two years now, and I’m still waiting for my money back,” she said.

For Rashid Mundeth, an Indian national living in Malaysia, the problem was not related to refunds. Rather, it was his application for an extension of the “Unlimited Pass” package he had bought in February 2020, about a month before Putrajaya announced the first movement control order (MCO).

The “Unlimited Pass” package was an offer by AirAsia X allowing passengers limitless travel to Australia, Japan, South Korea, China and India for a one-time payment of RM499.

Rashid said he was completely unable to use his pass given that the MCO was implemented in March 2020 and Malaysia’s borders only reopened this year.

“AirAsia offered an extension of the pass until June 2021, but I still couldn’t use it because international flights were still grounded.

“I applied for an extension of the pass but was told by AirAsia that the payment was non-refundable.”

Such experiences formed the basis of the AirAsia Citizens Action group, which began operating three weeks ago.

Harmeet Singh of Sydney, who began the initiative, said 82 passengers from Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam had since come together seeking a total of RM300,000 in refunds.

Of these, 74 said they wanted to be refunded instead of being given credit.

“All of them have been doing everything that they can, but have failed to get their money back,” he said.

Harmeet also questioned AirAsia’s business ethics as well as Mavcom for allowing the issue to continue until today.

“It doesn’t matter what channel we use to raise the issue of refunds,” he said. “We are always referred to a link which talks about the proof of debt practice.

“There has been no response of any real help for passengers looking to resolve this issue.”

Harmeet expects more passengers to join the group in time to come.

“I don’t think they will want to give up,” he said. “It’s not just the financial factor, there’s also the moral factor at play.

“It’s as if someone has taken our money, and we are powerless to do anything about it.”

MalaysiaNow has contacted AirAsia for a response.

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