Thursday, June 30, 2022

We need our money back, say AirAsia passengers struggling with pandemic hardships

They urge the airline to empathise with their struggles and refund the money spent on flights that never took off, while others say they are ready to boycott AirAsia over the matter.

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Two years ago, a number of passengers who had booked tickets with low-cost airline AirAsia had their flights cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak which saw domestic and international borders closed in an attempt to halt the virus’ spread.

Now, mired in financial hardships due to the economic slump caused by the global pandemic, they are pleading for their refunds, asking AirAsia’s management to understand the difficulty of their situation.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said it seemed as though the airline did not care about their misfortunes or understand the plight of those who truly needed their money back to survive the lingering effects of the pandemic.

Low Pui San, from Kuala Lumpur, spent more than RM4,000 in November 2019 on tickets to South Korea for a family vacation that never materialised.

The flight, scheduled for Nov 1, 2020, was cancelled due to the movement restrictions and border closures that followed the onset of Covid-19.

“For me, RM4,000 is a lot of money,” Low, 37, told MalaysiaNow.

“I want to get my money back to keep in case of emergencies.”

And she fears that such situations might occur sooner rather than later as her household income has been severely affected. Even now, she has been dipping into her savings in order to purchase basic necessities.

Nicholas Chan, 32, paid RM2,000 for two tickets to Tokyo. Today, he is still waiting to get his money back.

“This issue has dragged on for two years already,” he said. “Personally, I am upset. I don’t think I will choose this airline again even if it gives attractive offers.

“I hope AirAsia X will be more responsible,” he added. “If it had refunded its passengers immediately, it wouldn’t have gotten this negative image.”

Businessman Muhammad Zulfadli Mohd Noor spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to communicate with AVA – AirAsia’s AI-based chatbot.

But his efforts ended in disappointment and he has yet to receive a refund for the RM3,036 he spent on tickets to South Korea.

“After my flight scheduled for June 29, 2020 was cancelled, I kept trying to contact AVA but I was told that my case had been resolved,” the 33-year-old said.

Zulfadli also lodged a complaint with the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) but was told to wait for the High Court decision on the company’s debt restructuring application.

Eunice Lee from Melaka meanwhile bought tickets to Taipei, Taiwan, but was told in an email that the company could not refund her, provide credit or reschedule her flight as long as the court did not make a decision.

The email also referred to the restructuring application made by AirAsia X, adding that passengers would be treated as creditors throughout the court process.

“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We bought tickets from airasia.com not to become their creditors. We just wanted to use their flight services.

“The management has been highly irresponsible. We bought tickets, our flights were cancelled, and then they brought up the restructuring and refused to return the money which we earned by our own hard work.”

Low meanwhile said that although AirAsia could legally defer passenger refunds, this would be an unethical move.

“Why should we pay for services that cannot be used?” Low, who had flown with AirAsia many times over the past 10 years, asked.

“It doesn’t make any sense. AirAsia should prioritise the interests of its passengers because we are the company’s lifeblood.”

MalaysiaNow has contacted AirAsia for a response.

Boycott

Meanwhile, other disgruntled passengers, fed up with waiting for their refunds, said they were ready to boycott the low-cost airline.

Tommy Nagao, an English tuition teacher from Japan, said he had tried for two years to recover the 76,880 yen (RM2,623) which he had spent on flight tickets to Bangkok.

After trying every available approach, he said, he had given up.

He said many passengers felt cheated by the airline and had resolved not to use its services anymore.

“It’s unacceptable for a company to take its customers’ money and then provide no explanation or reason,” he said.

“I understand that many, including companies, have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but this sort of thing is unacceptable and I don’t understand how it has been able to avoid action against it.”

Nagao said he had also applied for a refund from Lion Air Thailand.

“I got that refund,” he said. “But I’m still waiting for AirAsia to give me back my money.”

Karen Drummond, from Perth, Australia, said she had received an email from AirAsia informing her that the refund process would be resolved within 12 to 16 weeks.

Drummond, 49, said AirAsia also encouraged her to accept payment in the form of account credit as this would be quicker. Nevertheless, she said, she insisted on receiving her money back.

Today, she has yet to receive a single sen despite the constant emails and messages she sends through the airline’s social media.

“I guarantee that I will never use this airline again, and I will advise my family and friends to do the same,” she said.

“AirAsia wants its passengers to abide by its terms and conditions but it is the one breaking them.”

Drummond said she had also lodged a complaint with Mavcom, to which she had received a response.

“I will provide some additional information to help Mavcom process my complaint,” she said, adding nonetheless that AirAsia’s refusal to refund passengers’ money was an unethical move.

Claire Harris, from the UK, said she had spent US$111.71 (RM486.89) on a ticket from Cebu to Boracay in the Philippines. The payment was made on Sept 8, 2019 for a flight scheduled on May 15, 2020.

Acknowledging that this might not be a large sum, she nonetheless said that it was a matter of principles.

“Of course, the refund process would take a long time because of the number of applications, but two years is unacceptable,” she said.

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