There are any number of reasons why airlines delay a previously scheduled flight, whether suddenly or with plenty of warning for passengers.
Top of the list are safety factors, as the well-being of passengers are the airlines’ responsibility.
What many might not realise, however, is that passengers whose flights are delayed have the right to certain claims provided for by law.
These rights are spelt out in the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code 2016, under the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015.
Passengers who experience delays of two hours or more must be provided meals, telephone calls and internet access within reasonable bounds throughout the waiting period.
Those whose flights are delayed for five hours or more, meanwhile, must be provided accommodation and transportation, if a stay becomes necessary.
These matters are also laid out in the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) website, alongside passenger rights in other issues such as ticket prices and baggage compensation.
The topic was thrust into the limelight last week when AirAsia passengers took to social media to complain about flight delays and unscheduled disruptions attributed to the Hari Raya travel rush.
Many had their flights postponed several times while others told MalaysiaNow that they never managed to board their flights at all and were instead forced to drive back to their home towns.
Still others said they never received an explanation, and that the management only spoke up after the intervention of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi.
MalaysiaNow’s interviews with local and international travellers alike found that many were unaware of their rights as consumers.
For example, a large number said they planned to lodge a complaint with Nanta’s ministry although the matter falls under the purview of Mavcom.
Law expert Shobah Veera said airline companies normally list their terms on the back of tickets.
Nevertheless, she said, it could be argued that these are not legally binding as the terms are not communicated to passengers prior to their purchase of their tickets.
“Usually, airlines change flight schedules and passengers board at the amended time as they are in need of the service provided,” she told MalaysiaNow.
“The question is whether they agree to the delay.”
Shobah said passengers might demand a refund in the event of a significant delay, but that companies might instead offer credit or other forms of compensation.
“It’s up to the passengers whether to accept this or not,” she said.
“Many will accept whatever is offered by the airline given that it might take a long time to claim their rights in full.”
Alternatively, she said, passengers could bring the matter to the civil courts to demand compensation or a declaration urging Mavcom to act.
However, this process takes a long time.
“Mavcom and the transport ministry need to act against airlines that deny the rights of passengers who do not receive the promised service,” she said.
“They can claim their rights but the company will likely delay any payment of compensation.”
Referring to AirAsia, she said the airline had ignored many passenger claims over the past two years.
“Many passengers incurred losses because their flights were cancelled,” she said, adding that such airlines should be subject to firm action.