Pressure is mounting on the government to re-examine the laws pertaining to civil aviation amid frustration among Malaysian air travellers who feel that local airlines have been getting away with flight cancellations and delays, a problem symbolised by the recent bad publicity received by troubled budget carrier AirAsia.
AirAsia, which topped a list of airlines suffering cancellations and delays during the Aidilfitri rush this year, has been under scrutiny with chat groups and social media posts by passengers documenting their experience with the airline in everything from a lack of communication to an inability to compensate customers.
Among them was Sabah politician Wilfred Madius Tangau, who took to Twitter to relate how his travel plans were disrupted by repeated delays and flight changes.
"I was confirmed and in fact have already checking for the 8pm flight KUK/BKI on AirAsia tonight only to be rescheduled to 10pm and the latest is it was rescheduled to 12.30am ETA 3.30am. It’s simply crazy," Madius tweeted in May.
Now, the Tuaran MP plans to bring a motion on the matter to the October sitting of the Dewan Rakyat.
He said Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong must explain whether the government intends to amend its civil aviation laws to better ensure the rights of passengers.
Suggestions include the mandatory compensation of passengers, especially in the context of cancelled flights.
"It's clear that no action has been taken as flight cancellations and delays are still taking place," Wilfred told MalaysiaNow.
"The Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) needs to show some strength of will. Perhaps the Department of Civil Aviation should study the existing act as well."
Airlines across the world were forced to cease operations following the onset of Covid-19 and the movement restrictions imposed as part of government efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
While the global aviation industry is regaining its footing as countries reopen their borders, flight delays and cancellations remain an ongoing problem.
About a week ago, two Democratic lawmakers in the US proposed making it unlawful for airlines to offer flights if they know that they lack sufficient staff or to cancel flights close to scheduled departures because of foreseeable staffing issues.
Jan Schakowsky and David Cicilline spoke of an "urgent need" for stronger enforcement in the airline industry, saying it must be held accountable for the "harm" caused by flight delays and cancellations.
In Malaysia, frustration over such incidents reached a head in the run-up to the Aidilfitri celebration, with angry passengers taking to social media to complain.
Mavcom data as of May 30 showed that 495 flights or 6% of a total of 6,000 were delayed for more than an hour from April 29 to May 9.
Of these, budget airline AirAsia operated 2,954, 13% or 368 of which were delayed. Malaysia Airlines meanwhile operated 1,447 flights, with 3% or 44 delayed.
MASWings operated 656 flights, of which 10% or 64 were delayed, Firefly operated 680 flights, of which 2% or 15 were delayed, and Batik Air operated 555 flights, of which four or 1% were delayed.
Trouble for passengers
Alice Siew, a Malaysian living in Taiwan, was one of the passengers whose plans were thrown into disarray in April.
She had booked a return trip with Malaysia Airlines which was eventually cancelled.
As a result, she had to pay another RM1,203 to make sure that she could return to Taiwan as scheduled on an alternative flight.
The timing of her schedule was crucial as Taiwan was still imposing a mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for travellers before allowing them to cross its borders.
"I paid a total of RM2,746 for a Taipei-Kuala Lumpur return flight," she said.
The price of the original flight tickets which she bought in March was only RM1,543.
Glenn Bruce Andrew Priere from Sydney, Australia, meanwhile had his flights cancelled by two airlines: Philippines Airlines which was supposed to take him from Sydney to the Philippines, and AirAsia with which he had booked a two-way flight from Manila to Taipei.
The flights were cancelled due to the implementation of movement restrictions in Australia.
For him, the problem was getting a refund for his tickets. In the end, he had to wait more than a year to recover A$3,400 (RM10,745) from Philippine Airlines. It took him more than two years to get back A$1,600 (RM5,056) from AirAsia.
"I got all of my refunds but it wasn't easy," he told MalaysiaNow.
Complaints have also been rife from local and international passengers alike who received only credit and travel vouchers following the cancellation of their flights with AirAsia X (AAX).
The issue arose after AAX underwent a debt restructuring process, according to which it cannot give cash refunds.
Baskaran Sithamparam, senior manager of the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca), said the guidelines on passenger rights were all stated on the Mavcom website.
Paragraph 12 of the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code 2016, for example, clearly shows that airlines need to provide compensation or care for passengers facing flight delay issues.
"For flight delays of two hours or more, passengers should be offered, free of charge, food, drinks and telephone calls limited to the internet commensurate with the waiting time," he said.
"For flights that are delayed for five hours or more, passengers need to be offered free hotel accomodation and transportation between the airport and the place of accommodation."
For Wilfred, the biggest problem lies in the enforcement of such rules.
"This is just a guide, which is why compensation needs to be made mandatory," he said.
"Otherwise, it is the passengers who will bear the losses."
MalaysiaNow is still awaiting a response from Mavcom and transport minister Wee.