Monday, July 4, 2022

Some suggestions for Mavcom given AirAsia outcry

Mavcom should reject the assertions that airlines are not required to refund a passenger’s fare when a flight is cancelled under extraordinary circumstances.

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Recently, it was reported that a protest was looming at the headquarters of AirAsia as many passengers intent on receiving refunds for their cancelled flights continued to reject offers of vouchers or credit, standing firm on their demand for the budget airline to return their money.

 “AirAsia has no right to withhold customers’ money when flights are cancelled, just to meet its business objectives.”

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

“It’s not just the financial factor, there’s also the moral factor at play.”

Many passengers struggling with pandemic hardships have urged the airline to empathise with their struggles and refund their money spent on flights that never took off, while others said they were ready to boycott AirAsia over the matter.

 Many international passengers have united to demand AirAsia’s refunds after waiting in vain for two years. While some were glad to have received their money back, they expressed disappointment in the airline’s customer service.

They said that credit or vouchers offered in lieu of refunds are of no use to them as there is no AirAsia service at their current locations. They have been left with no other choice as the airline company and authorities seem to be ignoring their complaints.

I hope the loud public outcry over the apparent discrepancies in the airline’s refund policy will send a wake-up call to Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) and AirAsia that any unfair and deceptive airline refund policy and practice will not be tolerated anymore by air travel consumers.

As this matter is of great concern to customers and in accordance with Section 69(2) of the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015, I strongly urge Mavcom to revamp Part III of the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code (MACPC) 2016, particularly Paragraph 12(5), and scrutinise AirAsia’s refund policy to ensure that the passengers’ rights are well respected and fairly protected.

Paragraph 12(5) of the MACPC 2016 stipulates that an operating airline shall not be obliged to pay compensation if it can prove that the delay or cancellation, as the case may be, was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Clearly, this provision does not protect the consumers under extraordinary circumstances and in contradiction of Section 69(1) Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015 which stipulates that the MACPC is specifically prescribed to include requirements on minimum policies and practices, among others, for reasonably meeting consumer requirements and any other matters of concern to consumers.

Considering the public outcry, I suggest that Mavcom reject the assertions that airlines are not required to refund a passenger’s fare when a flight is cancelled under extraordinary circumstances due to the following reasons:

(1) I find it to be manifestly unfair and deceptive for an airline to fail to provide the flight service contracted for and then refuse to provide a refund if the passenger finds the offered rerouting unacceptable and he or she no longer wishes to travel;

(2) The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside of the airline’s control or whether the ticket is a refundable ticket or a non-refundable ticket, but rather the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger;

(3) The term “non-refundable ticket” is not even defined under the MACPC 2016 and is purely a commercial strategy and thus should not be used as a basis to refuse a refund; and

(4) In the event that an airline prefers to issue credits or vouchers for future travel in lieu of refunds, then it is only fair if the airline be obliged to notify those passengers that they have the option of a refund.

According to AirAsia’s refund policy, if a flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, the airline shall, at its discretion:

· carry you at the earliest opportunity on another AirAsia flight on which space is available at no charge;

· refund the value and provide travel credit towards the purchase of future reservations and ancillary purchases, provided you redeem within 90 days therefrom; or

· refund the full fare of the unused ticket due to the above said flight interruptions that occur three hours or more before or after the original scheduled departure time.

Obviously, this policy is unfair and misleading to consumers as it provides AirAsia the discretionary power to issue travel credits in lieu of refunds, thus causing the public outcry.

Also, the terms “refund” and “travel credit” are being used interchangeably and contradictory to each other in the same sentence.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, “refund” means an amount of money that is given back to you, especially because you are not happy with a product or service that you have bought.

It’s unfair and deceptive when the airline repeatedly says that it has already paid back almost all passengers by providing travel credits or vouchers. Travel credit is not money that is given back to passengers and is therefore not a refund. In fact, AirAsia is enjoying all the benefits and interests by withholding passengers’ money.

Accordingly, I urge Mavcom to view any contract of carriage provision or airline policy that purports to deny refunds to passengers when the airline cancels a flight as a violation of the airline’s obligation that could subject the airline to an enforcement action.

In the interest of protecting consumers’ right, I propose the following for Mavcom’s consideration:

(1)  All consumers are entitled to a refund of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, including taxes and fees, if the airline cancels a flight, regardless of the reason including under extraordinary circumstances and non-refundable ticket, and the consumer chooses not to travel.

(2) The airline may issue travel credits or vouchers in lieu of refunds provided that the airline shall be obliged to notify those passengers that they have the option of a refund.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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