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What protection for passengers from problematic airline services?

Reprimands and monitoring can only do so much if there is no political will to do what is right.

Hamzah Ishak
3 minute read

As air travel picks up after the lifting of pandemic-driven restrictions, Malaysians are going out in droves to visit places that had been beyond their reach in the past two years. Total passenger traffic rose six times in the first half of 2022 compared to the corresponding period in 2021.

About 20 million passengers clocked in during the first six months of 2022, as per reports by Malaysian Airports Holdings Bhd. Unfortunately, this huge increase in air travel brought about various issues and challenges which, until today, do not appear to be rectified.

In fact, judging from several news reports, the number of complaints is getting not only higher, but louder as well. This prompted Mavcom to issue a statement telling airlines to take heed of customers’ complaints, which appeared to have grown from 157 in 2021 to 1,240 in the first half of 2022 alone.

"Flight rescheduling, flight cancellations, and online booking collectively contributed to 46.1% of total complaints filed," Mavcom said in its statement.

We have read of so many instances where customers could not get refunds on flight cancellations, or refunds as vouchers which have too many strings attached, multiple postponements and many more grievous incidents which have caused severe difficulties for passengers.

However, this warning by Mavcom has not been taken seriously by these airlines as we see these problems are not going away any time soon. One MP (Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh) said in Parliament a couple of weeks ago that he was still receiving a myriad of complaints from the public, and urged Mavcom to take action against airlines that cause such problems.

Sukhdave Singh, secretary-general of the Malaysia Consumers Movement, went a step further by implying that Mavcom appears to be "toothless" in its handling of this situation. As per the Mavcom report, AirAsia received the highest number of complaints from January to June 2022, comprising 42.1% of total complaints, followed by Malaysia Airlines with 40.7% and Batik Air with 7.9%.

Are passengers really protected from all these problematic and sometimes malignant business practices?

The icing on the cake would be the announcement by Mavcom last month, that AirAsia was given a renewal of air service licence for a period of only six months effective from Oct 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023. They must comply with specific conditions imposed by Mavcom by Dec 31, 2022, in order to get a further extension until Sept 30, 2023.

This news is indeed troubling as customers are left in the dark as to what conditions AirAsia must comply with in order to get out of this probation period. Mavcom did not state this. Are they operational? Are they related to safety procedures? Are they financial? 

Shouldn’t Mavcom issue a statement to assuage passengers’ concerns? We implore the authorities to be serious about governing our air travel as we pray on a daily basis that no untoward incident happens in the future.

The transport ministry seemed more relaxed than Mavcom as the most recent statement made by its minister regarding all these problematic issues was way back in May 2022. 

"The ministry and its agencies will continue to monitor all airline services to ensure the maintenance and technical procedures are not compromised," Wee Ka Siong said. 

He further said that the authorities have reprimanded the airline company in question to ensure strict compliance with technical, economic and safety regulations, and will not hesitate to take action against operators that fail to do so.

Mild reprimands and intense monitoring can only do so much if there is no political will to do what is right.

It is already October 2022. We don’t see much confidence restored among the public. A new airline company – MyAirline – is said to commence operations in the coming weeks as it received its air operator certificate last month. This permit is valid from Oct 1, 2022 to Sept 30, 2023.

We hope that MyAirline will not succumb to the usual problems plaguing other airlines. Teething problems can be expected, but obviously we as potential customers do not want these issues to be indefinitely prolonged, as can be seen today in others.

Passengers have been affected for far too long now. While in previous decades customers could rely on the good service of airlines for the money spent, now every time we travel by air, it is like throwing a dice and hoping that airlines will not make our lives difficult.

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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