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Air Asia and Tony Fernandes: From public champion to money-grabbing witch?
AirAsia is one of Malaysia’s great success stories. From basically nothing except a few old planes serving a few domestic routes CEO Tony Fernandes has built it into the biggest budget airline in Asia with routes spanning most of Asia and reaching into Australia, NZ and Europe. He has done it without any help from the government unlike pampered bumiputra businessmen.However AirAsia’s success story has begun to falter amid charges of poor service, inflexibility, hidden charges, deceptive pricing and anti-consumer practices designed to squeeze the maximum from passengers. Whenever there is a news item on AirAsia in malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and other online sites readers’ comments are almost wholly negative towards the airline. It is unusual for a budget airline which purports to provide affordable flying for passengers to end up on the wrong side of public opinion but AirAsia has certainly succeeded.When did AirAsia descend from a public champion to a money grabbing witch? To be sure this did not happen suddenly but has been ongoing for years. The negative public perception against AirAsia has reached an alarming level and cannot help but affect the airline’s business. The suit by the Australian consumer watchdog ACCC did not help.AirAsia copies a lot from Western budget airlines like Virgin Airways but some of what it copies are outdated or culturally unsuitable for local customers. It may seem clever to refuse to check in a passenger who arrives 1 minute later than the counter closing time so that he has to buy another ticket but Malaysians find this very infuriating especially when other airlines have been very flexible. MAS will allow you to check in as long as you can make it to the boarding room before the plane flies.Other practices which do not go down well with passengers are credit card charges, counter check-in charge and seat selection charge. The first two may be considered hidden charges as they are non-optional and should be added to the fare in the first place. Those who do not pay to select seats (currently at RM35 per passenger from KL) are randomly distributed so families will be split up. This is especially annoying as passengers are not charged for any real goods or services but for the right to sit together which should be theirs in the first place. It’s like taking something away which should be yours and demanding a fee to give it back.But probably the most aggravating is AirAsia’s RM1.95 a minute charge to talk to a service staff. It may be for something which is not their fault like flight delays, claim of refund, lost luggage or being overcharged on their credit cards but having to pay by the minute to complain is really annoying. To add insult to injury they are frequently made to wait on hold while the charge keeps ticking.Is AirAsia Really Cheap? - Please READ on !!!!