Never again, AirAsia!
LAST DECEMBER, AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea, with 162 people on board. The flight originated in Surabaya, Indonesia, and was headed for Singapore when it ran into bad weather. All passengers and crew members perished in the deadliest accident of the budget airline since it started regional operations.
When the plane went missing, most of the news centered on search and rescue operations that were carried out under the guidance of the Civil Aviation Authority of Indonesia. The operations quickly became an international undertaking, with Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia lending a helping hand in the recovery efforts that followed after the location of the crash site was determined.
When an accident of this nature and magnitude takes place, one rarely hears from the company CEO. What was unusual and quite unexpected were the actions of AirAsia’s CEO, Tony Fernandes, during the tragedy in Surabaya. In the April 27/May 4, 2015 edition of Time Magazine, on the “World’s Most Influential People,” Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, had this to say about Tony Fernandes and Flight 8501:
“After learning that AirAsia Flight 8501 had gone missing, Tony Fernandes stilled the chaos by being himself—a family man and business leader. He guided his company and employees through the horror. As AirAsia continued to serve its passengers, Tony acted as a friend, father and son to families whose darkest days were not done. The end of every journey is home. With his strength, candor, and compassion, Tony helps get AirAsia’s passengers home every day. And he continues to lead the company that has earned the trust of travelers.”
Some notes on Fernandes:
Fernandes is a Malaysian entrepreneur who organized the first budget, no-frills airline in the air travel industry. In 2001, mortgaging his home and using his personal savings, he bought AirAsia, a subsidiary of a Malaysian government-owned conglomerate, with debts of over $10 million. Proclaiming that “Now Everyone Can Fly,” he introduced Malaysians to low airfares, thus encouraging them to take to the skies. After one year of operations, he broke even, clearing all debts in the process.
A 2010 BBC news story mentions his “walk-around” management style. “If you sit up in your ivory tower and just look at the financial reports, you’re going to make some big mistakes.”
Last year, Fernandes was named “Brand Builder of the Year” at the World Branding Awards for his work in building the AirAsia brand. The International Herald Tribune paid tribute to him in a “Visionaries and Leadership Series” for his work in AirAsia.
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A week ago, Fr. Mariano “Jun Jun” Agruda who recently left for Rome to assume his new posting at the Carmelite head office in the Vatican, sent me an e-mail on his experience with AirAsia.
Dear Tito Ramon,
Last Saturday I flew from Cebu to Manila on AirAsia Zest Flight Z2776. It was originally scheduled to leave Mactan Airport at 1240H. AirAsia sent me a text message the night before that the new ETD would be 1700H.
When I checked in just before 1600H, there was already a notice on the screen above the counter, that the new ETD would be 2230H. All this time no one could explain why the plane would be delayed. Good thing AirAsia served each of us a one-piece Jollibee Chicken Joy pack and water for supper. Meanwhile, all AirAsia had at the boarding gate counter was a lone member of the ground staff who could not answer our questions re the extended delay. We had to demand for the station manager to show herself or we would go to her office. She finally showed up at past 1900H.
People were restive because no plausible explanation was given. To make matters worse, one passenger had an international connecting flight to Riyadh that night. No assistance was given this said passenger. There were elderly passengers among the group, tired and cold, who had been at the airport practically since the morning. There was also one in a wheelchair. People were asking AirAsia to facilitate re-booking on any available airline. All to no avail.
At 2030H, there was still no plane in sight. Bad weather conditions in Manila were blamed for the delay. Funny thing was that other airlines (PAL and Cebu Pacific) continued to fly in from Manila and out of Mactan. Another change in the ETD was announced. The new ETD would be 2220H!
We were finally boarded at 2120H (20 minutes short of a ten-hour delay from the original ETD). The plane took off close to 2300H. We landed in Manila before midnight. It is interesting to note that the chief purser of Flight Z2776 offered no apology to the passengers for all the inconvenience caused by this long delay. I had to point this out to the chief purser, telling her they should have better manners.
Never again, AirAsia!
Fr. Jun Jun
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Perhaps, Tony Fernandes should check out his affiliate offices in the Philippines. They are giving AirAsia a terrible name with this kind of service.
What is sorely needed is a crop of managers with Fernandes’ “walk-around” style and work habit. It is surprising that no one from senior management was around to keep people informed and to provide some assistance to alleviate the frustrating conditions caused by the delayed flight times. When things do not work out as scheduled, people start to speculate and begin to ask all kinds of questions. Someone must be around to provide answers in an intelligent and convincing manner.
Unless a new attitude—one of service—is instilled in the minds of AirAsia Philippines personnel and staff, the AirAsia brand that Tony Fernandes worked hard to build will vanish over a short period of time.
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