11 September 2008

AirAsia Service

Budget Airlines should be interpreted as skimping on just about everything, including customer service. If people are offended that this post paints a negative picture then so be it, but I am unapologetic for it. It is the old marketing adage that a happy customer might tell five people of their positive experience whereas an unhappy customer will tell twenty or more.

I am unhappy with the service.

Anyone that has had any contact with AirAsia knows that it has a no cancellations / no refund policy. It is a little hard not to know this as it is a prominent feature of all their advertising materials, prominent in the fine print! What is less well known is that you can purchase comprehensive travel insurance for about IDR 78,000 that allows cancellations in certain circumstances and entitles you to a full refund on the cost of your ticket.

Now, I was not travelling AirAsia myself, my folks were. The old fella and the old lady (terms of endearment -- not offensive) decided that in the middle of their planned trip to Bali they would fly over to Jakarta to visit with their first born, his wife, and their soon to be grandchild. AirAsia was to be the provider of choice. Unfortunately, for the old lady, a trip to the doctor revealed a medical problem and an immediate operation was ordered and hence no travel for a couple of months. Bang goes the trip to Bali and to Jakarta. The old lady is on the way to a full recovery if anyone is interested.

My folks grew up without a lot, so their mindset is once you have something it is worth a little extra to protect, thus everything is insured. This includes travel insurance when booking flights.

I have spent the last few days trying to cancel the AirAsia ticket and find out what I have to do to lodge the claim and get the refund processed. AirAsia has an automated phone service that ultimately gives you the option to talk to an operator in either Indonesian or English. I had called a number of times already and chose the Indonesian language option (I am pretty good in Indonesian) and did not get what I needed in terms of information.

So, I thought bugger it I am going for the English language option this time. Funnily enough when I finally got through to a talking head the first things I heard were "Selamat Siang!", "nama saya XXXX, bisa bantu dengan apa?" which roughly translates to "Good afternoon, my name is XXXX, what can I help you with?" (Siang is a period between 10.00 and 14.00, I called at 13.30). So much for the English assistance.

What transpired was this:

Me: I want to find out whether I need to cancel a ticket or at least let you know that the passengers willnot be travelling?

AA: We have a no cancellation / no refund policy.

Me: Yeah, I know! I just want to find out if I need to let AirAsia know that the passengers booked on flight xxx will not be travelling?

AA: We have a no cancellation / no refund policy.

Me: Yeah, I think I understand that part! So, I do not need to cancel? I just leave the tickets as they are and then when the passengers don't turn up that is not going to cause any dramas, is it?

AA: I do not know.

Me: Is there someone there that does know? Can I talk to them?

AA: Silence...I will check...silence for about 5 minutes.

AA: No one knows.

Me: Oh, really? Okey dokey. My next question relates to the insurance and the refund claim can I talk to you about that?

AA: We have a no cancellation / no refund policy.

Me: Even where the passengers have an insurance policy?

AA: We do not have insurance policies!

Me: Really? What about this "go insurance" policy that has been purchased.

AA: All of our policies are issued with the provision that the terms and conditions are out our discretion and your mother's illness is not covered.

Me: Have you read the policy or the terms and conditions?

AA: No, but all policies maybe changed at our discretion and your mother's illness is not covered. Besides, we have a no cancellation / no refund policy.

As stupid as this is it highlights the limitations of teaching your service staff a script and not providing them with the tools to address enquiries outside the scope of the script or having the confidence to escalate the matter to a more senior staff manager or supervisor.

In the end and a few calls later I managed to get in touch with the insurer, AIU (under the auspices of AIG), and they were very helpful and I am now onto the filling in of forms and gathering the necessary supporting documentation to make the claim.

Moral of the story is that budget airlines = budget services or no service at all.


Jen Jen in Jakarta, Indonesia said...

I decided to try Air Asia.....I won't ever again. My flight has been bumped and and I will be traveling home at midnight with 3 kids....... Very different time to the 2pm flight I booked and paid for five months in advance.
If only SA flew Jakarta to Denpasar!

mia said...

I have encountered more bad than good customer service everywhere, from airlines, banks, telecommunication providers, manufacturers, hotels etc. Sometimes you can even see they're just saying the lines that they memorise from their customer service manual. Obviously finding solutions aren't their main priority. Seriously, do thy set an IQ ceiling for people applying to become Customer Service officers?

Rob Baiton said...


If it was me changing the flights and the like then so be it, it is a budget airline and I know the deal. The problem for me are cases like yours, AirAsia is doing all the stuffing around and you have no real recourse other than take the midnight flight or burn the fare and travel with someone else. I am sure there are some descriptive words to give voice to the frustrations.


Customer service is a nasty job. I actually take my hat off to anyone willing to do it. People only really get in touch with customer service when they have a problem or need something done, yesterday.

The problem for me is that this fella could only work of the script. Unfortunately, a script will never cover all eventualities.

This is where good customer service people excel, the being able to improvise within a certain set of parameters to find resolution.

It could be as simple as escalating the enquiry up the chain of command to someone who actually has the authority to deal with an issue.

It could even be the big blow off in terms of providing an alternative number to pursue the matter.

I do not believe it is the customer service operators themselves that are to blame but rather companies that do not provide full or proper training.

Anonymous said...

LOOOOL reminds me when I had to call KLM customer service in Jakarta. It made me wanting to pull my hair off just by talking to them

treespotter said...

think they've an office or something in Gajahmada where you need to come in person for that sort of thing. Candi had almost the exact same problem and decided to just go over there and they finally fixed it. Going to Gajah Mada in the midday jakarta traffic, strangely, takes longer than going to airport.

tere616 said...

Rob, there's a quote of something like "you get what you pay" ?, well have to say, don't expect too much if you buy "budget" airlines ticket.

It's rare of not saying none good service given to the customer.

Maybe you should take Ace advice, go to Gajahmada, so the cust. service can deal with your issue.

Oh, thank you for being so understanding about customer service.

My carreer start as a customer service and start on that day I always deal with the customer problem.

To answer Mia's question, in certain company, yes, there's an IQ ceiling and all the psychological test to know how they can cope with stress and their personality. But for most of the company, they always look down the job of customer service.

As an ex customer service, I have to say it's not an easy job, because we have to listen carefully to customer's problem, otherwise it will end up like Rob's Air Asia experience.

Why don't you use Garuda flag, I never use Air Asia ? Expensive but safer - in my opinion.

therry said...

It's not more of an IQ but more of an EQ thing.

Sometimes people can have very high IQs and can still be assholes ;)

But those with very high EQs need to be congratulated for their patience and people skills in dealing with others.

Rob Baiton said...

Writer One...

It was frustrating but in a lot of ways understandable. It is no different from dealing with insurers. Insurers always deny everything at first :D


I have since contacted the insurers directly. In spite of my previous comment the CS person was most helpful! So, I will be dealing with the insurer directly.


I don't think that the AirAsia fella's problem was with IQ. I am not sure that he was properly trained though in the intricacies of escalating problems.


Agreed. CS is something that requires a good deal of patience.

Finally Woken said...

I don't think Singapore Airline's customer service is any better. Last time I wanted to change my departure time to be earlier to get to Singapore and since I was in the neighborhood and couldn't get through their bloody phone system, I decided to pop in to their CS office in Kuningan. They strangely had 2 queuing ticket machines, one for normal queries, another one for Krisflyer. I took the Krisflyer one, because I thought by being a loyal customer, I'd get better service. Those who held normal tickets got served rather quickly, whilst those who took the Krisflyer tickets were entitled to be served by one assistant, who took ages to serve them. After 1.5 hour, and 4 (yes, 4!) Krisflyer customers, I marched to another desk and demanded to get served. After little drama, I was put in wait list. The day before it I tried to check in online, couldn't see my bloody booking and tried to phone SQ Jakarta. I never got through for 2 hours, so I decided to call Singapore office. It took 10 minutes to get everything sorted. A year a go I sent an email to SQ Jakarta to inform them I've changed my postal address and please don't send mail to my old office since I quit. Their reply was to ask me to come down to their office in Kuningan. I specifically told them I've moved to UK, and it's rather difficult to hop on an ojek to Kuningan, wasn't it?

Moral of the story: customer service in Indonesia is bad, regardless how much money we spend.

Rob Baiton said...


My only experience with SQ was in Singapore and they were extremely efficient. Never had to deal with them in Indonesia though...

A.Horribilis said...

Like your attitude. Can't imagine how you'll feel about them after reading our latest expose ...


http://airasiaannus.blogspot.com this lead article about AirAsiaGate is worth a look too.

Best wishes,


Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Thanks also for the links. I have checked them out, the links that is.

jamal said...

i've call airasia call centre using 0387754000 for call within malaysia today. the answering voice machine just keep telling me to wait until there are available customer service officer. i've waiting until more then 10 minutes and suddenly no more connection. it is because my phone prepaid credit have been deduct from $28.19 to only 26 cent left. they stole my $27.93 just using their phone line. to make it worst, i've not yet talk to their customer service and they already charged $27.93. wtf . so anybody who wish to call their call center.... just forget it.. it is better to buy a lot of food for your stomach than be cheated like me

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

This is my complaint about automated services as well. That it potential eats up lots of money running you from one place on the system to another without any guarantee that you will get the answer to your inquiry.

I wonder what kind of a deal (if any) the companies get from their telecommunications providers for allowing them to milk you of your hard earned cash?

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob. We're with you all the way. suspect you'll get a kick out of this, and maybe one for your blog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sghPVZUYQhA

The FAANM Team

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for the link.

What can I say? The video speaks volumes on its own.

Viagra Online said...

AirAsia has been doing a good job, specially with the customer service Online. I think we can't be hard with this company because they're new in this business and don't have any experience with the advertising materials, is all about make time.

Anonymous said...

If you don't travel, the seat will be empty. If they overbook then the seat will be sold on the day of flight. Otherwise the seat will be untouched.
YOu can try to send a letter from doctor saying that your relative is ill.


Smith said...

Most travellers who don’t use their airline ticket do not realise that they are entitled to a FULL APD Refund of Government taxes and surcharges. The tax on your ticket is ONLY paid to the Government when you actually board the plane and fly. But airlines are making millions by NOT refunding these taxes to you if you don’t take your flight for whatever reason.

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