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AirAsia faces backlash over delayed pandemic refunds | Aviation

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysian carrier AirAsia is facing a wave of complaints from customers who say they have still not been reimbursed for canceled or rescheduled flights during the pandemic.

AirAsia and its subsidiary AirAsia X (AAX), both owned by Capital A Berhad, blocked thousands of flights in 2020 and 2021 after the Malaysian government closed domestic and international borders to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But months after the low-cost carrier resumed flights following the lifting of interstate and international border restrictions for Malaysians in October, hundreds of customers have taken to social media to complain about poor customer service and charges. long waits for reimbursement.

Rohana Betak, 60, said she requested a refund of 4,000 Malaysian ringgits ($911) after the airline canceled flights between Senai and Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, at the following the introduction of a national lockdown in March 2020.

Betak, who planned to visit the area around Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest peak, with his family in October 2021, said the airline’s automated online customer service only offered him the possibility of traveling on different dates. Betak decided not to accept the offer due to uncertainty over when restrictions would be lifted and concerns over catching COVID-19. Two years later, she says she is still waiting for her money.

“In my application I said it was fine to refund the credits for the booking but instead I was reminded in June 2020 that I had to board the flight to Sabah on a different date and that there would be no refund,” Betak told Al Jazeera.

“It wasn’t helpful because instead of offering me at least a refund credit, it told me I had no choice but to travel on different dates.”

Rohana Betak, pictured with a pink hat in the back row, says she has been waiting two years for a refund from AirAsia [Courtesy of Rohana Betak]

Travel to Sabah prior to October 2021 was strictly limited to certain categories of travellers, including those traveling for work and those born in the state. Rohana and her family did not fall into any exempt category.

“When he demanded that I take another flight, I asked if they wanted to send me and my family to our death?” Betak said. “It’s so frustrating and I’m so sick of trying to get my money back that I’ve agreed not to get my money back at all.”

Many complaints have been made to AVA, AirAsia’s online chatbot, which is the only line of communication between customers and the airline for reservations or flight-related issues.

In particular, some questioned why it was so difficult to reach customer service to request a refund, even for flights booked since the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Customer Aulia Chaerisa Salleh said she was awaiting a refund for a flight from Batam to Jakarta that was booked earlier this month after being told no seats were available.

“I paid for my ticket and it didn’t register in the system so I tried to get my tickets refunded. I tried the AVA live chat but it’s not at all I haven’t heard from them for days,” she said.

Under AirAsia’s current refund policy, the airline offers customers a refund, credit or rescheduled travel date whenever a flight is canceled or rescheduled.

AirAsia told Al Jazeera that the airline is engaged in ongoing dialogue with consumer regulators in the region to ensure compliance with all local regulations.

“AirAsia Group’s policies are in line with many low-cost operators in the travel industry around the world and are fully compliant with all regulatory requirements and as a customer-centric airline we have focused on resolving all customer questions during the pandemic as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.

The airline group said it had resolved more than 90% of refund requests and pledged to resolve a small number of outstanding claims as soon as possible.

“In Malaysia, for example, only 0.03% of the refund requests we received remain and we look forward to completing the refund exercise for all outstanding requests in the coming months,” said the gatekeeper. -speak, adding that the past two years have been the most challenging in commercial aviation history.

The spokesperson added that “our passengers remain our number one priority” and that the airline “will continue to improve our services to provide the best in safe, affordable and reliable air travel.”

“Problem Child”

Tan Kok Liang, president of the Malaysian Travel and Travel Agents Association (MATTA), said the backlog of refunds is a short-term problem and that its 3,100 members will continue to book with AirAsia as long as the customers will ask for it.

“The problem child is AAX and while air connectivity is crucial for the recovery of tourism, according to the media, AirAsia should be held more accountable to all stakeholders,” Tan told Al Jazeera.

The hefty compensation paid to airline co-founders Tony Fernandez and Kamarudin Maranun, who brought in nearly 30 million ringgit ($6.8 million) combined last year, has also raised eyebrows.

Following the release of Capital A’s 2021 annual report last month, some social media users expressed their frustration on Fernandez’s personal Instagram accounts, with a comment calling AirAsia “the one and only airline that has no customer service phone number”.

Despite generous executive pay, AAX, the group’s long-haul carrier, was forced last year to restructure its debt to save itself from liquidation after running up huge debts during the pandemic.

In March, AAX announced it had completed its debt restructuring after creditors agreed to a deal under which the airline would pay just 0.5% of outstanding debt and terminate contracts. to restructure RM33.65 billion ($8.1 billion) of liabilities.

During the restructuring of the debt, the group offered travelers travel credits instead of flights.

The Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM), however, has urged the airline to reimburse customers for tickets purchased while threatening to exercise its powers under the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015.

Capital A reported revenue of 1.7 billion ringgit ($387 million) in fiscal 2021, down 47% from a year earlier as capacity fell to just 36% of 2020 levels.