How an airline company almost screwed my trip to malaysia (and what I learned from it)

If you had been reading my tweets, you must know that I was in Malaysia last week. I visited the beautiful islands of Langkawi. It’s a group of 99 beautiful islands with white sand beaches. The trip was amazing, the beaches were great. But the airlines, well, was the crappiest ever. I don’t usually do brand-bashing but this one deserved it, seriously.

By now you must have found out what airline company I’m talking about. Yeah, it was AirAsia. I have heard some horror stories about cheap airline travel, but this is the first time I was a part of it. The irony was that the relevant people never knew about the annoyance we had to go through, and even if they did, they didn’t care. I travelled from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur (and from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi, the same day) with AirAsia. I expected a great journey and, obviously, a pleasant experience. But unfortunately, the trip was almost a nightmare.

This is what happened:

It was an office-sponsored holiday trip, so we were a large bunch of people (32 to be precise) looking for an airline company which could give us a good deal on flight tickets. I tried booking through the major Indian travel portals MakeMyTrip & ClearTrip, but couldn’t find a way to book group tickets at once. A friend told me about a nice offer going on at AirAsia, so I headed straight to their website. The offer was good. The website looked great! Being a designer at heart, I was immediately impressed by the details. And that was it. I convinced my teammates to go with the airlines right away. And then the nightmare followed.

Since it was a limited time offer, we started booking the tickets in hurry. Tickets for only 8 people could be bought at a time. And the names (& passport details) needed to be filled one at a time. A bit of pain, but still doable. After 2 successful bookings, the site showed an error on hitting the submit button. It said the promo has been taken off. Strike One! That was sorta weird. After all, what kind of an offer ends in the middle of a transaction! I tried again, still the same error. A colleague said promos for the next day was available, but we were a single group, so we had to reach the same day. So we started booking the tickets for normal prices (about 40% higher compared to the ones in the promo). Details of 8 people filled in. This time the transaction failed! It didn’t accept my credit card anymore. I was pissed off. My teammates were tensed. I tried using another credit card, it failed too. Strike Two! A third one worked.

Photo by @mwichary.
On the scheduled day, we reached the airport together. I was about to grab a burger when an AirAsia rep asked me to check-in immediately. There was a lot of time left, so I said I will do it soon. But he won’t move! I didn’t finish my burger and checked in. Just then, we were informed that the flight is actually 40 mins late.

We entered the flight. A tightly packed cabin, no legroom and then a faulty seatbelt! On the way, I was hungry. Everything was awfully expensive (even the extra luggage at $10/kg!). Still I tried to order a coffee. A crew member appeared, told me that someone else would attend us soon, turned off the call-switch, and left. This happened twice. And finally when the air-hostess showed up, the seatbelt sign turned on. The was bad weather outside. I was told that I can’t have coffee until the damn weather corrects itself! 20 minutes passed and the seatbelt sign was off. I waited for a couple of minutes, nobody showed up. I pushed the button again. She came, I asked about the coffee. She had no idea what I was talking about. I gave up. Strike Three!

We finally landed in Kuala Lumpur. We had to walk about half a mile to the terminal at 35degrees temperature. But that’s the airport’s fault so I won’t talk about it. The next flight was again with AirAsia in 3 hours. I was disappointed, and somewhat scared. It wasn’t so bad, except for the cold stale sandwich which was, again, expensive. Anyway, I had a great time in Malaysia but I was worried about the return flight almost all the time. The return trip wasn’t pleasant either. They ran out of food (they don’t allow you to bring your own food either), delayed checkin and a crew captain with a weird accent didn’t do a great job.

Simply, laughter.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rookie Shooter

I’m not sure who exactly to blame for all this. The website could have been designed (I’m using the term design very loosely here) in a better way, the support executive could have been more polite, the weather could have been better, the delay of flight should have been conveyed to ground staff earlier, the cabin crew should have been more prompt and food could have been fresh, and available!

Here are a couple of things I learnt from the experience:

  • Double check everything in your website. There are plenty of tools which a dirt cheap. (e.g. UserTesting.com, 99Testing.com & MechTurk)
  • Monitor every support request and the response by your team. You don’t know what might go wrong behind your back.
  • Hire the right people. Those who face your customers/users directly, hire them yourself. Be very choosy at it.
  • Pay close attention to the details. You don’t want people complaining about shortage of ‘food’ ever.
  • Keep the user/customer informed. Make them a part of your operations. And don’t worry if you screw up. The customer is more forgiving than you think, especially when you make them a part of the process, by keeping them informed.

This was my personal experience. Do you think I am being irrational? I don’t know. Am I flying with AirAsia again? You tell me!

Written by Arun Pattnaik