By QISHIN TARIQ
Few things ruin a holiday worse than missing your flight. Suffice to say, the situation must have felt infinitely worse for customers of MYAirline when the company abruptly announced the suspension of operations on 12 October.
The Malaysian budget carrier has since blamed its decision to shut up shop on financial pressures, a mere 11 months after taking to the skies.
Yet, that does not explain why the airline had never informed the authorities of its predicament, opting instead to suddenly cease operating from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) and leaving thousands of customers in the lurch.
To be clear, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke has said that the government will ensure ticket-holders are refunded even as the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) investigates MYAirline.
He also said that passengers who paid for their tickets electronically — via credit card, debit card or direct debit (FPX) — could ask their banks to initiate chargebacks, a process wherein customers can seek to recover funds paid to merchants for disputed, erroneous or fraudulent transactions.
However, the reimbursement situation appears to be far less clear for travellers who got their tickets as part of a tour package.
MYAirline’s FAQ section on its website states that customers in that situation will need to deal with their agents, and that the refund will be credited to the respective travel agency accordingly. But that would mean having to wait until MYAirline coughs up the compensation – if it ever does.
Changing plans on the fly
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Nigel Wong notes that travel firms are in the same boat as travellers and are also victims of the airline’s sudden closure.
As such, there’s no point getting angry at the travel agents.
“Make the travel agent your friend, as they can help salvage the other parts of your tour by getting deferments to new dates while also arranging new flights,” he says.
Wong adds that travellers who bought packages through travel companies were likely in a better position to change their plans. This is because agents are able to leverage their long-term relationships with hotels, tour organisers and other companies on the ground to change dates and bookings.
Tour agent Datuk Tan Kok Liang, who runs Borneo Trails Tours & Travel, concurs, adding that while grace periods can be subjective, as part of the service industry, travel companies can be accommodating.
And this, he says, is why it is important to purchase travel insurance.
“If you’re alone and bought (your travel package) online with no insurance, it leaves you with no recourse when problems come up,” Tan said,
Playing it safe
Tan, who is also MATTA’s former president, further explains that it is standard practice for agents to recommend travel insurance, especially post-pandemic when travel restrictions and flight disruptions are more commonplace.
Standard travel insurance typically covers flight delays, lost luggage and medical complications. However, Tan says there are also more extensive options that specifically address cancelled flights, issues due to natural disasters and even ransom insurance in the case of a flight being hijacked.
National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) chief executive officer Indrani Thuraisingham, meanwhile, also urges consumers to get travel insurance, saying it is not worth scrimping on a few ringgit when one is already paying so much for a holiday.
In the case of the MYArline fiasco, she notes that the NCCC has not received complaints yet, most likely due to the government having intervened immediately.
“However, if this issue is not resolved quickly or satisfactorily, consumers can still come to us, and we will collectively file a complaint, which can put pressure on regulators,” she says.
Lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz adds that affected travellers could also file civil suits for damages incurred from costs beyond their flight tickets. This can include hotel bookings and tickets to attractions, which may have been purchased as part of the trip.
Even so, that does not mean everyone who goes to court is likely to recover their outlay.
“Going to court is easy. But whether you can get any compensation from a distressed company is a different story,” he explains.
Mohd Khairul Azam had previously worked with customers affected by the suspension of Rayani Air, Malaysia’s first Islamic-compliant airline.
That airline was shut down by regulators in 2016 following a suspension due to having breached aviation regulations. The closure and suspension followed an outcry by passengers over delays and last-minute cancellations as well as strikes by staff over unpaid wages.
On the MYAirline issue, Mohd Khairul Azam adds that travellers who are contemplating legal action should be aware of the requirement for lawsuits against Malaysia-based companies to be filed in Malaysia. This would apply even if the person affected is a foreigner.
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