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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

AirAsia flight major delay experience!

Budget airlines are known to save every penny where possible. So if their service is disrupted, how will they treat passengers? Will low cost airlines provide food/accommodation/alternate flights etc like full service airlines? Or will they wash off their hands stating- “only flight is our responsibility, we can’t help with food/accommodation even if there is a delay/cancellation on our side”?
This post narrates our experience with a major delay in Thai Air Asia Macao-Bangkok flight. If this doesn't interest you, you may wish to check my Singapore or Australia posts.

I have had several flights with Air Asia in the past- To Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Australia etc and didn’t face any major delay in any of my previous trips. Even though my tickets were booked 9 months ago, flights were operated exactly as per schedule without any issues. But last trip to Macau was different. While onward journey was smooth, return journey got in trouble due to a technical fault. The scheduled 2.15 PM flight opened for boarding slightly late, safety demonstrations were done but even after 60 minutes, no take off. After 90 minutes we were told to disembark and taken back to the terminal, after another security check that was meant for transit passengers.

At about 4.30 PM we were back in the airport departure hall. While we were asked to wait for further announcement, I checked flight tracker websites, which hinted at a massive delay of 8 hours. As against the scheduled departure time of 2.15 PM, it seems airline has sought revised gate timing of 10.10 PM from airport. Based on this data flight tracking websites predicted 8 hours delay.

At about 5.30 PM airline staff gave us a food coupon (to be used after 6 PM) and said new departure time will be about 11 PM (which was in sync with what flight tracker had shown).  Macau is a small airport without too many flights towards India. Waiting seemed to be the only option. There was a 6.30 PM flight to Kuala Lumpur, from where we could have been routed to Chennai. But airline didn’t offer this option and it didn’t strike me either.

We had whatever food we could get (rice, some cabbage) and waited further. It was about 8 PM.

Now an airline staffer came up and gave us following options
Option 1: Take the 11 PM flight to Bangkok, but next flight to Chennai will be only next day 9PM. We were told the gap between flights is too much and we can’t be treated as transit passengers- we will have to take visa on arrival at Bangkok. We were offered a hotel room in Bangkok if we are to opt for this, but VISA and local transportation airline won’t pay. (Thailand Visa on arrival costs about Rs 2200 per person and one is expected to have adequate cash (around 600 USD equivalent) to support their trip.

AirAsia operates out of Bangkok's budget airport DMK and has only one flight per day to Chennai. Most full service airlines operate out of Suvarnabhumi (BKK)- we can't go from one airport to another airport without visa, so asking AirAsia to put us on some other airline is also not that economical option.

Option 2: Go back to Macao city, Air Asia will provide a hotel room, we should come back next day same time. Local transportation and food at our own expense

Option 3: Stay in airport, air asia will try to put us on any available flight to our destination, worst case tomorrow’s flight

I asked for Option 4: in which we go to Bangkok, airasia will provide one night stay, we will spend 2 more night at our own expense and Airasia to book us on Sunday night flight to Chennai- for this he said he will have to check with his supervisor.

All these options were sure to cost us another day. I evaluated the options
Option 1 didn’t seem worth it- Visa on arrival queue will be too long in DMK, costs lot of money, not worth for one day and as I have seen most of Bangkok, there isn’t much that can be explored in 12 hours

Option 2 seemed good option- Another day in Macau city would do no harm- felt like better option that staying within the confined spaces of Airport departure terminal (Option 3)

Few passengers asked if they can be put up in Plaza Premium Lounge inside Macau airport. Airline staff promptly refused (the airport lounges cost much more than star hotels- this one costs MOP 500 for 2 hours! Read about Plaza Lounge in Changi.

AirAsia could have arranged an alternate aircraft or put us in say Air Macau flight headed to Bangkok- but those options could have cost lots of money, so airlines do not opt for them.

Airasia staff took our passports, went to immigration office and checked if they will have any concern letting us back into the city. He came back with a positive message from them.

One passenger had exhausted all 30 days permitted under tourist visa. He had to stay inside the airport.

We opted to go back into city. We were asked to follow one of their staff. I didn’t have anything in writing, so I wondered what will happen if people on the other side of the airport refuse to help. I took a pic of his ID card with his permission. We were given a small slip with Chinese content- my guess is it explains that our flight is delayed and we be permitted back into city. Immigration staff kept that slip and let us back into Macao- 3rd time I cleared immigration within last 10 days.

Once back near check in counters, we were given a new ticket and hotel details. Came out, took a bus to hotel. Hotel was Taipa Square- supposedly 3 star- we got the cheapest rooms available- was small but OK. It was 11 PM by then. Went to sleep.

Next day morning did some walk around the hotel, bought some fruits, chips and tender coconut, relaxed a bit in the hotel pool and by 11 AM checked out and headed back to hotel. Asked if we can get an upgrade or free meals given the day long delay- it was dutifully denied (unless we pay). Thankfully this time everything else went smooth and we took off on time.

One doctor couple from Chennai had opted to stay inside the airport- they were given some food coupons and some 100 MOP per person as cash compensation for any miscellaneous expenses. Several passengers who were with us were no longer to be seen- either they had already been accommodated on various other flights, or they probably made their own arrangements.

What this delay cost us:
  • One full day- leave wasted, time wasted. If we were told about hotel option at 4PM instead of 8/8.30 PM, we could have salvaged half a day and explored a bit more.
  • About 100 MOP (INR 1000) in airport transportation and morning breakfast (which was not complementary in hotel)
Remember- it is always safer to be on ground and be alive than risking take off with a faulty plane. While it did cost us a day and some money, I wouldn’t blame the airline for aborting take off. I would have appreciated a lot if AirAsia could have routed me via Kuala Lumpur flight on same evening. Even then, I feel overall they did whatever best they could, to take care of 300+ passengers on that plane who had different destinations, priority and preferences. Full service airlines take care of visa, hotel transportation and food also, whereas AirAsia only gave hotel room, which I term satisfactory if not excellent.

In this case this is clearly airline’s fault (aircraft technical problem). Not sure if they will do the same when the fault is not theirs- such as airport closure, bad weather, terror strikes etc. Still it was a fine experience overall.

Lessons learnt:
  • When in doubt or lack of clarity, check the flight tracker apps or website. These tools do not hesitate to share any data they have. Flight tracker apps neither think "What if this passenger gets angry" nor they are interested in any psychological games "Let us not reveal the 8 hour delay right away- let us say 2 hours for now and then keep delaying further till passengers get tired, exhausted and desperate so that they will accept any alternative we provide"
  • Do not stay in a destination till last day permitted on visa. Plan to leave at least 2 days early-gives some buffer in case of problems
  • Delays can happen. While we were treated with reasonable fairness, may be if we had insisted on a better arrangement we might have got it.  Airline staff can't put all 300 people on immediate next flight-so as they try to work out, some may get priority and others may suffer more delay/inconvenience.
  • I should have identified the Via KLIA2 option and asked for an immediate rescheduling-by the time this option hit my mind, the flight had already left. Find out few options yourself and approach the airline
  • Budget airlines will provide basic support, but you will still end up incurring some experience and inconvenience. 
  • Less popular/budget airports will have less options hence more waiting. The other side of flying cheap.
  • Even if you select best of the airline, delays can happen. Be mentally prepared for such an eventuality.
Similar: Scenic Macau airport in pictures.* Tricks to make the most of AirAsia sale * Air Asia benchmark prices * Scoot Airline India launch * Will booking early really really help you save more? *

11 comments :

Ravish Mani said...

I've made a note of the lessons learnt by you. :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Good.

Kt said...

Your recent air travels have had a bit of bad luck, Srinidhi. Hope it improves...or maybe statistically this is the right % of bad flights a traveler will experience if s/he flies more than usual.
These trip delays are much harder when we have time constraint or young kids in our group.
It is very nice to see that you are being flexible and not making a big fuss, kicking up a tantrum on soc media to squeeze some freebies out of the big brands. It is annoying to see how some bloggers and influencers are earning their daily bread in such cheap gimmicks.

ವಿ.ರಾ.ಹೆ. said...

This firsthand info is very helpful in case of flight delays/cancellations. Which are 'flight tracker apps' available?

Dipanwita Chakraborty said...

A very insightful post Shrinidhi. Thanks for the share. The flight tracker app option sounds helpful.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Dipanwita- Thanks

@Vi Ra He - there are several good ones- both websites and apps

I used flight stats http://www.flightstats.com/go/FlightTracker/flightTracker.do

@Kt: Thanks for the good words. I believe in being fair. No airline enjoys cancelling or delaying the flight. If it is unintentional, and if I feel that they are doing their best, I am fine to share a portion of the risk.

Because of one stray incident, some people go on to say that they will never fly that airline or use a brand- which is insane. Achieving and maintaining 100% perfection in service industry is very difficult- occasional errors should be pardoned. Of course if someone repeatedly fails, then avoid that brand.

if there are some drawbacks in a product/service I have always highlighted, even if it means brands do not like me for that

Can't comment on other bloggers.

I have many more flights lined up. Let me see what future has in store for me...

SandeepaChetan said...

Looks like budget airlines staff is trained to play psychological games with passengers. More the delay better hotel deal Airlines is going to get ultimately passengers suffer. There is lot to learn from this post. Thank you for sharing the entire episode.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

You're welcome. After this experience I am not better prepared to deal with similar situations in future.

The wild said...

Airlines will only pay for their technical faults ,not for weather -runway issues,security incidents etc etc which are not under their control.They will try to rectify the fault to the maximum extent so as to avoid extra costs like paying hotel expenses to passengers.So depending on the fault and magnitude too difficult to tell how much time it will take to rectify.Looks like they exploited the window to the maximum -almost 8 hours which is think is by any standards is massive.

Surprised that flight tracker had update earlier than the ground announcement

Its not easy to pull a aircraft out and get a spare plane in ,a lot of logistics is involved in keeping the current flight plan which is always exploited to the maximum -more so that they are low cost airlines.Air Asia has different entities - Air Asia indonesia was in the news for the crash - https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/12/01/airasia-crash-caused-by-faulty-rudder-system-pilot-response-indonesia-says.html .One of contributors was the faulty rudder which in the year before it crashed had 24 incidents of repair on it ,although a lot of contributing factors lead to the crash.Indonesia in general has a poor civil aviation maintenence record.

Overall a fair deal.

Mridula said...

Time to download a flight tracker app for myself. As you concluded they treated you alright!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Mridula

You can use websites also, apps are not a must.

Yes, they could have always done a bit more- may be an earlier flight or an upgrade or a compensation etc, but overall I think I am fine. Next time I have a benchmark and will see if it gets better or worse

@The Wild-My guess is ground staff took their time to announce while trackers were instant.

Yes, I am aware of Indonesia crash.

Thanks for your comments