On August 19, 2016, I booked a return ticket from Chennai to Bali, Indonesia (with a transit in KL, Malaysia) for attending the Asian Patent Attorneys Association Annual Meeting.
On Oct 12, 2016, I completed my check-in at the Depansar Bali Airport at around 14:00 hrs and was waiting at Gate 1 where the boarding was scheduled. Around 15.30hrs an announcement was made that the boarding has been shifted to Gate 5. On reaching Gate 5, the ground staff informed us that due to some engine problem the departure time was changed to 16.20 hrs. I noticed the ground staff watching the plane and chatting with each other in the side corridor near the boarding gate. There was one ground staff at the gate and when enquired as to when they will announce boarding, he informed me that there was a delay. Then the display screens changed and the departure time was changed to 16.20hrs. I went back to the ground staff at the gate and he had no information as to the delay and informed me that there was some engine problem and that the engineers are evaluating the same.
After half-an-hour of waiting, the luggage was off-loaded from the plane and placed on the tarmac (a photograph of the same is attached herein as Exhibits), but the ground staff still had no idea about the issue or the period of delay. A passenger from London demanded to speak to the higher authorities and did so on the phone, but to no avail.
The departure was then rescheduled to 17:20hrs and we were assured that the ground staff in Kuala Lumpur would take care of our connecting flights. The ground staff ultimately informed us that there was an engine problem and spare parts were being awaited and the flight was rescheduled to 18.20hrs. The fatigued passengers were then provided with a can of coke/sprite, a candy bar and a snack. The flight was again rescheduled to 19.30hrs.
We boarded the flight at 19.30hrs and were informed by the pilot that the delay was due to some defect with the right engine but it had been rectified and we were only awaiting tower clearance. Meanwhile, the air conditioners and lights were dysfunctional and the crew were rushing about, and it was announced that another defect had been detected in the same engine and the pilot wanted to make sure it is safe to take off. We were at the gates at 19.50hrs. At 20.10hrs, the pilot announced that it was safe to take off. The crew informed us that many of us would be missing our connecting flights and our flights would be rebooked and we would be provided accommodation for the night at Kuala Lumpur.
The pilot then announced that there would be further delay due to air traffic congestion and finally, after receiving clearance, we took off for Kuala Lumpur and landed at 23:30hrs. By then many of us had missed our connecting flights. We were then directed to the Malaysia Airlines helpdesk. There, one of the staff took passengers travelling to India separately and informed us that those travelling to Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai would all be put on the flight MH0182 to Chennai the next morning (Oct 13, 2016 at 09.35hrs) and reconnected through local flights to their destinations. He requested us to give him 20 minutes so that they could arrange for the hotel rooms. In the meantime, a woman with a child who enquired about the hotel rooms was yelled at for her apparent impatience, an inadmissible behavior from such trained staff, and when I enquired about my luggage, considering they were providing accommodation, the staff stated that access to luggage will take 2 hours as they had been sent to the storage, and did not seem to think that when a passenger has not been able to board, providing his/her luggage is essential, especially if he/she is travelling “alone”. Not providing us the luggage was utterly illogical from the point of view of hygiene. When I asked her “What do I wear at the room”, and to my surprise she replied, “You are alone”. I had nothing further to respond at that point. I am sure that I do not need to explain this any further.
To the astonishment of the passengers, around 01.00 hrs on Oct 13, 2016 we were informed that the rooms inside the immigration area were full. The staff were requesting the immigration authorities to allow the passengers to stay in hotels outside the immigration area, but they did not permit the passengers to exit, as is the usual conduct of the authorities and that it was unreasonable to expect the immigration authorities to allow people to exit the immigration area without proper documents. The Malaysia Airlines staff’s logic was that they were ready to provide us accommodation outside the immigration area but we would not be allowed to cross the immigration area which was absurd.
The ground staff then began complaining about how this was always a problem with Indian and Chinese passport-holders and got offended when I told them that they should stop talking racism of such passengers. One man from the staff, without any provocation, began shouting at me, which is a disgraceful behavior on the part of the staff of such a widely acclaimed service provider and I had to ask him not to raise his voice at the passengers. Around 02.00hrs of Oct 13 both children and the elderly were exhausted and famished. The passengers demanded access to the airport lounge, for which the staff agreed to check. They then came back and informed us that pest control had been done at the lounge and we were told that we might have to move around. We agreed to the same and were taken to the lounge.
As there were no refreshments in the lounge, we were given vouchers to eat at the Noodles shop or the Burger King near the lounge and assured that we would be given more vouchers if needed (Video Conversation with the staff is attached herewith as Exhibits). But once we went to the restaurants, we were informed that vouchers could not be clubbed and we could only be provided with chicken nuggets and a coke at 13RM (equivalent to Rs.209). The ground staff was perplexed at this response but advised us to adjust and have whatever was available, another instance of the ludicrous behaviour on the part of the staff. Three vegetarian passengers had to go to sleep without any food, as no credit cards were working at Burger King even if we wanted to buy food for ourselves.
Over and above all this, the lounge staff behaved very inhospitably – they were reluctant to provide water bottles, the blankets we asked for came at 04 00 hrs and they kept cleaning the lounge with vacuum cleaners while people were trying to sleep – and we were shocked at such unprecedented behavior. At around 04 00 hrs., when breakfast services started in the lounge, the staff informed us that we must use vouchers as the food service was not for us. When we refused the vouchers, we were asked to be at the gate at 07 00 hrs, but we argued that the flight being at 09:35hrs, there was no need to arrive at the gate before 0835hrs, at which the staff on duty told us that her shift was over and she was leaving, meaning that she could not care less. We then ate some food in the lounge and went to board the flight at 0835hrs. Being trained by such a renowned Airlines, how could the staff mete out such an obnoxious treatment to passengers who were being inconvenienced not due to their own fault was shocking to us
It is pertinent to note that as per international convention; passengers possess some rights globally in case of flight cancellations and delays.
- The regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the European Council of 11 February, 2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. Not only do the Articles 7, 8 and 9 of the regulation provide for the rights of the passengers to compensation, reimbursement and rerouting, and care, respectively, but the Article 14 also provides that the airlines has the obligation to inform the passengers of such rights. The passenger’s right to care entitles them to meals and refreshments as well as two telephone calls, telex messages, emails, etc. and hotel accommodation in case of overnight delay along with transportation from the place of accommodation to the airport. They are further entitled to compensation or reimbursement or re-routing or alternative transportation in certain cases and under certain circumstances.
- In the international arena, EU is not the only one to provide for such passenger rights. The International Air Transport Association, 2013 also supports the view of the EU regulation regarding air passenger rights.
- The Montreal Convention of 1999 (MC99) to which India is a signatory, is another international treaty which creates an exclusive and uniform framework of liability in the international air carriage of passengers and cargo.
- Moreover, in the ICAO Sixth World Air Transport Conference, ICAO (a specialised organ of the UN) received support from its member states to develop high-level principles on consumer protection.
- The Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (Aviation Consumer Protection Division) of the USA even produces a monthly Air Travel Consumer Report for ensuring compliance with such international norms.
- The office of the Director General of Civil Aviation in India has issued Civil Aviation Requirements, wherein the Series M, Part IV, issued on 6thAugust 2010 and in force from 15 August 2010, provides for facilities that air passengers are entitled to due to denied boarding, cancellation of flights and delays in flights. In case of delays in flights, these rules provide that the passenger shall be entitled to meals and refreshments with regards to the time of delay as well as hotel accommodation.
Thus, it is evident from the legal frameworks cited that passenger rights are universally accepted concept, and every passenger of flight MH850, including myself faced the infringement of these rights due to the deficient and callous service of the Malaysia Airlines and the irresponsible, reckless behavior of the staff, without minding the mental trauma undergone by the passengers for no fault of their own. Due to the unacceptable behavior of the Airlines authorities, not only was our travelling experience spoilt, but we also had to undergo unnecessary harassment, humiliation, stress and mental trauma.
It took several days to get out of the trauma created by the airline. It also led to me cancelling my US trip which came up thereafter.
Today I managed to write to Malaysia Airline with the following demands:
- Provide a written apology and an undertaking to train and equip your staff to deal with unexpected situations to prevent any future passengers from facing any such harassment;
- Pay a sum of Rs. 50,000 towards compensation for causing harassment, humiliation and mental trauma and for infringing the prescribed international aviation right to care of passengers by impermissible behavior of your staff;
- Pay a sum of Rs. 15,000 towards the costs of this legal notice.
While the Malaysia Airline social media team did not bother to even address one of the several tweets I sent them, let us hope that they understand the seriousness of the issue at hand and respond.