Saturday, April 10, 2010

Public Service & Social Responsibility

I have just returned from my holidays yesterday. It is not the holidays that I have planned for my family back in February. I have initially planned to take my family to Bangkok on 7 April, flying on Jetstar which was one of my choice of budget airline before this holidays.

Way back in late March, I have sensed situation in Bangkok was getting worse by the day when the protest planned by the Red Shirts took off. I wouldn't mind visiting Bangkok during this highly charged period if I were to travel alone. However, since I was bringing my family members along, including my six year old daughter, I have to exercise great caution and discretion this time round.

I have emailed and called Jetstar Asia numerous time to check on whether I could make changes to our destination but it seems that Jetstar Asia has only issued a "policy" for those customers who travel on 28 March 2010 (this is what I gather from the call centre) in which they could make changes to their destination or dates. However, things gotten worse since 28 March but in spite of my constant calls and second email to Jetstar Asia, they still maintain that there would be no changes to the flight schedules and customers are not allowed to make changes to destination nor have any refunds.

In contrast, Thai Airways has allowed us to have a 80% refund for our flight from Thailand to Hong Kong which falls on 10 April. We have made our concerns known to them about traveling to Bangkok during this period of time and I guess it is reasonable for them to charge us 20% of our fare for the cancellation.

I wrote a lengthy email to Jetstar Asia after my unfruitful calls to their call centre. It seems that they show no great concern about the safety of its customers at the destination, Bangkok, which is a potentially a hot spot during my period of travel. This is especially frustrating when Travel Warnings to Bangkok has been issued by various places and countries and most importantly, there is a child involved in the travel plan. I was prepared to change destination to KL instead of asking for a refund but my request was not granted.

My point is that Jetstar Asia has not fulfill its role in providing public service totally, apart from customer service. Even though Jetstar Asia is a private company that seek profits from its operations, but as an international carrier, it must uphold its role as a public service provider. Profit itself should not be its sole aim; public service in terms of ensuring the safety concerns of its customers being addressed should also be its top priority.

Although legally and technically, Jetstar has all the rights of not acceding to my request (even though it is not totally unreasonable), but I feel that this is an exceptional situation whereby more flexibility could be applied. When there are genuine concerns due to by unforeseen circumstances at the destination, flexibility should be applied to allow its clients to avoid possible danger.

I was right to abandon the plan for my family to visit Bangkok even though it means that a few hundred dollars would be wasted in unused air tickets to Jetstar Asia. As a politician, I am more sensitive to possible political development in such critical period. I was expecting the final showdown soon and unfortunately, I was right. Curfew was imposed on the day where we were supposed to arrive in Bangkok. Tension continued to rise and at this point of time of writing this article, I receive SMS messages to inform me that shots were fired in Bangkok. A Japanese was shot dead among others.

Being a "Budget" Airline is no excuse for any airlines to neglect its social responsibility towards its customers. This reminds me about the complains made against Tiger Airway during the period of an earthquake in Indonesia. It was not just about customer service but rather the lack of social responsibility towards the company's customers.

This boils down to the lack of the spirit of Public Service. The strength of a company or the lack of it, is normally reflected in the way it deals with crisis. Take Toyota for example. In spite of whatever happens in the process of the making of its faulty cars, its leaders took responsibility for it and recall all models which are affected by the flaws. It will cost the company a lot of money but at the very least, it maintains itself as a socially responsible enterprise.

Of course, the crisis in Thailand is neither Jetstar Airline's fault nor within its control. The earthquake in Indonesia was not the doing of Tiger Airway as well. But as a "public transport" provider, safety of its customers should be its utmost concerns. i.e. Safety beyond the service standards that they provide. Customers would be more appreciative to companies that took an extra effort to care for their safety and well being.

There are many corporates out there who does not regard their products and services as a form of public services as well. The worst kinds of corporates are those who did not care about the safety, health or public interests of others; i.e. companies that pollutes irresponsibly, sell toxic products like milk powder, cooking oil or commercial landlords who impose hefty rentals increase without any regards of actual impact on public consumers at large etc... The only difference lies in whether these companies did all these knowingly and whether they show any social responsibility in dealing with their own flaws.

In this case, the inflexibility of airlines in dealing with a crisis situation may mean a matter of life and death to its travelers.

From this incident, it also makes me think about the value of Public Service. The recollection of the ways that financial institutions deal with the Minibond crisis is a significant part of this enlightenment. The ways that companies deal with such crisis really differentiate the good from the bad.

Public Service is mostly and strongly identified with governmental services. However, we need people with a strong sense of public service to serve in both governmental organizations as well as private enterprises to make this world a better place. However, it doesn't help when even our own politicians puts more value on the million dollar pay as the prime motivator rather than the sense of Public Service.

Although I am truly disappointed with Jetstar which has been my choice airline for the past numerous years, but it is not my intention to take vengeance against it here. It is a learning experience for all of us. The little money I wasted is worth the price for such enlightenment on what Public Service and Social Responsibility is all about. Between private profits/interests and public service/social responsibility, there must be a balance to be maintained.

I would like to believe that Jetstar is still a socially responsible enterprise as it has made exceptional policy to allow its customers who have planned to travel to Bangkok on 28 March to make amendments to their booking. But I guess it was not able to make appropriate judgment on the situation for the subsequent days. It is truly unfortunate and regrettable that it has fallen deaf to its customers' safety concerns and was not able to make accurate assessment of the situation on its own.

Having said all these, I am glad that my alternative holiday plan for my family turns out well despite this little hiccup over the abandoned trip to Thailand. Well, at least we got to try out an alternative budget airline, Air Asia. Just like any other free market, it is good to have more choices so that we could make good comparisons. At the end of the day, it is the competition that makes the companies and consumers like us better.

Goh Meng Seng


Grace said...

I am sorry to hear about your experience with Jetstar. I am, in fact going through the same problem with them for my flight to Bangkok next Thur (I too am travelling with young children and deemed it unsafe to go). They have offered me to change flight dates (waiving the usual fees) but I am not able to obtain a refund. The state of emergency was actually declared on 7th April and in fact Jetstar should have updated their policy sooner to allowed you a full cancellation and refund for your flights. If anything, you can still claim the taxes back from the airline for "no show". The taxes are collected by the airline for the relevant authorities but if you do not board the flight, you are entitled to these taxes back (less an admin fee). Hope this helps.....

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Scumbag ed said...

What you pay is what you will get.

Complaints about budget airlines is unproductive. They think it may be too rude to tell you, "hey mate, this is a budget airline for christ sake and not SIA, ok?"

My advice to you is to take flights from a branded airline but one with a reasonable fare such as Cathay Pacific. Service is good, punctuality is perfect and attitude of it's cabin crew excellent. After all, if you take a flight once in a blue moon, it doesn't make sense to do it other than in style.

Anonymous said...

I think you will still take Jetstar again if their price is right. Who cares about service? Who will pay more just because the stewardess smiled more? Human beings in general have pretty short memory of things that are not that important or critical.

Let's be practical here. If Jetstar tickets were cheaper by $50 per head, and you are bringing your family along, I think you will still choose Jetstar. This is normal human behaviour.

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