Short but not necessarily sweet


WHEN Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia got into bed together there was a chorus of disapproval. The public was concerned, and with good reason.

For decades we had been under the monopolistic reign of the one and only airline – MAS, the national carrier. It was able to say to us: “It’s our way (and at our price) or you can take the highway (literally) or the boat.”

We suffered in silence, breaking our piggy banks whenever we had to travel to places where road or river transport was unavailable or impractical.

So, when Tony Fernandes and his band of merry, and highly efficient, men came swooping over the horizon flashing the slogan of ‘Now everyone can fly’, we couldn’t help but shout “Whoopee!”

Offering low cost and impressive efficiency, AirAsia put air travel within the reach of the masses. And we responded en masse. Many people, who till then hardly ever left our shores, suddenly got bitten by the travel bug.

My cousin Irene is a case in point. As a retiree she has to watch her spending carefully. Now she and her gang of fellow travellers scour the net for ‘hot’ deals. In the last few years, she has visited places that up to then she was only able to see on television and in magazines.

Of course there are the usual gripes about lack of legroom and hidden costs. Firstly, not to sound too harsh and meaning no offence to anyone, I would say: “beggars can’t be choosers”. Taking into account all the necessary hidden costs, it still works out cheaper than a conventional airline.

For a few years we were happy. AirAsia provided us the opportunity to travel without us having to tighten our belts unduly. And at times when we felt particularly confident financially, we could treat ourselves to the sweet smiles of the ‘world’s best cabin crew’ and the grandeur of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

So the two protagonists agreed to “you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road” and we the travelling public were happy and everything was hunky dory.

Then came the bombshell. They announced that they were getting engaged in the form of a share swap – MAS would get 10 per cent of AirAsia shares and the latter would acquire 20 per cent of MAS’. The pessimists and the doomsayers were quick to say, “I told you. It was too good to last.”

When it was announced that they were getting into bed together, we were alarmed. None more alarmed than the people in the tourism industry. Many feared that with the two tyrants of the skies being married we would be at their total mercy. Yes, it would be back to the days of “its either our way and at our price or the highway or waterway”.

Still some of us are ever the optimists. We had hoped that the good points of each airline would rub off on the other thereby collectively producing overall good service for all passengers of different budgets.

I was reminded of the reported suggestion by Sarah Bernhardt (1844 to 1923), a most famous stage and film actress of the era, to George Bernard Shaw (1856 to 1950), the Irish playwright, noted for his satirical wit.

“Mr Shaw, you and I should make love,” said the rather bold lady “for with my looks and your brains we would have wonderful children”.

Perhaps that was on the minds of both parties when they decided to hook up. However, after an initial flurry of ‘rationalisation’ to eliminate ‘irrational competitive pricing’, nothing much happened to benefit air travellers. Sabah and Sarawak got the blunt end of this exercise. They cut off the popular Firefly (MAS’ community airline) routes from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur.

As for copying each other’s good points, I am not sure. For one thing, I know MAS can’t emulate AirAsia’s good practice of allowing passengers to check-in online. Wait a minute, I told a lie, one can do web check-in with MAS but only within 48 hours of the flight. I was really irritated recently when I tried to use this MAS facility.

I had to go to Sibu from Kuching. It was just a two-day one-night trip. I dutifully checked in online and found that I was only permitted to check-in for the Kuching-Sibu sector. For the return flight, I had to wait another 24 hours. Grrrr, for a simple thing like that, I had to get online twice. AirAsia allows one to web check-in any time.

Thankfully, the MAS-AirAsia liaison lasted no longer than most Hollywood marriages. It was announced the two airlines are unscrambling their merger.

By the way, the retort by George Bernard Shaw to Sarah Bernhardt was, “Aha! But what if the child were born with my looks and your brain?”

Now, that is a frightening thought. I am glad that we never have to inherit the offspring of the unholy matrimony between the two giants over our skies. Phew!