KUCHING: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) group managing director Peter Bellew has apologised to its disabled passenger Peter Tan for not accommodating his special requests and misplacing his customised wheelchair, among other things.
In recognising that the treatment accorded to Tan during his journey on MH784 on Feb 1 from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok as “terrible”, Bellew acknowledged that Tan in his booking had notified MAS that he has a disability and needed a simple ‘meet and greet assistance’.
“Unfortunately, before you arrived at check-in we did not know you needed a cabin wheel chair or special assistance which has a code of WCHC. Honestly, the global airline process is poor. For our future customers we need to find a new and better way,” Bellew, who is also MAS chief executive officer, said in a letter to Tan dated yesterday.
Bellew made the response following Tan’s open letter to the chief executive officer of MAS that appeared in thesundaypost on Sunday, where he wrote of how he was not able to board the flight until all passengers had boarded as the request for an aisle chair to get into the aircraft was not heeded.
Things got worse after the flight landed at the Suvarnabumi Airport in Bangkok, when he was made to wait for more than an hour inside the aircraft before he could disembark. An aisle chair was unavailable and his wheelchair was sent to the carousel despite it sporting two tags, indicating for it to be delivered to the aircraft.
The use of the regular wheelchair from the arrival gate all the way through immigration and the baggage carousel caused Tan to suffer from a severe backache because his posture was not properly supported.
Bellew also acknowledged that on arrival at Bangkok the baggage agents did not read the tag on Tan’s wheelchair correctly and with a stupid error sent it direct to the baggage carousel.
“Our Malaysia Airlines cabin crew did go to some lengths to retrieve the wheelchair but it was some distance away in the terminal. Our crew are very upset at your treatment.”
Bellew noted that modern jet aircraft are still very poorly designed to accommodate disabled customers and he will now personally review the safety of “how we speed these exits from our aircraft”.
“I can say sorry all day but I don’t believe that helps you. A more constructive approach, I think, would be to meet with you in person and members of national organisations that represent people with mobility challenges.
“There has to be a better way to help you. If you will grant me the time I will arrange to meet you at your home or organise to meet you in Kuala Lumpur.”
He said Tan’s complaint had raised a much broader question as to ‘How can Malaysia Airlines survive in the modern airline industry’.
“Our only hope is to offer extraordinarily good customer service. We simply must be the most customer friendly airline in Asia. That will be difficult but it can be done.”
This year, Bellew said, MAS is starting to switch mindset from pure survival to making the airline the pride of the nation again, adding that will be a road with many twists but the airline company has made great progress on their journey.
“We are adopting right now a Golden Rule. Kampung boys from Ireland to Malaysia were taught this by their mothers.
It’s in the Koran, Bible and every religious text in the world. Simple. Treat other people as you wish to be treated yourself.”
Bellew promised Tan that he will work hard to get that Golden Rule in operation throughout Malaysia Airlines.
“We have wonderful staff. But they are tied down with red tape that currently prevents them from treating customers as they would wish to be treated themselves.”
Additionally, he said pledging to obey the Golden Rule will also change the way MAS staff treat their own colleagues, all customers and the environment.
“Thank you again for your letter and I sincerely regret what happened. Hopefully we can work together to use the Golden Rule to create a new
and better way for our disabled customers to see that the journey itself is the reward.”
Peter Tan is a regular columnist with The Borneo Post.
He sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 18 when he dived into a swimming pool in 1984. He has been using a wheelchair since.
Faced with physical and attitudinal barriers wherever he went, he became an advocate for an accessible and inclusive Malaysia.