Should ‘Captain Loke’ resign if he fails to handle airline refunds?

VETERAN journalist P. Gunasegaram has come out with a radical idea that re-appointed Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook should step down from his post if he “shows no inclination to keep his distance from AirAsia” and even went the extent of launching the budget airline’s cheap flight marketing campaign for the Chinese New Year holidays.

“Moreover, when quizzed about refunds of airfares for flights cancelled by airlines (during the event), a question which involves both AirAsia and its sister company AirAsia X to the tune of at least RM1.4 bil, he deftly sidestepped the question,” lamented the former editor of online and print news publications in his Malaysiakini column.

“He can spend several hours at the launch of a marketing effort by AirAsia but he has no time to take complaints involving as much as RM3 bil (include estimated refunds owing by all airlines) and ensure that MAVCOM (Malaysia Aviation Commission) deals with them carefully?”

Given that MAVCOM has not responded adequately to a litany of previous complaints, Gunasegaram reckoned that Loke should be aware of this. “All it takes is a call to MAVCOM, a regulatory agency that comes under his ministry. But no, the ministry is not a complaints bureau. How crass!”

Highlighting that four airlines in Malaysia contribute to this problem – AirAsia, AirAsiaX, Malaysia Airlines and Batik Air (previously Malindo) – he claimed that the carriers had used customers’ money to finance their operations even when they did not perform the contracted services by cancelling flights.

“For hundreds of thousands of passengers, this went on for years, leading to loss of use of substantial amounts of money saved for holidays which never materialised and forcing them to pay much higher prices for future flights,” Gunasegaram pointed out.

“Commentators have expressed opinions that such practices are against the law but successive governments have done nothing about it. Loke did nothing when he was transport minister for 22 months (during the short-lived Pakatan Harapan administration) and he is doing nothing now.”

Mixed views from netizens

Interestingly, Gunasegaram’s argument drew mixed reaction from readers/subscribers of Malaysiakini with majority of the credible comments slanting to Loke’s favour.

While agreeing that it was a misstep by Loke to be appear overly close to AirAsia, RedHero opined that asking him the Seremban MP to resign over this matter “is a foolish and an emotional response by Gunasegaram” while IndigoRaven0966 reckoned that “even any new employee needs six months’ of probation for this is not instant noodle recipes”.

Likewise. Jaded and Lionking are also of the view that Loke inherited the problem from his predecessor, hence “to dedicate a whole article asking him to resign because of this issue is extreme” or even “being unreasonable and bordering on stupidity”.

Daeng Lajib felt that consumers should take a class action against the airline company instead of pressuring the minister but Picture thought that while it was a bad move for Loke to have graced AirAsia’s sales launch, there is a need to be fair to Loke.

“The airlines can only give you credit and not refund. The alternative is bankruptcy and all get nothing,” he pointed out.

While Jazz praised Gunasegaram for having the courage to speak his mind, “this is an ‘over-expectation’ article and I think Guna needs to apologise to a minister who is already doing a fairly good job!”

Knucklehead seconded Jazz by saying that “nobody is supporting the minster blindly but 33 days and you want the world from him?” – Jan 5, 2023

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