Friday, May 31, 2013

How Not to Run an Airline

How Not to Run an Airline

Miss Salaya, the Grand Inquisitor of Air Asia

I would like to share with my friends a wild and hideous experience I had last week travelling on Air Asia to Hong Kong with my nephew Top, one of Thailand's outstanding young violinists.

I had paid extra money for the privilege of sitting in the front row of the plane, close to the lavatory and with the advantage of being able to be the first off the plane.  At the beginning of the flight, we enjoyed the privilege greatly; I used the loo a few times, Top did so once, we had a meal, and we both fell asleep; it looked like it would be a pleasant flight.

About 40 minutes from arrival, I was awakened by a conversation; the stewardess was interrogating Top.  She was accusing him of stealing the life jacket from underneath his seat and inflating it in the lavatory.  And she was doing so in a manner which suggested that he had murdered someone.

Top had done no such thing, of course, and dozens of people had gone to the lavatory since we had done so near the beginning of the flight.

I said to her, "I watched him go to the toilet.  To remove the live vest, you would have to get up, reach under the seat, and actually physically take it out.  This is not an act that I would fail to notice.  He did not do so."

She said, "But you are travelling with him, and therefore you are lying."

I asked Miss Salaya (I noted the name) whether the life vest was in fact now missing from under his seat.  She said it was the only one missing.  I asked how she knew.  (She had not looked under his seat, or any other seat.)  She said she just knew.  I asked whether the live vests had been properly tallied before takeoff.  She said they had been.  I said, "Do you have a checklist with everything properly checked off?"  She spluttered and fumed.  I said, "Have you questioned the dozens of people who used the toilet after Top, to determine why none of them saw an inflated life vest in the toilet, which must have filled up the space and made it impossible to use the facilities?"  She spluttered and raged some more, and kept insisting that we were lying.  I asked her whether her aggressive and inquisitorial manner might not be an attempt to cover up for the airline's own negligence in not properly checking every item before takeoff.  She insisted that all the evidence pointed to Top as the culprit, and that I simply lying, and that my point of view didn't fit the facts — however, she did not furnish any facts to contradict my point of view.

The stewardess's behaviour went far beyond an attempt to find out what had happened.  It was an attempt to bully me and Top into perjuring ourselves — presumably because if Top did not "confess", the only alternative truth would have been that the airline had not performed its pre-flight check thoroughly enough.  Which is a far more credible possibility than the theory the stewardess was trying to ram down our throats - without even bothering to look under Top's seat, or anyone else's seat, or question anyone else, and merely because Top, a seasoned air traveller with thousands upon thousands of air miles under his belt, looked young and therefore was clearly some kind of juvenile delinquent.  Her posturing and bullying were reminiscent of a bad TV courtroom drama, and had nothing to do whatsoever with establishing any facts.

Indeed, during the entire period of the stewardess's questioning, she was insisting that the life vest under Top's seat was missing, so since we were flying over water this entire time, according to her statement the airline must have been criminally liable for that entire period should any accident have occurred.  However, Miss Salaya, the stewardess, did not consider the idea of looking under the seat, checking whether their system had misregistered, or any other answer other than an assumption of Top's guilt.

After some twenty minutes of this grilling, the stewardess returned to her seat because the plane had to land.  As soon as it landed, she announced that no one was to leave the plane.

Six policemen then boarded the plane and the stewardess spoke energetically to them and pointed furiously to us.  The policemen began barking viciously in Cantonese.  I said, "I haven't a clue what you're talking about — please find an interpreter."

Salaya denouncing the passengers to the authorities.

Eventually a more senior police officer who spoke English showed him.  Once I explained the situation to him, he began to realize the absurdity of it all.  The stewardess was still standing around being accusatory, but the officer could see that they had absolutely no evidence to prove that Top was some kind of criminal.

Unfortunately, they had released all the other passengers so there was in fact no way the truth could now be arrived at, and they never performed a check on any seats to see whether any other life jackets were missing.  Since we were seated in the front row, the stewardess had simply seized on the most convenient suspects before launching into her Torquemada-like rant.

"Your uncle!!! Why??"

We were detained for some forty minutes despite the fact that I paid extra to be the first to leave the plane.  In the end the police officer said, "Of course we cannot rule out the possibility that Top did this, but I don't know them and I don't know you, and there is simply no evidence."  He then let us go.

Well, yes.  I told her so in the first place.

As we left, Top took the stewardess's photo in an attempt to have a record of the situation as we will of course complain to Mr. Bijleveld, the CEO of the company, whose daughter is Top's school friend.  She flew into a rage at that point, leading me to suspect that it was beginning to dawn on her that the airline might indeed have been negligent in the first place and that she might actually get into trouble.   Oh yes, we informed Salaya that we could get to her boss very easily.  In the last 30 seconds of our sojourn with Air Asia, Salaya suddenly became very sweet and told us how we must understand that she was only doing her duty, etc. etc.

Her duty, presumably, must have included ensuring that each seat was equipped with a life vest at all times.

It must also have included being courteous to passengers, especially those who paid a premium in order to receive special services.

It must have also included properly performing cabin checks before takeoff.

Salaya's bad hair day was a disaster for her that far exceeded the inconvenience and annoyance that it caused two of her passengers.  Her actions will undoubtedly cost her a severe reprimand if not her job, and may cause the airline to be subjected to legal action if we are feeling in a vindictive mood.

It's been a few days now and it's become more of an entertaining story than a nightmare for us, but perhaps the nightmare is only beginning for Miss Salaya....


  1. The madness of our modern world... Why didn't you just reach under his seat, pull out the life vest and show it to the police?

  2. Dave - Ms Salaya insisted that it wasn't there. To my knowledge, no one actually looked. When she first started, she was still getting the benefit of the doubt ....

  3. Somtow...I knew you were a criminal the day I met you! Training your nephew to pick pocket an airline. Daring! Only noted crime of this kind but don't tell this story in jail.

    I'm traveling Air Asia soon. I'm going to tell them my life jacket is missing and to look for it during one of your Mahler performances.

    Loved this story :-)