AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes at Sydney press conference this week

As someone who admired and respected Tony Fernandes for what he achieved with the AirAsia, and the separate AirAsia X franchises, I am disgusted by claims by the latter that refunds to its displaced customers  have been adversely affected by the 162 people killed in the crash of a jet flown by the former.

It is complete and utter bullshit. The revenue management systems of airlines are not affected by their having a disaster, in this case the unexplained crash of an Indonesia Air Asia A320 into the Java Sea on 28 December.

For Tony Fernandes to tolerate or approve such a statement is beyond belief.

This story including the offensive quotation appears on the ABC website here.  The entire story reflects disgracefully on AirAsia X’s holding onto to customer monies for as much as three months after it cancelled its Adelaide-KL flights.

There is also an issue with the cancellation of its Indonesia Air Asia Extra flights to Denpasar, doing significant monetary damage to another large group of customers.

But to associate those inexcusable delays to the crash of flight QZ8501 between Surabaya and Singapore is an act of callousness that is without any excuse.

This is the offending part of the story, which in various forms, has been widely published.

An AirAsia X spokesperson said payment delays had been experienced due to the airlines refund system brought about by “rapid growth and volume due to recent route cancellations exacerbated by [crashed flight] QZ8501

What is Tony Fernandes thinking? Does he think we are all fools.

Here’s a challenge to AirAsia and Mr Fernandes. Apologise profusely to the relatives of the victims of QZ8501 for misusing their loss as an excuse for not paying monies owing in a reasonable time to customers of a different airline in Australia.

And pay everyone by Monday or Tuesday. It isn’t rocket science to be able to collect money in a nanosecond in an online transaction, and not be able to reverse the payment in a matter of hours if not days.

In case readers have problem locating the ABC story over time, the text is copied below, and the grievously offensive section is highlighted in bold typeface.

Adelaide travellers left high and dry when AirAsia X cancelled all its South Australian flights in January are still chasing refunds more than three months later.

The Malaysian-based budget airline cited a lack of profits for pulling out of the Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur route barely one year after commencing.

It made the announcement in December, promising pre-booked passengers either a timely refund within 14 days, credit for another flight, or the chance to be rerouted from Melbourne or Perth, provided the passenger made their way interstate at their own expense.

Three months later and the airline’s Facebook page and a number of online forums have been littered with comments from irate people fed-up with ongoing “excuses” for failing to refund passengers.

Karl Moore from Mylor said he was promised a refund within 14 business days but none was forthcoming, leaving him out of pocket for his overseas holiday, which he needed to rebook with another airline.

After ringing the airline, he was promised the money within 30 business days, but “once again, no refund”.

“After about 50 business days I really started to contact them more and more frequently and I just got the same response, ‘we’ve escalated your request and will have the money to you’,” Mr Moore said.

“They even went so far about three weeks ago to tell me that the money had actually been transferred, and it should appear in my bank in the next few days.

“That didn’t happen either, and when I contacted my bank, they said, ‘no, we’ve had no payment from AirAsia X’.”

Mr Moore said he then contacted the airline again to find out what happened.

“They said, ‘oh, we’ve escalated your request’,” he said.

“I said, ‘I thought it had been refunded?’, so their story was changing.”

Mr Moore said he went online and saw ‘hundreds of comments’ on AirAsia X’s Facebook pages and realised he was not alone. He has now started a new Facebook page dedicated to AirAsia X refund delays.

A litany of excuses over $2,364

Jodie McDonnell from Aberfoyle Park said she purchased tickets for a party of four on August 25. After hearing in December that the airline had retracted business operations from Adelaide, she contacted AirAsia X and requested a refund.

Like Mr Moore, her party were left out of pocket for the holiday as they had to purchase tickets with another airline.

Ms McDonnell said they received an email saying the amount of $2,364 would be refunded within 30 business days from January 2.

“That expired on February 12 so I contacted them again, and they said they had made a mistake and it was, in fact, 30 business days from February 6.

“But they won’t confirm that in writing for me. They don’t send anything by email and they’ve never contacted me. I contact them.”

Ms McDonnell said her travel insurance did not cover passenger who were booked on flights that have been cancelled by the airline and that based on everyone else’s story, she was not expecting the money any time soon.

In a statement to the ABC, an AirAsia X spokesperson said payment delays had been experienced due to the airlines refund system brought about by “rapid growth and volume due to recent route cancellations exacerbated by [crashed flight] QZ8501“.

Once the migration is complete on March 16, all pending and backlog refunds will be processed within two months and handed over to respective payment channels.

AirAsia spokeperson

He said the refund process was being “migrated to a new centralised platform, which should help us process outstanding refunds in a timelier manner and refunds moving forward”.

“Once the migration is complete on March 16, all pending and backlog refunds will be processed within two months and handed over to respective payment channels – banks and credit card issuers,” the spokeperson said.

He said AirAsia X would issue $50 gift vouchers online to all guests once their refunds were processed as a “token of our appreciation for continued patience”.

Ms McDonnell said it had been three months, which was not an acceptable time for any business.

“If I withdrew my business owing money, then the Australian Taxation Office would be on me in seconds and would want me to be held responsible,” she said.

“AirAsia is not being held responsible and they’re basically getting away with stealing peoples’ money.”

Mr Moore said he had been in contact with the Department for Foreign Affairs, which, after contacting AirAsia X, had secured a promise from the airline that everyone affected by the route cancellation would be contacted within the week.

“That didn’t happen either,” he said.

The Attorney-General’s Department said since June 2014, the state’s consumer watchdog, Consumer and Business Services (CBS), had received 38 complaints regarding AirAsia, including six in the past week.

Of those disputes, 21 had been resolved successfully through conciliation and the CBS was continuing to work with customers to resolve the outstanding issues.

The ACCC has also been contacted for comment.

Victorians faced ‘misleading conduct’

Earlier this year, hundreds of Kuala Lumpur passengers from Victoria were left chasing refunds after the carrier sold tickets for a direct flight between Melbourne and Bali late last year without having permission to fly the route.

The flight instead had to be rerouted through Kuala Lumpur, adding an extra 14 hours to what was going to be a five-and-a-half hour trip, as well as accommodation costs.

A spokesperson for consumer group Choice described it as “misleading conduct”.

The company denied it had misled customers and said it was permissible for airlines to advertise and sell tickets subject to gaining regulatory approvals on a route.