AirAsia brand hits turbulence

A week ago, AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman-Rani announced to much fanfare, a new service between Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.

Soon after, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, (ACCC) an Australian consumer watchdog announced that it has launched a court action against AirAsia, alleging the company is misleading consumers in its advertisements for flights out of Australia.

This follows negative press after AirAsia X recently announced it was ceasing flights to London, Paris, Mumbai and New Delhi and criticism by Neil Warnock, the former manager of Queens Park Rangers football club, owned by AirAsia chairman Tony Fernandes after he was sacked.

Although the company acted quickly and decisively with offers of refunds or alternative travel at no extra cost for passengers who hold tickets for future flights to Europe and India, in terms of customer loyalty, these latest developments won’t do the brand any favours.

Especially as the airline is also copping plenty of flak for it’s opaque charging and poor engagement skills on social media, as seen by this image taken from a disgruntled customer on Facebook.

The former AirAsia fan says the image was taken down after 10 minutes when he posted it on the company Facebook page and he has since been barred from posting anything on the AirAsia Facebook page!

Hidden or extra fees add almost 100% to cost of Kuala Lumpur to London ticket on AirAsia

According to the ACCC, AirAsia’s website did not include all taxes, duties, fees and other mandatory charges when advertising fares on certain routes from the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Perth. In Australia if a company wishes to advertise part of a price, it must also advertise one total price for the product or service.

Brands are defined by the economic, experiential and emotional value they deliver to customers. Fail on any of these counts and your brand will struggle. The disgruntled Facebook customer and customers like those in this article have undone a lot of the work AirAsia has done to build a people friendly brand.

As Low cost carrier brands grow, charging extra for food and entertainment may be acceptable on short or medium haul routes but many consumers see it as unfair on long haul routes so strategic changes need to be made if they really do want to build brands.

Building a brand in the consumer economy is more than the CEO and Chairman tweeting all day. It requires a strategic plan with processes to deal with reputation issues and a willingness to engage with consumers who raise positive AND negative issues on and off line.

The reality is that AirAsia probably had little choice in cutting unprofitable routes to India and Europe.

But what it should have done was have a strategy in place to announce the changes and a plan to communicate with existing ticket holders to inform them and work with them to solve their personal issues in as seamless manner as possible.

A Facebook page with direct access to a community director and suggestions for alternative routes or airlines and how to go about booking flights would have been a tactical initiative to show the airline cared.

Such an effort may be a relatively time consuming and expensive initiative but in the social economy, one that is imperative and one that will pay retention dividends.