June 30, 2012
The MAS Story: Malaysian Hospitality or Malaysian Humbug
by Mariam Mokhtar (received via e-mail)
In MAS, MH stands for Malaysian hospitality which many of us know is highly overrated; MH might as well stand for Malaysian humbug. Or Malaysian hanky-panky.
A once proud airline is now a shadow of its former self. It is run by the corrupt and the incompetent – all puppets of the government. If the MACC were a responsible outfit, MAS would not be in the position it is today and many MAS senior managers, and government ministers, past and present would be languishing in jail.
The new MAS-AirAsia merger is shrouded in secrecy. Tony Fernandes is just a public front and assumes the rôle of pilot in this move.Someone else has charted the route for him. Who is that person?
One thing is certain. There is talk about solving the operational issues in MAS. Will Tony be able to alter an UMNO-BN culture that has been allowed to corrupt all levels of the airline’s hierarchy? This UMNO-BN culture is mired in controversy. MAS, like other GLCs, is haemorrhaging money. Attempts to stem this outflow have been unsuccessful.
Would any CEO of MAS be as daring as Peter Hill, the British CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, who stood up against the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007?
President Rajapaksa, together with his family and several officials, was in the United Kingdom to witness the passing out parade of Rajapaksa’s son from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. When Rajapaksa demanded that 35 seats be reserved for his entourage to return to Colombo, Hill refused to bump passengers off the flight from London. Hill may have been the passengers’ hero but his work permit was rescinded.
Unfortunately, the work culture that exists in MAS is symptomatic of our government’s performance. Some dishonest MAS staff allegedly “steal” from the airline.
Perhaps they are taking their cue from the government officials or from previous chairmen. Perhaps they see this as part of their perks and benefits.
Cost cutting has reduced many allowances which they once enjoyed.One stewardess who declined to be named, said that she had lost track of all the items she took from the plane and according to her, “everyone did it”. In an attempt to justify her actions, she blurted, “What about the millions the chairmen have ‘stolen’?” She is wrong. It is billions. Not millions.
How many politicians and their spouses have used their influence to obtain free flights or bullied airline staff for upgrades for themselves, their officials, friends or relatives? How many times have we heard of a spouse of a leading politician wasting taxpayers’ money on transporting her shopping via MAS and MAS Air Cargo?
How many genuine passengers have been victims of alleged over-booking by MAS when it is well known that government officials were offered preferential seats over normal fare-paying passengers?
It is also well known that MAS practices two sets of rules: one for Malaysians and another for westerners. One Malaysian mother and child were bumped off one flight to the UK. Under EU rules, cancellation of the flight meant they were due compensation. Only her teenage son was offered compensation because he had an English name. The mother was refused compensation despite pointing out the discrepancy to the senior managers in London.
In one European airport, it is alleged that some members of staff have protected their long-term positions by fraternizing with senior politicians and VVIPs. In most companies, employees would not be allowed to remain in one posting indefinitely, but not, apparently, in this location.
Another person alleges that it is common knowledge that a member of staff would use influence to perform “dodgy” upgrades for friends or people of influence and later be rewarded with “gifts”. Others allege, too, that this person removes items from the aircraft on a regular basis. Cheese, toilet rolls, toiletry bags, duvets and blankets from First and Business Class may not be classed as the crime of the century, but it is theft all the same.
The modus operandi appears to be to wait till the flight and cabin crew, have left the aircraft. The security staff must be complicit in these thefts. Could there be hanky-panky with food and fine wines from the Golden lounge?
One wonders why work colleagues have remained silent about the alleged petty theft. Are the senior station managers in these postings incompetent or in collusion? Perhaps theses managers don’t want to deal with the problem.
Co-workers are probably afraid of whistleblowing because they fear they will be known as troublemakers. They wonder, “Can the system be trusted or will they will be identified and crucified?” Like the Malaysian public and corrupt politicians, employees are reluctant to report irregularities because they do not see much hope of redress.
Perhaps the worst sort sycophancy is the one which is ignored by all because it involves VVIPs. In one European airport, it is alleged by many that some MAS employees turn up, even when they are not officially on duty, to attend to the VVIPs. This is no charitable act or selfless dedication to duty. The rewards are high. Cash and expensive, small personal electrical items are the norm but the most prized of all is a title.
When even the bodyguards of the VVIPs proudly display their designer labels, which lowly worker can fail to be impressed?Which junior employee would refuse a title in exchange for making sure personal baggage and the truckloads of luxury goods are safely loaded onto the plane? Who dares ensure that the customs at KLIA will tax these items?
It wouldn’t take a genius to trace the titles that are dished out to MAS employees at some of the overseas airports which are frequented by VVIPs. And it would surprise no-one that even those in menial positions in the airline, can acquire Datukships.
The equilibrium at work must be disturbed as it is alleged that those conferred titles are known to be generally work-shy, are late for work, despite occasionally reporting for extra duty for VVIPs.
It is baffling that these employees are allowed, allegedly, to have a stake, either directly or indirectly, in companies which provide airline services which are in conflict with MAS cargo services.
Will Tony address the staff, who only attend to VVIPs and celebrities who give them benefit in kind? This is a form of bribery and theft from the airline, reminiscent of UMNO political tactics.
Will he put pressure on those in charge of complaints? VIPs get their complaints seen to promptly. Others may take months. The truly unlucky customers have theirs swept under the carpet by lazy station managers.
So what else is going on? Tony should whip the corrupt and inefficient MAS work-culture back into shape and the MACC should investigate these irregularities. Then again, pigs might fly.
The MAS-AirAsia deal has been aborted. Agitated Tony Fernandes has decided to relocate the airline’s regional hub to Jakarta, Indonesia. But the problems of MAS remain. This is because the MAS culture is rotten to the core, and it is also trite to say that the culture has to change. Mana Ada Sistem is the reputation MAS enjoys.
We need a Peter Hill, or Jan Carlzon who changed SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) in MAS so that real transformation can take place. If the MAS Union is an obstacle to change fix it.
To operate an airline profitably every seat must generate revenue and every flight is making money. That is basic in management. It is, therefore, the duty of the sales people in our national airline to do their job. And they are not.
Have you tried booking a flight to London? It is always full. But when you are finally given a seat and board the aircraft, you will find there are still plenty of seats available. The problem of overbooking must be solved and ticketing agents should be penalised for blocking more seats than they can sell . You can deal firmly with erring ticketing agents, if they are your cronies, friends or relatives.
I myself cannot understand why certain number of Business class seats on domestic routes, for example, must be reserved for Royalty and Politicians. Can’t these VVIPs plan their trips? What are the private and political secretaries doing if they do not know the travel schedules of their bosses. It is that simple, yet it is not done.
There is no such a thing as a free lunch. MAS has to bear the burden of serving privileged customers. Furthermore, first and business class passengers must be treated in the same manner, irrespective of their social class or political office. No double standards, please. Will MAS top management answer me?–Din Merican