Most airlines, big or small, rarely buy aircraft cash-and-carry. The most common practices are leasing or credit financing. Therefore, the passengers using air transportation services, not the airlines, are paying for these planes.
Sadly, customers do not get proper services commensurate with what they are paying. More often than not, they get poor treatment from the airlines.
Where is the heart of the problem?
Passengers put themselves under the auspices of the airline company from the moment they purchase their tickets. They bind themselves to the terms and conditions set by the airlines: arriving at the airport on time or risk missing the flight, limiting baggage as per allowances, undergoing airport security checks, accepting non-reimbursement for checking in late and many other things.
Customers have a weak bargaining position.
Airlines feel justified imposing those strict terms and conditions. Given the high-tech and high-risk nature of the industry, they have little choice. They need to comply with strict, mandatory safety and security regulations.
The air crews more often than not act as representatives of the company instead of helping customers feel comfortable. One is prompted to ask which “owners” they represent.
The term “passenger” is probably a misnomer for it denotes people who are getting a ride. Airline passengers are actually fare-paying customers, who are the de facto owners of the aircraft, even if for only the duration of the flight.
While the obligations of passengers are clear, the obligations of the airlines are less obvious.
Any breach of contract by the airline, such as a flight delay, is seldom followed by an apology. In many instances, the delays are not even announced. Any compensation they offer is most likely unsatisfactory. Passengers can only grumble. Venting their outrage, as some have done, does not help at all.
Services from airport authorities are not much better, although passengers have to pay an airport tax for the privilege of using the facility.
Letters to newspapers point up the numerous passengers disembarking in Jakarta who complain about the unsanitary restrooms lacking toilet paper and leaking water; about taxi services seemingly run by syndicates, giving the Soekarno-Hatta international airport its present bad reputation; and about the inhuman treatment many Indonesian women workers receive upon returning from overseas.
This is the picture of the air transportation services in this country. The users as the biggest stakeholders are not getting their money’s worth.
In case of accident, either minor or fatal, there is always the issue of compensation to which victims are entitled. Insurance against accidents, which ought to be the airlines’ main focus in offering safety, remains inadequate. Besides the mandatory minimum payment to travel insurer Jasa Raharja, many airline companies have not taken up additional coverage for their passengers. Similarly, airports do not have insurance schemes and, in the event of an accident in their vicinity, no one is covered.
The national air transportation industry may well be concerned with safety and comfort factors, but, by and large, it has yet to live up to the term “public service” in its fullest sense.
If we want to see the national airlines improve, then we should give more attention to the improvement of passenger services. Indirectly, improvements to the safety and comfort of air travel will automatically develop.
Users of air transport services in this country are not getting the services they deserve. “Customer satisfaction” should not be an empty slogan.
The writer is former chair of the National Team for Evaluation of Transportation Safety and Security.