How a Volcano, AirAsia and Kuala Lumpur Airport staff screwed my Bali Trip

Mount Agung ( Image credits— Skynews )

Me along with my wife had planned a trip to Bali which was scheduled to start on 26th November 2017 from Mumbai. We had been planning about this trip since the last 6 months. Planning included all sorts of things like flights, hotels, activities, cab transfers, currency exchange etc. Since this would have been our first foreign trip, we wanted everything to be perfect and pre-booked so that we do not face any issues in a new country.

So this is how things went

Our flight was from Mumbai to Denpasar ( Bali ) with a 1:25 hrs layover at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So we boarded the flight at 22:50 PM on 26th November and at about 4:00 AM, flight landed at Kuala Lumpur airport, where all passengers were told to disembark the flight as there was some issue, which they did not mention. We thought that we might be transferred to some other flight. But, after some time at the airport terminal we got the news that all flights to and from Bali has been cancelled for that day because of Mount Agung Volcano eruption. All passengers were now stuck at AirAsia’s airport terminal. Thanks to Kuala Lumpur airport’s reliable and fast wifi, we were able to make WhatsApp calls.
When we made a call to AirAsia India’s customer care number for asking about the status of our flight, we got a response that the flight has already left from Kuala Lumpur for Bali whereas we were stuck here at the Kuala Lumpur airport. They did not knew that the flight is cancelled and had no communication with AirAsia Malysia, which is really bad.

Day 1 — Chaos

Now there was a complete chaos at the AirAsia’s transfer counter where all the passengers gathered at the counter and trying to find the status of the next flights to Bali and other possible options. There was only one lady present at this counter, and AirAsia even did not send any extra person to help the people stuck over there with so many questions. This was really bad on the part of AirAsia.

After a lot of discussions among ourselves and with the lady at counter, we were left with 3 options -

  • Wait for the next flight to Bali which was at 7:45 AM the next day. But, it was not sure whether it will be operational.
  • Take any return flight back to India ( if available )
  • Look for some other location in Indonesia. We searched online and found that there is a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Surabaya in evening. And Surabaya is an approx 10–12 hours long journey ( via Road + Ferry ) to Bali

Since at that point of time, we were not sure whether our hotel booking and other activities was refundable or not, so we started planning for the third option. We were not sure how to do we go to Bali from Surabaya or where to stay at night. Still we wanted to go ahead with this option as wanted to reach Bali as soon as possible.

While waiting at the counter in queue, we came to know that all tickets are booked for the Surabaya flight. This was another setback for us. So, now we decided to go with option #1 and hope for the best.

Now, as we were left with the whole day, we went to the Airport staff and asked about transit visa for getting out of the airport and explore Kuala Lumpur for the day. But, they told us that we do not meet the criteria for getting the transit visa, and we have to spend the day at the airport itself.
But, to our surprise we came to know later that there is an e-visa facility through which we can get Malaysian visa. Also, AirAsia guys did not help us with the same and they were also not ready to provide any accommodation for the whole day to any of us.

So, no accommodation, no transit visa and no airport lounge access — They did not help us with anything. For the lounge, they were charging very high and nobody was ready to pay for the same. Ideally, AirAsia should have provided at least lounge access to all of us. The only thing they provided was meal coupons worth 45 Ringgit per head to be used in the Airport’s food court.

AirAsia did not provide accommodation, nor access to Airport lounge.
AirAsia did not help us in getting transit visa so that we could book a stay outside on our own. There was an e-visa facility which we came to know later.
We also did not have access to our check-in luggage, which caused a lot of inconvenience to all of us

So, this day was spent roaming around the AirAsia counter, eating at food court, lying on airport floor and hoping that the next day flight does not get cancelled. We were told that we will come to know about the flight status after midnight.

Day 2–12:00 AM

At sharp midnight, we came back to the AirAsia’s transfer counter for knowing the status which was still not clear to them. One of the staff suggested us not to wait for the Bali flight and get the tickets for back to India as there were very less chances. But, the catch was that AirAsia can issue a new boarding pass only when the flight’s status was showing as cancelled in their system. So, we had to wait till this happens. As of now, we were open for flight to any location in India i.e. Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai or Kochi etc. My preference was Mumbai as it was closer to Pune, but all the Mumbai flights were cancelled the day before, so we were pretty sure that we might not be able to get the Mumbai flight, and will have to settle for some other flight.
At this point, most of us wanted to go back to India as we were really frustrated the whole day.

At 1:00 AM we were told that counters will be closed and standby staff will be there till 4:00 AM who cannot help us. So we just had to wait till 4:00 AM. We did not want to miss a ticket to India at this point, as number of people were more and tickets were limited i.e. about 9–10 tickets on the Hyderabad flight were remaining and 4–5 on the others ones like Chennai and Kochi. Therefore, we decided to stay awake and wait for the counter to open again.

4:00 AM

When the counter opened, all of us assembled over there and immediately asked for the Hyderabad/Chennai/Kochi flight as the Bali’s flight status was now cancelled. But, this time the person at the counter told us that since we have boarded the flight from Mumbai, they cannot send us to any other location and we have to wait for the Mumbai flight which was scheduled at 7:00 PM in evening. Though, it was not clear whether the flight will take off or not, because this flight from Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai is the same one which comes from Bali airport. Since, Bali airport was closed, we were really unsure as to what will happen. Nobody had the strength to wait one more day on the airport.
The lady at the counter assured us that the flight to Mumbai will be operational and asked all of us to submit our passports and the cancelled flight’s boarding pass, which we did.

5:00 AM-4:00 PM

These twelve hours were spent in waiting for the status about the flight to Mumbai with almost no sleep at all. We went to the counter many times, but we were just told that they have started a mail chain with some authorities and waiting for their response.

Shift changed in evening and whole new staff came and no one had any idea about the mail chain and Mumbai flight process which was initiated by previous shift members. After asking about status again, the staff member told us that “Flight is showing cancelled in system and you can not board the flight”. This sentence caused a heated argument between all passengers and staff, as all of us were scared that we might have to suffer for one more day at the terminal.
After waiting for a while, staff told us that “We are waiting for approval from higher management”. Looks like they discussed about flight status with previous shift members. The point is that this whole pointless argument could have been avoided if staff would have been in sync.

AirAsia’s shift handover process is really bad, and the current shift guy does not have any idea about the discussion we had with the previous shift guy causing confusion among passengers

We were told that if they do not get a response from their side before 6:00 PM, we will not be able to fly and they did not have any Plan B for us. This statement created a lot of panic among all of us, as we did not wanted to wait again for the whole night and the next day.

4:30 PM

Now after a lot of discussion, they told us that it is better not to wait for the Mumbai flight and go for some other location as the approval is taking time. We all agreed and lined up for booking. Me and my wife were second in the queue. The couple before us got their tickets for Chennai flight and when our turn came, they told us that they have just now got the approval for the Mumbai flight. This was another twist, but a good one :-)

Finally after waiting for couple of hours more for some official work on their end, the remaining of us got our boarding passes for the Mumbai flight which was going to depart at 8:30 PM. We were feeling very relaxed at this point and then we had some food.

8:30 PM

Now no more twists or surprises! Flight took off, and we landed in Mumbai at 10:30 PM IST

Learnings

We were very disappointed as our trip was spoiled, but there were some key learnings from this whole experience

  • Always do research about the place you are going to visit, and try to search for some local news related to that particular place atleast few days before your trip. 3–4 months back, I had heard that Mount Agung is going to erupt and things will be affected. But, I did not pay much attention as that Volcano is about 40-50 kms from the city/airport and the place we were going to visit. I had never thought that it will affect the Bali airport in such a way that it will be closed for couple of days
  • Always try to book refundable flights and hotel stays, as you never know what will happen. I would like to thank my travel agent TravelToogle and TravelTriangle as they were really supportive to me in this situation and agreed to refund the whole amount (stay, activities and cab transfers) without much hassle.
  • Try avoiding any such Airline provider who do not care about their customers.

If anyone from AirAsia is reading this, the least you could do is issue a full refund for the whole trip for all of us who faced this issue.
As of now, I have been told that I will only get a refund for the Kuala Lumpur to Bali and Bali to Kuala Lumpur journey, which is not fair.