Moja Nurkalam can still vividly recall the day in February last year when she was forced to give up her trip to Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, on account of flight mayhem involving Lion Air, the country’s largest low-cost carrier.
Along with thousands of Lion Air customers, the 32-year-old Jakarta resident had been stranded at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport from Feb. 18 to 20 as the carrier failed to provide on-time aircraft.
Amid passengers’ protests, the airline announced a series of flight cancellations. The situation became heated when the airline failed to immediately refund the passengers’ tickets, resulting in a mob vandalizing facilities in the country’s biggest airport.
Despite her bad experience, Moja said she had recently flown with Lion Air from Makassar, South Sulawesi, to Jakarta, amid a two-hour delay. Undeterred, she has also bought a ticket to fly with the same airline from Jakarta to Ternate, Maluku Islands, in July, for a diving adventure.
“I don’t have any other choice as Lion is the only airline with routes that reach many small cities in Indonesia,” she said.
Owned by businessman-cum-politician Rusdi Kirana, who serves as a member of the Presidential Advisory Board ( Wantimpres ), the airline operates 2,142 weekly flights serving 93 routes, allowing it to reach almost every corner of the archipelagic country.
Despite its wide network, the airline has regularly come under public scrutiny on account of widespread flight delays and other controversies.
On May 10, alleged internal mismanagement resulted in its bus driver transferring arriving passengers from an international flight to a domestic terminal at Soekarno-Hatta.
The Transportation Ministry quickly reacted to the incident by announcing that it would freeze Lion Air’s ground-handling permit at Soekarno-Hatta this week and prohibit the airline from opening new routes. The ministry’s spokesperson, Hemi Pamuraharjo, however, said on Tuesday that it had canceled the permit revocation, citing the results of its investigation into the terminal transfer incident.
In a separate move in response to the sanctions, the airline filed last week a request with the ministry to suspend its 217 weekly domestic flights and 10 weekly international flights until June 18, to anticipate low demand in the Ramadhan fasting month.
The move, combined with Lion’s tight grip on the market, incited worry among customer rights groups and the Business Competition Supervisory Commission ( KPPU ), which called on the government to supervise the airline in fear of the impact on passengers.
The KPPU said in a statement that it would launch an investigation into Lion if the airline was found to have stopped the flights on the routes without clear intention, as the “dominating market player should not abuse its position”.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Consumers Foundation ( YLKI ) chairman Tulus Abadi called on the government to monitor how the airline handled the passengers that had purchased tickets between the flight frequency suspensions.
“The ministry should ensure that there would not be a massive violation of consumers’ rights,” he said.
Tulus also said that the ministry should be brave enough to revoke permits for some of the company’s routes and weekly flights if it was found to have provided bad service and inadequate quality and quantity of its human resources.
In a recent interview with The Jakarta Post, Lion Air general affairs director Edward Sirait advised the government against clipping the airline’s operations, arguing that punitive measures could hurt the country’s investment climate.
“I am not saying that we should not be punished. People responsible for wrongdoing must be punished, but it should be done based on proper mechanisms and investigations,” he said.
Source: Farida Susanty | the Jakarta Post | 25 May 2016