Archive for August, 2011

Black Ocean Strategy: the continuing saga of Air Asia

August.17. 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard of the blue ocean strategy. Well, there’s another strategy and it’s called the black ocean strategy.

I was unaware of this strategy until just a month ago, when I was trying to book a ticket on Air Asia.

Air Asia is of course, Malaysia’s success story, the largest budget airline in Asia and continuing to expand even as I write, which should fill me with pride as a one-time Malaysian but no, all I feel is a sense of dread about this juggernaut.

I’d flown Air Asia a few times prior to this summer, but had been avoiding it recently as getting on the plane had always felt a bit like trying to get into a crowded bus.

This summer, I decided to give it one more try and went about trying to book a flight on the airline.

All went well in the booking process. I got a good fare, although after all the fees were added in, it wasn’t all that great.

At the final stage of booking, for some reason, my credit card was declined.

I tried again and again the same result. So I gave up and went ahead and booked another flight on MAS. No problem. My credit card was processed smoothly.

I almost forgot the whole thing until a few days before I was due to travel, I received an email from Air Asia with the subject:

“Flying soon? Get discounts on services you’ll need.”

And in the email:

Dear Philip,
We look forward to welcoming you onboard soon and hope you will have an exciting journey with us.

Just enter your booking number (R***A) at Manage my booking to choose any of our fabulous add-ons today!

I almost did a double take on reading this. So I decided to contact Air Asia to let them know that I never booked any flight with them because my credit card was declined.

And this is where I met with Air Asia’s black ocean.

There was no email to be found on the Air Asia website, not even a form to send in comments.

They did offer a customer service number called Premium Line which cost RM1.95 a minute, but no other number to call. After much searching, I found an email address for the Premium Line service.

So I decided to send an email there and I got this reply:

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for emailing AirAsia.

Please note that this plfeedback@airasia.comemail address is intended for feedback on our Premium Line only. If your email is pertaining to our Premium Line, please note that your email will be responded to accordingly.

For all other enquiries, we recommend the following options:

(i) Ask AirAsia – get your answers immediately at

Now, if you have a couple of hours to spare, I recommend you go to that address. I guarantee you will have endless fun trying to communicate with cute Lil’ Miss Red. The page is like a merry-go-round. You keep on ending up on the same page, no matter which link you click.

In desperation, I decided to google Air Asia’s customer email address and found three addresses. Here’re the responses to my email to these addresses

The first one: Failure Notice
The second one: Email account no longer valid
The third one: Failure Notice

Now I was literally pulling my hair out. It was then that I remembered my sister had flown Air Asia before so I called her and she gave me a phone number to call in Kuala Lumpur. I tried dialing the number for a few hours (I kid you not), and never got more than a busy signal.

So I’m left to conclude that Air Asia has hit on a brilliant business plan.

Which is to treat all its customers like idiots and easy pickings for their new racket. It’s a stroke of genius.

First, create a buggy website, and accept all kinds of bookings and decline them for no reason.

Then get worried customers to shell out RM1.95 (US$0.66) per minute just to talk to a customer rep to try to clear up the matter.

And impose a total blackout on everything else, in other words, a Black Ocean Strategy.

This contrasts sharply with my experience with another airline this past summer, a total opposite, which I will write about in my next post.

I’m no prophet, but a business organization that is so inaccessible, you have to google its email addresses does not seem to bode well for it. Which is a shame, because it used to be a great legitimate business a few years ago, even with its crazy bus-like atmosphere.

Well, two days before my supposed flight with them, I got this email again:

“Your AirAsia booking has been confirmed.”

This time, I refused to take the bait and just filed it into my spam folder.