Come on Tony, sweeten the deal

POSTED BY Sri Fitrah Vong ON 20 April 2020


Did you see the video which went viral of Tan Sri Tony Fernandes making roti canai? It ends with a close-up of a really good looking Kerala-style spicy chicken curry.

We want to mention this because it was preceded about a week earlier by his social media appeal that AirAsia customers take a credit note for flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic rather than ask for cash refunds.

His argued that this would help AirAsia sustain itself and its employees through this period.

Many Malaysians were torn apart by this plea: on the one hand we appreciated AirAsia and the low-cost flights that allowed us to enjoy the rich cultures of China, India, Southeast Asia — all within five hours and low, low costs.

On the other hand, we observed how the many billionaires in the world were using their personal fortunes to help their own companies and employees rather than asking for the sort of crowd funding that Fernandez seeks.

According to a Forbes report, Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson has moved to protect the futures of his 70,000 employees in Virgin Atlantic — the icon of low-cost carriers in Europe — after announcing a USD$250 million rescue package for them.

Branson went on-line to state that the money is to “save jobs” and the $250 million “is likely just the start” and describing the pandemic as, “the most significant crisis the world has experienced in my lifetime.”

But we must understand that Branson entered philantrophic mode only after a week of criticism.

He will fund the survival package for his employees from his personal cash pile of UDS$690 million to foot the bill. A spokesperson for Branson confirmed that the USD$250 million would come from “Richard and Virgin group” and would not be paid by Virgin Atlantic.

We trust that Fernandes will take a lesson from Branson and use his own money as a start to support his AirAsia All Stars team.

When it comes to the sort of crowd funding that he’s requesting, as a passenger who’s enjoyed AirAsia’s low cost tickets to exotic destinations, I would accept Ferenandes request for two reasons: personal appreciation for AirAsia’s low-cost fares and to reciprocate in this pandemic. Secondly and even more importantly, the refunds process is likely going to be very tedious.

I would like it better if the credit notes can be used for flights on other sectors and can be used for the next three years with an interest of 6 per cent a year or an equivalent in BIG points, AirAsia’s loyalty programme.

(Declaration: the MCO has forced me to cancel AirAsia flights for Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur; Kuala Lumpur – Kota Kinabalu – Kuala Lumpur) 

It was reported by The Edge that Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun received cash dividends of RM210 million for 2017 and RM688 million for FY18, and a special dividend of RM967.5 million during the first quarter of 2019.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV earlier, Fernandes said that AirAsia would probably have enough cash for the most part of the year and that if sales return, “then we’re OK”. 

“We don’t need a bailout. Obviously, many airlines are looking at loans …  But it’d be great to get a loan as well and we are working on that with the Government,” he said as reported in The Edge.

So we have in Fernandez and Kamarudin a pair of Malaysian tycoons who collected in excess of RM1.8 billion cash in AirAsia dividends over the last two years. Shouldn’t they use some of their cash first before they ask customers for alms or taxpayer guaranteed loans?