Malaysian hospitality winning hearts and minds amidst volcanic ashes


The situation: there are 16,000 stranded passengers on the waiting list for flights to and from Europe, which may take up to mid-May to clear.

What does airport operator Malaysia Airports do with passengers low on cash and long on boredom for days, with nothing to do on end but wait for better news, stranded at the country’s premier airport, KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport)?

Malaysia Airports, together with the Tourism Ministry and Kuala Lumpur City Hall jointly lifted spirits by giving them a free day city tour. “We did not have money to go out of KLIA while waiting for our flight, so when the announcement was made, I immediately said yes,” said Briton James Richardson.

New Zealander Kent McDonald, who found himself stuck in Kuala Lumpur after arriving from Melbourne, said the opportunity to go on a city tour gave him the chance to release his frustrations. “My mood is better.”

Malaysia Airports also came in for high praise from Tourism Ministry secretary general Ong Hong Peng.

“Some are on transit while the others are our guests in Malaysia. We are concerned about their welfare.”

Apart from being given discount vouchers for shopping at KLIA outlets, areas within KLIA were zoned off for the stranded passengers, who were provided with food, blankets, and pillows.

“We also provided them with medical assistance for bug bites and reimbursed them for minor medical treatment after complaining [about] being bitten by bugs,” airport general manager Azmi Murad said. “Passengers were moved to where we can provide more amenities, like showers and flat screen tvs.”

The British High Commission together with airport service provider also came to the rescue, offering stranded passengers airline-packed foods, blankets, and medications.

“We gave them food regardless [of] whether they were MAS [Malaysia Airlines] passengers or were booked on other airlines,” said KL Airport Services spokesman Shukrie Salleh, who was at KLIA to distribute food and drinks to the stranded passengers.

“The meal is similar to that provided on board flights. It is part of our corporate social responsibility.”

As affected airports reopen following the fallout from the volcanic eruption in Iceland, both the KLIA and LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) began the arduous task of clearing its backlog of stranded passengers.

“Our focus is to get passengers to get home as quickly as possibly,” said Tengku Azmil Zharuddin, MAS managing director. “We will gradually operate more flights to and from affected airports to clear the backlog of passengers.”

AirAsia supremo Tony Fernandes said his airline will take three to four days to clear its backlog of about 1,000 passengers flying to Stansted Airport in London. “We will have special flights every day apart from the scheduled flights to ensure all our passengers reach their destinations as soon as possible.”