My AirAsia Fiasco: Missed Flight Connection & the AVA Chatbot

This month, I made a trip home to Perth for the first time in five years — my first trip home post-COVID. The trip was excellent and blessed with perfect weather, and I got to see family and plenty of quokkas. Everything was going well until my return flight back to Tokyo via Kuala Lumpur, which I had booked with AirAsia. The promo fare had only cost me around AUD$500 one way, and I had thought, what a bargain! But due to the fiasco, it ended up costing me more than double.

Outside Perth Airport

Trouble in paradise

My flight from Perth to KL was originally scheduled to depart 4:10pm Thursday and arrive around 10pm, with the connecting flight to Tokyo (Haneda Airport) to depart 2:35 pm the next day. Plenty of time right? I had even booked a hotel near KL airport for the overnight layover.

The PER-KUL flight was delayed by an hour due to “late arrival of aircraft.” No big deal, as such minor delays are common with budget airlines.

AirAsia plane parked at Perth Airport

We boarded the plane and waited for takeoff. But the takeoff never came. The captain announced shortly that engineers had identified an issue and were working to resolve it. We sat there for 3 hours, with the captain announcing intermittently that engineers were still working on the issue. Promising “just 10 more minutes,” when it stretched onto hour after hour. I literally watched the sunset while sitting in the airplane on the tarmac.

On the tarmac at Perth Airport

It was only after the two hour mark (or maybe longer, I lost count), that the crew even provided us bottles of water. And a “complimentary meal” of vegetable curry.

Vegetable curry meal on AirAsia

Finally, the captain said he would have to ask us to disembark, and wait for the engineers to see if they could resolve in the issue in the next hour. Otherwise, the flight would be cancelled/rescheduled. F.

We disembarked and waited around the gate for the latest updates, with stressed passengers crowding around airport staff with questions. An announcement was made over the speaker that the issue could not be resolved tonight, and the flight was rescheduled to tomorrow 11am. Which meant I would miss my connecting flight to Tokyo. F.

People started scrambling to book alternate flights and pummeling the staff with questions. I asked what would happen to my connecting flight, and was told AirAsia would make alternative arrangements.

Stressed passengers crowding the gate at Perth Airport

I had contemplated booking an alternate flight to KL that night, like many others were doing. But the response had given me the impression that as long as it was an AirAsia flight with Tokyo as the ultimate destination, I would be able to take it. And I suspected trying to get a refund would be a PITA, so I decided to ride it out and see what would happen.

In hindsight, I wish I had just booked the alternate flight to KL as it would have cost me less in the end, and enabled me to reach Tokyo as scheduled. But alas.

We were told we would need to collect our luggage and they would arrange accommodation for those who needed it. Many hours later, with the luggage being unloaded so slowly due to the need for airport staff to tend to actual flights arriving, they shuttled us off to Parmelia Hilton in the CBD. Too bad Perth doesn’t have any airport hotels. It was close to 1am by the time I was able to enter the room. We were told the shuttle would come and pick us up at 8am the next morning.

Room at the Parmelia Hilton Perth

Despite being exhausted from being messed around by AirAsia, my sleep was restless due to all the anger and anxiety.

Let’s try that again…

Parmelia Hilton Perth

The next morning, the shuttle came as promised and took us to the airport. I said goodbye to my hometown for the second time. When I checked in my luggage, I was told by the counter staff that my luggage would go through to Tokyo.

“Erm, but I would have missed the flight to Haneda, and my alternate flight would probably arrive at Narita, so how does that work?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” the clueless (or overly hopeful) Aussie said. “The luggage will go with you on this flight, and they will put it on your new flight at KL. You don’t need to pick it up.”

It sounded extremely dubious to me, but I just let her put the HND tag on it. I added there was no more flights to Haneda Airport that weekend, so I was considering taking AirAsia flights to Bangkok then Narita Airport. Would that be possible?

“Yeah, that should be no problem for an Australian passport,” she said. It wasn’t a passport issue I was concerned about, but AirAsia policy. But sensing that, as nice as she was, she did not know sh*t, I went on my way.

The flight left 11am as scheduled this time, and was very empty as half the passengers had wisely jumped ship. I had the whole row to myself and was able to lie down to rest. The view of WA’s coast was gorgeous as we were flying out.

View of Western Australia's coast from the airplane.

I had prebooked a nasi lemak meal for the flight, but was informed by the cabin crew that it had “spoiled” and was given the same vegetable curry again. I was told I could apply for a refund of the meal online, but whatever; I had more pressing issues than $7.

Finally in KL, but flight missed

Flight arrived around 5pm, and I rushed to find an AirAsia service counter. I went to the layover section, but was told by airport staff that there was no AirAsia counter in there, and I had to go out through immigration to talk to someone in the departure hall. F.

I lined up to get through immigration. The officer looked at my connecting flight ticket and saw it had already departed. I explained my situation.

“So, when is your outgoing flight?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I missed the flight, that’s why I’m trying to go out and rebook as there is no AirAsia counter in there!” I said frustrated.

The officer nodded somewhat sympathetically and stamped my passport. I bypassed the luggage collection and rushed out into the bustling airport and plethora of restaurants and stores. Taking the escalators up to the departure hall on 3F, I asked an AirAsia staff where I could go to rebook tickets. She directed me to the Sales office.

So there I went lining up behind some Boomer couple buying tickets to JB in cash. Why can’t they just get with the times and book online?, I fumed.

When I finally reached the counter, I explained my situation. The staff didn’t even look at me before flippantly answering, “you need to go X16 for rebooking due to flight cancellations.”

FFS. I stormed over to X16, where there was another line. An elderly Aussie man who had been on the rescheduled flight with me from Perth also came to line up, and we commiserated that the customer service was unbelievable.

X16 counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Reaching the counter, I explained the situation for the umpteenth time, asking if they could put me on tonight’s flight to Tokyo via Bangkok instead. The lady typed some stuff into the computer before saying, “No, we can only rebook you on the exact same route. And the next available flight is Thursday.” (Which was 6 days away).

I told her I can’t wait that long, wasn’t there any way they could put me on any flight to Tokyo, even if a transfer is need? She said no, only the exact same route is allowed. So I said, can I get a refund?

“You can do that,” she said. “But the refund can only be issued online through AVA.” (= their infernal chatbot).

“How about my luggage, I was told it would go to Tokyo,” I said.

“Oh, no you need to collect it. Because you missed your flight,” she said.

Freakin’ knew it.

“But I already came out, can I get back in there?” I asked.

“Sure, just go back to where you came out and show your boarding pass.”

Feeling furious and on the verge of tears, I went off to a corner to explore my options to getting back to Tokyo that weekend. I considered flying to Singapore then Tokyo via Scoot, but the tickets for that night sold out just as the site was processing my payment. And I wasn’t sure I could stomach anymore flight connections this round.

In the end I booked an AirAsia flight to Osaka that night, as at least I could get back to Tokyo using the shinkansen. With the flight booked, I went back downstairs to retrieve my luggage.

The officers were nice enough and let me through, where I found my luggage in a corner with a few other stray pieces that had not been picked up. Relieved that at least my luggage wasn’t lost, I exited and went to find something to eat as I waited for my flight.

Nasi lemak at KLIA2
Finally, get to eat my nasi lemak.

The KUL-KIX flight departed on schedule and even arrived 15 minutes early. Almost all the passengers were excited Malaysians going on a Chinese New Year holiday to Japan. While all I could think of was how I shouldn’t be on this flight, but the earlier one to Tokyo.

AirAsia staff dressed for CNY

Four hours after arriving in Osaka and many train rides later, including a soothing shinkansen ride where I was mostly knocked out, I finally made it back home to Tokyo around 1:30pm Saturday.

AirAsia refund process: can I talk to a human please?

After spending all day Saturday resting and unpacking, I began to tackle the process of getting a refund for my KUL-HND flight on Sunday.

It was as painful as I expected.

First, I tried to use AVA (AirAsia Virtual Allstar) as directed by literally every AirAsia staff. The application was straightforward, but the system rejected my claim immediately due to “to the name of the guest or route selected doesn’t match the ones in the original booking.”

Probably because I had used one leg of the flight, and their AI wasn’t smart enough to deal with partial refunds. I tried various other combinations and was rejected each time. Attempts to talk to a human agent were futile.

Screenshot of AirAsia's AVA chatbot on the PC.

Annoyed, I filed a complaint with MAVCOM (Malaysian Aviation Commission) and searched for an AirAsia phone number I could call. Both times I was directed to voicemail. I left two voicemails.

I then called Haneda Airport, and asked to speak with the AirAsia office. The lady told me apologetically that they don’t have any contact numbers or emails for AirAsia. She then told me that if I came to the airport when AirAsia flights arrived, I could try and talk to the staff from the airline then. LOL.

I thanked her, but told her that they (as pilots and cabin crew) probably don’t handle refunds and would just tell me to do it online.

I decided to try the AVA chatbot again, pondering on how I could get it to direct me to human agent. This time, I typed my query as “missed flight” instead of “flight refund,” and went through the prompts.

“Transferring you to a human agent, please wait….”

Bingo. I didn’t know the words could sound so sweet.

After a few exchanges with the customer service agent explaining my situation, I was told management said I was not entitled to a refund. Dafuq? But, as a gesture of goodwill, they would check if they could issue one. But only as credit account.

I knew this was the best I could get, so I agreed. The refund was processed the same day. The amount? AUD$172.50. Basically half the base fare amount, lost all the add-ons.

In essence, my return flight ended up costing me:

Original ticket (partially refunded): $501.76 – $172.62 = $329.14
New ticket (KUL-KIX): $612
Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka-Tokyo): $153
TOTAL $1,094

If I had booked alternate PER-KUL instead, it would have instead cost me:
Original ticket (partially refunded): $501.76 – $172.62 = $329.14
New ticket (PER-KUL): $388
TOTAL $717

And I have not included the hotel stay in KL I had booked for the layover, which was a write off because I no-showed.

Tl; dr version of my AirAsia experience

Malaysian souvenir store inside KLIA2

While AirAsia’s customer care has proven dismal when things go wrong, they are decent in some areas. To be as objective as possible, here’s an executive summary of the good and bad.

My qualms:

  1. Made us sit on an airplane for 3 hours, with little updates on what was happening. Water (and food) was only handed out ~2 hours into the wait.
  2. Slow to unload luggage after the flight was rescheduled. So people who had booked alternate flights that night were at risk of missing their new flight because they couldn’t get their luggage to check-in.
  3. Perth Airport staff gave me incorrect information on two occasions (regarding flight routes I could rebook, and Fly-Thru luggage). While I understand they don’t work for the airline, maybe they need to be briefed better on the policies?
  4. Upon arrival at KL, no one from the airline was there to help navigate rebooking or direct us to the counter. Palmed off to various people before could find right counter. 
  5. Didn’t allow rebookings to destination unless it was the exact same route, despite me missing the flight being their fault. 
  6. AVA rejecting my refund claim, and difficulties in finding an actual human to talk to. When finally reached human customer service, was told not entitled to a refund, contrary to what the service counter staff had said.


  1. Safe…Well, they got me to my destinations in one piece.
  2. Cheap (but you do get what you pay for).
  3. Cabin crew uniform is attractive, above average inflight service for a budget airline.
  4. During normal flight arrivals, luggage is unloaded relatively fast.
  5. Fully automated check-in/bag drop at KLIA2. You literally do not need to speak to anyone.
  6. They did put us up in a decent hotel in Perth and provided transport from/to the airport when the flight was rescheduled to the next day.
  7. They did eventually issue me a refund for the missed flight, albeit only as credit account.

What I have learnt:

  • Not using AirAsia again if I can help it. If I do, I will only do so with a flexible schedule.
  • Buy travel insurance if my credit card insurance does not cover losses for flight cancellations/rescheduling.
  • Always address fail point at earliest stage possible, don’t trust clueless airport staff. In this case, it would have been booking alternative flights to KL rather than trusting that the airline would reorganize a timely flight to Tokyo.

Lesson learnt.

For a more happy recount of flying, see: A Tale of China Southern Airlines’ Kickass Customer Service. Incidentally, this experience occurred during my previous trip home to Perth in 2018.

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