It a curious name – for an Airline – Firefly.
One’s first thought is they (the airline) must only fly at night, as we all know, Fireflies are nocturnal.
What you might not know is fireflies hibernate over the winter, which leads me to think that the Malaysian Airlines might have chosen the name in the knowledge the operations might ‘hibernate’ from time to time, which they seem to have done today.
I have had a rather interesting experience and conversations (that’s when I have not been cut off) with several staff at Firefly today, trying to book a flight from Ipoh to Singapore. Actually, I initially booked this online, or attempted to book that is, only to have my Amex declined.
So I rang the Firefly call centre and established that the credit card transaction could not be confirmed as they (Firefly) were having trouble with their Amex processing and that their provider, Maybank, was unable to confirm international transactions.
As the conversation continued, I established that this had been the case for a period, as in not just a malfunction today. However, when I pointed out that the online system actually brings up Amex as the first choice, and that perhaps this should be changed to Visa or MasterCard - given the problems – there was a stony silence.
Having established that my booking was still in the system, the telephone operator said she would send the booking details to email address and that I could go online and complete the transaction using Visa or MasterCard.
The email never arrived.
I gave it until the late afternoon, just in case their email system was working on Malaysian time... Lah.
Still no email, so I called up again, having to explain a great length to the operator who seemed to be completely disinterested – like having a conversation with someone else at the same time or possibly a text conversation; she just wasn’t logged on. Then when it started to get too complicated, she put me on hold, and after 7 minutes of waiting, the call disconnected.
It’s one of those moments when your need your anger management... deep breaths, in... out... and just sit back for a moment... go and get a coffee.
I called back, and explained to the next operator that I had been cut off and was hoping that if I gave her my name she might be able to locate the person I was talking to.
“Just a moment, let me put you on hold and I will see what I can do...”
15 minutes later, I’m still on hold and the anger management is starting to wane.
I hang up, and call again, this time asking to speak to the duty manager or someone senior.
“May I know what is about Sir?”
“Only if you have an hour... Perhaps you had best just put me through to the manager” I said.
Another 8 minutes on hold.
Surprisingly, I managed to keep calm and speak politely to our manager and we went through the whole thing – AGAIN – retrieving the booking a proceeding with payment, using Visa. Only this was declined as well.
Our manager then explained, “Actually we are having trouble with all our credit card payment systems Sir, which is handled by Maybank... but they cannot tell us when it can be fixed”.
I enquired if this was just today that system is having problems.
“No Sir, it is sporadic, some days it is OK, some days it is not... we never know when the system might be working.”
By this stage, I was finding the whole thing more amusing than annoying and started to tease our manager on the absurdity of the situation. And he seemed to have a sense of humour or at least recognised the absurdity himself.
So, where do we go from here; well I our manager gave me a reference number and instructed me to call back tomorrow or Wednesday to complete the credit card transaction, informing me, “I will keep your booking in the system for you Sir, until Wednesday, at the same price.”
Yes, do you too get the feeling he was implying he was doing me a favour? And I am thinking, you know if this was Singapore Airlines, in the first instance they would be volunteering to call me back. Moreover, this would be a complete and utter embarrassment (of national outrage proportions) if SIA operated like this.
“Sir, you should also call your bank... to see if your credit cards have in fact been charged... which we will reimburse you for.”
“So, you’re trying to tell me that there’s a possibility that both my Amex and Visa may have been charged already, but will not be assigned to this booking.”
“Yes Sir, because we don’t have a confirmation of the payment, Sir”
“So you want me to spend an hour calling up my bank to check the transactions and then call you, to update you, and then we can perhaps process a new transaction... maybe... that is assuming the system is working.”
By this stage I am laughing and trying to contain my hysteria, saying to our manager, “To whom shall I send the invoice for my time, as a run at several hundred dollars an hour”
At least he got the joke, but the upshot is I have to trace all these transactions and go through a whole lot of telephone therapy again tomorrow.
There has been an upside to all this, when I was hold – for an inordinate amount of time - I learnt a lot about Fireflies, on Wikipedia. Interestingly, in some firefly species, females are flightless, which does not bode well for an airlines identity.
I also learnt that tropical fireflies, “At night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles (the most notable ones found near Kuala Selangor), fireflies synchronise their light emissions precisely. Current hypotheses about the causes of this behaviour involve diet, social interaction, and altitude.”
Reflecting on this, I wonder if the Firefly headquarters is based in Kuala Selangor and the name in fact refers to the indigenous nocturnal habitat and centre of life in Malaysia, the hawker stall.
It is a curious name for an airline – Firefly. But this is no ordinary airline – it’s a circus.