Last Sunday Indonesian President Joko Widodo laid out a five year vision for the country, announcing an ‘end to an inefficient and intolerant Indonesia’. The message has been slow to get through to national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia though.
The airline, which along with it’s board was recently fined hundreds of millions of rupiah for mishandling its 2018 annual report, has been forced to make a humiliating mea culpa to an Indonesian vlogger after filing a police complaint over a video depicting the company’s inflight service.
The abrupt back-flip yesterday (July 19) follows a week of missteps by the airline after Rius Vernandes published a hand-written menu on Instagram that he had been handed by cabin staff with the caption “the menu is still being printed, sir.”
The mid-air incident occurred in the business-class cabin of a Garuda Indonesia flight between Sydney, Australia and Denpasar, Bali, with Mr Vernandes saying the aircraft also ran out of some wines and champagne.
Hours after posting the photo Mr Vernandes informed his 90,000 Instagram followers that he had been summoned by the airline’s customer service office at the airport who apologised, claiming the menus were not meant for passengers.
‘Garuda Indonesia apologised to me regarding this matter. I really wasn’t mad or anything. I was just doing my job as an airline reviewer. Sharing whatever that was going on in the plane. That’s it’, Mr Vernandes said on Instagram.
Garuda losses the plot
However, what was meant to be fair and constructive criticism — people don’t pay business-class fares to be presented with hand written menus or for the cabin to run out of consumables — rapidly spun out of control like a Boeing 737Max.
Attempting to save face the airline tweeted: ‘We would like to convey that this wasn’t a menu card for passengers, but a personal note for flight attendants that wasn’t supposed to be published. Thank you,’
Not content, Garuda Indonesia Labor Union (Sekarga) filed a defamation complaint with police against Mr Vernandes and fellow YouTuber Aditio Dwi Laksono.
In Indonesia disseminating defamatory content online is punishable by up to four years in prison.
In a statement issued Tuesday (July 16) Tomy Tampatty, head of public relations for Sekarga, said the defamation complaint was based on the loss sustained by the company following the social media post that they deemed was blown out of proportion.
‘This has caused negative perception among people in regards to Garuda Indonesia’s services as the country’s national flag carrier’, Mr Tampatty said.
Garuda doubles-down before backflip
Doubling down Garuda Indonesia issued a memo to its staff informing them of a total ban on ‘documenting all activities on the plane, whether in the form of photos or videos. Cabin crew were told they “must use language that is assertive in conveying the passenger ban’, with the airline warning that ‘the company will sanction if there is a violation of the above provisions’.
Unsurprisingly the action of the union and the airline was met with mockery and derision by Indonesian netizens in particular, while international media headlines over the abuse of the Indonesian legal system to censor fair reporting have done nothing for the airline’s international reputation.
In the face of mounting criticism the airline quickly back-down on its no photo and no video policy the next day, with a further bumbled public relations attempt claiming that the memo was just ‘appealing to passengers to respect the privacy of other passengers and flight crew on duty when taking photos’.
With Mr Vernandes and his fiance and travelling companion, Elwiyana Monica, preparing to meet with Indonesian police next Tuesday, the airline yesterday (July 19) made a third attempt at remedying its public relations disaster, with airline president Ari Askhara stepping in to the fray.
Attempting to reclaim some last remnant of moral high ground for the previous week of lunacy, Mr Askhara said in a statement that he understood that ‘some Garuda employees are offended by the video’. Nonetheless, he said he had asked the employees’ union to drop their charge against the vloggers and “to bury the hatchet”.
Later in the day at a hastily organised media conference Mr Askhara and Mr Tampatty met with Mr Vernandes to complete the mea culpa.
Despite the appalling PR effort by the airline over the past week, Mr Askhara yesterday claimed that “Garuda Indonesia will always regard constructive input and criticism from customers as an important asset of the company”. Whether that view will remain the case after the media briefing is yet to be proven.
Meanwhile, Mr Vernandes’ Instagram account has blossomed to more than 136,000 followers, while his YouTube video has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.
Ranked 12th globally in the latest ‘best airline’ category by Skytrax, Garuda has a reputation for delivering some of the best onboard service of any airline in the world. There is little doubt it has in the past benefited from reviews by people documenting their inflight experiences.
Feature video Rius Vernandes
- Indonesia’s Garuda sues YouTube reviewer Rius Vernandes for mocking handwritten in-flight menu (South China Morning Post)
- Youtube Vloggers Sued by Garuda to Undergo Police Questioning (Tempo)
- Garuda Indonesia Bans Photos on Board Its Flights After Bad Review From Vlogger (Jakarta Globe)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.