Lautafi rubbishes claims by Samoa Airways passengers

The Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, Lautafi Fio Purcell, has disputed claims by Samoa Airways passengers that they had to pay an extra $1,000 to re-book their travel.

He said the claims by the passengers who were affected by the cancellation of Samoa Airways flights this week are "untrue". 

The Minister was referring to an article titled  "Samoa Airways cancellations frustrates passengers", which was published in the Tuesday, March 2, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer. 

He said the Samoa Airways Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Seiuli Alvin Tuala, assured him that the report wasn't true.

"If you go to talk to the CEO Alvin, he has assured me that there are no amounts of money like that being asked from customers, unless it’s something with Air New Zealand, but all expenses of those re-booked from Samoa Airways is paid by Samoa Airways.

"So your article published on the paper today, saying there are people who were asked to pay $1000, that is not true," he said. 

Two groups of people – who went to the Samoa Airways sales office in town on Monday – expressed their concerns at the cancellation of their travel when approached by the Samoa Observer. One of the concerns raised was a $1,000 fee that the airline allegedly charged. 

But Lautafi, who is also the Minister for Public Enterprise, said Tuesday that Samoa Airways tries to avoid disruption to passenger travel by re-booking affected passengers on Air New Zealand, Virgin and Fiji Airways flights and paid for all incurred costs.

"We are re-booking them into Air New Zealand and Virgin and Fiji Airways, which are airlines coming to Samoa and from Samoa to overseas.

"So all these people that were supposed to come today until Thursday, have been re-booked. Samoa Airways is seeking ways to put them in Air New Zealand, and Samoa Airways pays all their expenses," he said.

Lautafi said the Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Airways, Seiuli Alvin Tauala, will be live on broadcast to explain and correct the claims made by the passengers because they are untrue.

"We’ve been in contact with them ever since we knew this and now some people have come to say that they’ve had disadvantages and we told them, any disruption in a normal plan isn’t something an airline wants. 

"The only disadvantage for the passengers is that they do not leave when they were supposed to because both Air New Zealand and Virgin are full with their own people. But that’s how we do these airlines, we cooperate," he added.

Any airline in the world goes through disruptions and "not just our small airline", said the Minister.

"We’re trying our best so that people are able to fly. Unfortunately sometimes when we re-book them into the other airlines, they are already full with their own people. But that’s how airlines work. 

"We ask them to open up a few seats for us to use and they get the fares and such, so that’s what we’re doing now. But that’s how airlines work. 

"If at one point Air New Zealand flights are cancelled, which I think happened during [Cyclone] Gita, they also booked their people into our airline; that’s how airlines work," he reiterated.

The Minister hopes the Malindo Air aircraft [Boeing 737-800NG] will be ready for use by the end of this week.

"This is all before we bring in our aircraft from Malindo airline by Thursday, that’s the plan. 

"We are hoping, by the end of this week the Malindo Malaysian airline that we will be using; that's the one we're going to use to cover all our flights," he said.

He said the Malindo Air aircraft may be used up to six months.

Meanwhile, Samoa Airways in a statement released Tuesday said "misleading information compelled it to clarify the process that it is taking to re-route customers affected by flight cancellations and its efforts to secure the replacement Boeing 737-800NG aircraft".

On re-routing customers, the airline said it has been able to contact the majority of affected customers and process alternative flight arrangements for them. 

"Our teams in Samoa, New Zealand and Australia have been communicating with customers, whose contact details were provided when their reservations were made, to personally advise them about the situation and provide alternative flight options.  

"Subject to customers’ agreement, our teams have processed customers’ selected flight options at cost to Samoa Airways and re-routed them accordingly. In cases involving bookings processed through travel agents, our staff have liaised directly with agents to assist our mutual customers," the airline statement read.

In addition, a mass email was circulated to the airline's wider customer database with information about the schedule change and contact information for the airline's teams in Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. Though, the airline accepts that there have been cases where its teams were unable to reach some customers, due to the absence of valid contact information.

On replacement aircraft, the airline said they are in the process of obtaining the required safety and regulatory approvals of the civil aviation authorities of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Samoa. 

"The national carrier (Samoa Airways) and Malindo Air continue to work collaboratively together and as part of these joint efforts, a team from Malindo Air recently completed an audit of Samoa Airways’ operations. The national carrier and Malindo Air anticipate the clearances will come through towards the end of the first week of April.

"Samoa Airways thanks its customers for their understanding and patience as it progresses its response plans to minimise the impact on customers’ travel plans and return to normal operations," added the airline statement.

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