Fri, 16 Jun 2000

Garuda, get real!

Following Garuda Indonesia's advertisement in The Jakarta Post on June 12, 2000, I would like to relate my recent unpleasant experience with the airline and ask why it is thanking its customers for complaining but then doing nothing about the complaints.

In February this year, I was traveling with my husband from Denpasar to Jakarta, after our wedding on Bali. Upon checking-in at Ngurah Rai International Airport, the check-in staff told us to check in my husband's carry-on case, as the flight was full.

On arrival back home in Jakarta, we found that a number of items were missing from the bag. One was an engagement gift from me to my husband, a limited edition of Mont Blanc pen. The other items were a wedding gift plus copies of documents in the file they were in.

When we contacted Garuda about the missing items, they were extremely reticent and suggested we write to their head office to complain. Unhappy with this I asked to speak to someone in person and had a meeting with a representative of the claim department. As requested, I took the case with me for inspection and showed where the missing items had been. The representative told me that an initial amount would be offered based on Garuda policy but that we could submit an appeal if we were not satisfied. After duly filling out a claim form, we waited two months until I was told that Garuda would offer compensation of Rp 400,000, in line with their policy.

We were distinctly unsatisfied with this amount and pointed out to the Garuda staff that one of the items alone was worth US$200 and furthermore that the items stolen had sentimental value and were irreplaceable. What they were offering to compensate as for the dishonesty of their baggage handlers was an insult.

However, the airline pointed out yet again that there was a limited liability on baggage claims of Rp 20,000 per kilo. I asked them what they suggested I could put into my luggage that would be fully compensated for by this amount. No one had an answer. When I then asked about appealing they told me that I was not entitled to claim further as I had left the airport before making the initial claim. Apparently it is the policy of Garuda Indonesia that all baggage must be checked at the airport, if passengers do not do so Garuda will accept no responsibility for items subsequently found to be missing. (The customer services manager did admit that was not actually practical to do so).

What I find to be the most infuriating aspects of this whole episode is that by setting the compensation amount so low, it appears that Garuda almost expects its staff to pilfer items from passengers' baggage and so ensure that any compensation they have to pay will not be substantial. Moreover, not one of the Garuda employees I spoke to apologized to me or said they were sorry for the loss, the invariable response was giggling and sniggering.

I am not sure whether my complaint was submitted before or after the airline ushered in its "new Garuda Indonesia era" but perhaps a reasonable response to this letter would prove how "seriously committed to improving (its) professionalism" the company is.