Journeying Together

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Having flown half a billion guests, we celebrate not only this great milestone, but also the stories of the many people with whom our journey is so intrinsically linked.

Words: Ari Vanuaranu Photography: Chew Win Win, Nicky Almasy & Tan Yew Leong

Back in 2001, AirAsia started off with just two aircraft and a dream to democratise air travel. At the time, low-cost travel was new to the Asean region. We had to prove that affordable quality travel was not only possible, but that it would play a significant part in forging a brighter future.

Over the years, we’ve worked hard to establish a vast network with connections to previously underserved destinations and low fares to enable the masses to fly – all this while continuing to enhance our service to ensure that our guests are always well cared for, on ground and in the air.

In May 2018, we reached the 500 million passenger mark. Knowing that we have flown that many guests, and been part of their stories, is a great honour. Our dream to democratise air travel has always been about transforming lives for the better.

As we celebrate this incredible milestone, we bring you real stories from real people. These are the stories that inspire us to keep our flame of passion burning, reminding us of who we serve. From all of us at AirAsia, thank you for being a part of our #halfabillion story, and letting us be a part of yours!

Making Love Fly

Long-distance relationships require trust, time and effort to work, but it certainly helps if there is a cost-effective way to meet on a regular basis, to keep the love burning. In 2016, Shin Seonhwa came to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from Incheon, South Korea, for an internship. Every day offered a new adventure, but the best part of Seonhwa’s time in Kuala Lumpur was meeting 28-year-old Leong Jeen Yan at work. Mingling often when they went out with co-workers for after-hour drinks, Seonhwa and Yan’s casual friendship soon blossomed into love.

Seonhwa playfully teases Yan during one of her visits to his hometown in Miri, Malaysia.

“We decided to go steady after a three-month courtship,” says Yan. But not long after, Yan needed to return home to Miri in Sarawak, East Malaysia, to help with the family business. This meant that the couple had to part ways very early on.

“People expect to hear a sob story when we tell them we’re in a long-distance relationship. Sorry to disappoint, but we’re actually very happy!” grins Yan as he glances at Seonhwa, now his girlfriend of 15 months. After her internship, Seonhwa found a job in Kuala Lumpur and stayed on in the city. “The distance serves as a reminder of how lucky we are to have each other to miss,” says Seonhwa, blushing.

Neither one of them had anticipated they would be in a long-distance relationship, and the couple says that if not for AirAsia they would never be able to make it. “We’re in this for the long run,” says Yan, confidently. “I’m learning Korean so that I can communicate with Seonhwa’s parents when I visit Incheon later this year. And we’re flying AirAsia, of course!”

Finding Roots

Discovering your family history can lead you to amazing places, as Reena Kumari, a 37-year-old translator and avid traveller, learned recently.

Being of mixed Chinese-Indian parentage, Reena is a perfect embodiment of multi-cultural Malaysia. “My mum is Chinese and my father is Indian. I’m what locals call ‘Chindian’” explains Reena.

Reena (seated, second from right), a third generation Malaysian, with her newfound relatives at Keyun Gardens in Guangzhou, China.

In the 1930s, Reena’s late maternal grandfather travelled from his birthplace in Du Tou Chun village in Guangzhou, China, to Malaya (now Malaysia), in the hopes of forging a better life. For a number of years after her grandfather passed away in 1991, Reena’s family lost touch with their relatives back in China. Recently, however, Reena’s maternal uncle managed to reconnect with them via the Chinese messaging app WeChat. This revival of kinship prompted Reena to make a trip to visit family still living in her ancestral village in June.

“I was always close to my grandpa. He used to regale me with tales of how he survived the journey to Malaysia. I felt that if I did not make a point to visit Du Tou Chun, I would completely lose touch with my roots, and I didn’t want that to happen,” she says.

Her three-day trip proved to be an emotional one. “Straightaway, my relatives made me feel welcome, showering me with love, and making me feel like I too belonged there. During my time in the village, there was never a dull moment. Laughter filled the air and delicious food was in abundance. By the end of my trip, I had lost my voice and gained pounds!”

The most profound moment for Reena was standing before the river where her grandfather had begun his journey of a lifetime to a foreign land. “My heart swelled as I pictured him getting onto the boat and sadly waving goodbye to his family, not knowing if he would ever see them again,” she reminisces.

“Though it’s only been a month since I last saw my relatives in China, I miss them. But it’s a big consolation to know that with AirAsia’s affordable fares, I can visit often.”

Empowering the Future

Studying overseas and living alone, thousands of miles away from family, can be daunting. But knowing that AirAsia is always there any time you need to return home offers peace of mind to pursue your dream course.

Nevasheni Kandiah has been away from her hometown of Seremban in Malaysia for over a year now, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in commerce at the University of Melbourne, Australia. “I chose to study abroad to challenge myself to be independent.”

Neva (centre) surrounded by her fellow international students in Australia.

Yet, like many young people living on their own for the first time, the determined 19-year-old does get homesick sometimes. “Usually, I just FaceTime my family and I feel better after talking to them. But, of course, it’s not the same thing as giving them a hug whenever I want,” she laughs. “Having affordable flights makes it possible for me to return for holidays, and more importantly, during an emergency. Last November, when my grandfather was admitted to hospital, my dad asked me to come home. Thanks to AirAsia, I was able to catch a flight that very night and had the opportunity to say my final goodbye to my grandpa before he passed.”

Neva already has her future planned. “After graduating, I’d like to work in Australia for a few years to gain experience, then return to Malaysia to take care of my parents,” she says. “Knowing AirAsia is always there, I can focus on my studies and enjoy my experiences in a faraway land as I work towards building a good future for myself and my family.”

Heroes’ Homecoming

Richel Baritos and Mabelynne Geolina from Philippines and Citra Nainggolan from Indonesia may come from different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: all of them have left behind loved ones to eke out a living in Malaysia, with the hope that their sacrifice will afford a better life for their families back home.

Richel (right) poses for a wefie with Mabelynne (left) and Citra to send to their families back home.

It’s not a stretch to describe these domestic helpers as unsung heroes. For Richel, whose responsibility includes caring for her employer’s children, being away from home is especially painful, as she has had to leave her two-year-old daughter, Eliza, with her mother back in their village of Tabionan in Cebu, Philippines. Richel has been in Malaysia for more than a year now, and there isn’t a single day that goes by that she doesn’t miss Eliza. “The telco reception in Tabionan is spotty at best, so, once a month, my mother and Eliza take a one-hour bus ride to San Fernando, the nearest major town, so I can video call my daughter,” shares Richel.

“In Malaysia, I make three times what I would at home doing menial jobs. So, I persevere for the sake of my daughter’s future. Fortunately, AirAsia flies direct from Kuala Lumpur to Cebu, so, I’ve managed to book my flight home next year with the money I’ve been saving since I started working here. It gives me strength to keep going, knowing that I’ll be able to see my daughter again soon!” she says.

Her friends share her sentiment. “I left the Philippines in 2013, and I’ve not seen my nephews since,” reveals Mabelynne who sends money home to help out with her nephews’ education. “I was ecstatic to hear that AirAsia now flies direct from Kuala Lumpur to Davao,” says Mabelynne, explaining that previously, the journey home would have required a connection via Manila, and then, a four-hour bus ride.

Citra chimes in, “Somehow, it doesn’t feel as lonely anymore, knowing that my family in Medan, Indonesia, is only a flight away!”

Working as a foreign domestic helper is no easy task, but knowing that they can afford a flight home to see loved ones gives these three hardworking women hope and strength to carry on.

Backing the Frontline

AirAsia always feels a keen responsibility to care for the people in the destinations it operates in, especially in times of crisis. Flying aid in following natural disasters and supporting humanitarian efforts, AirAsia is always ready to lend a hand. One of AirAsia’s partners is Kathmandu-based NGO Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal).

Rabi, co-founder of a OLE Nepal, teaches a student to use a laptop.

OLE Nepal first partnered with AirAsia in 2012, after the airline launched its route connecting Kathmandu, Nepal, with Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The partnership proved to be of great benefit to the Shree Chandi Devi Basic School in Lalitpur on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. Although the students come from underprivileged families, with the additional stimulus, the school is now a model school for the district.

“AirAsia helped OLE Nepal equip the school with laptops and a digital server, and a year’s training for the teachers,” says Founder Rabi Karmacharya whose mission is to transform education through technology in schools across Nepal.

The partners came together again in 2015 when Nepal was hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. While OLE Nepal despatched volunteers to emergency shelters in Gorkha, one of the most badly devastated areas, AirAsia Foundation (AAF) launched a fund-raising drive for recovery and rebuilding works. With over USDD200,000 raised from this effort, OLE Nepal was able to rebuild four primary schools in rural Gorkha.

“To complete the last mile, a group of volunteer AirAsia Allstars (staff) from Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, India and Nepal, made the gruelling 10-hour journey from Kathmandu on quake-torn roads to reach the schools. They rolled up their sleeves to paint one of the schools and organised the children’s first ever Sports Day,” he shares.

“It was great to see the Allstars with such drive and passion to make a difference amidst such catastrophic destruction. It’s inspiring – just like the airline they work for,” concludes Rabi.

Allstars on AirAsia

AirAsia’s success story would not be possible if not for its dedicated Allstars (workforce). Hear what Allstars from around the region have to say about what makes AirAsia the best company to work for.

“At AirAsia, we work hard, but we also party hard! My favourite part of the year is when Allstars come together for our annual dinner party. We share happy moments as one. Everyone sings and dances together, even our CEOs!” ~ Nattapon Prachakul, Customer Care Executive, Thailand (Allstar since 2006)

“I have had a lot of memorable experiences with AirAsia, but the one that stands out the most is a humanitarian mission to Tacloban, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan in 2016. The way the people cheered for us in gratitude moved me to tears, and that’s just about the best feeling ever!” ~ Katrina Mae Coro, Performance Improvement
Manager, Philippines (Allstar since 2011)

“The best thing about working with AirAsia is the opportunity to travel. I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – the gateway to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. I always wanted to visit Jeddah, and recently, I made a trip there. Thank you for making my dreams come true, AirAsia!” ~ Fathmah Oesman, Treasury Executive, Indonesia
(Allstar since 2005)

“I hail from Salem in India’s Tamil Nadu state. In my hometown, air travel was once only a dream for many. I started telling people there about AirAsia’s affordable flight tickets. Now, thanks to AirAsia, many of my friends and family have experienced their first flight. I am happy that I have played a small part in making AirAsia’s tag line ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’ a reality!” ~ Mahesh Ganesan, Assistant Security Officer, India (Allstar since 2014)

“For three years, we worked incredibly hard to launch AirAsia Japan; we had to prove that we could make low-cost air travel a reality in Japan. It was well worth the hard work when I witnessed the airline’s inaugural flight on October 29, 2017. That was truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment for me!” ~ Atsushi Teramura, Executive Assistant, Japan (Allstar since 2015)

Marking Millions

As we fly far and wide, carrying guests across our network, we continue to celebrate memorable milestones and reward our guests.

100 million in 2010
AirAsia’s 100 millionth guest was 23-year-old housewife Irma Dewi who, at the time, was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, apart from her husband who was working in Tiruchirappalli, India. When AirAsia became the first Asean airline to fly to Tiruchirappalli, it provided Irma and her husband the opportunity to spend more time together. And, when Irma became our 100 millionth guest, AirAsia presented her with 100 free flights!

300 million in 2013
AirAsia’s lucky 300 millionth guest was Jodie Lazuardie, a 30-year-old Art Director based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He flew from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August 2013 and upon arrival in Jakarta, was given the red-carpet treatment, which included a private pickup from the plane, fast-track immigration clearance and priority baggage handling. Jodie also received three million BIG Points from AirAsia BIG, the airline’s loyalty programme.

500 million in 2018
This year, AirAsia welcomed its 500 millionth guest, Dr Panut Oprasertsawat from Thailand, who took AirAsia over the half a billion mark when he flew from Phuket to Bangkok in March. Dr Panut travels frequently between the two cities for business. He received three million AirAsia BIG Points, THB50,000 (approx. USD1,500) worth of vouchers from Vidi (a trip planner app) and free AirAsia flights for life!

GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to various destinations. airasia.com

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About the Author

Ari Vanuaranu

Albeit claiming to be a vegetarian, this self-professed culture vulture says that he’s willing to make an exception every time he is in an exotic place, as trying the local food is essential to widening a traveller’s horizon. But then each and every single place in the world outside of his hometown in Indonesia’s South Borneo counts as an ‘exotic place’...

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