June 7, 2009
My affair's up in the air
By Teo Cheng Wee
At first it was passionate. Then it got lukewarm. Now I'm pretty sure she's cheating on me.
Yes, sadly, after a whirlwind five-year relationship with my darling The Budget Airline, I'm afraid we're going to need some time out.
Where did it all go wrong? We had such a beautiful, romantic start.
Challenge the status quo, she said when we first got together. Flying need not be expensive. And cheap need not mean bad.
It meant having to forego certain things that people took for granted. We had no food, less luggage allowance, and occasionally had to do battle with other people for seats.
But we were both young and idealistic. She showed me that there was more than one way to fly, that one didn't have to be rich to fulfil dreams of seeing neighbouring countries on a shoestring.
I showed her that Singaporeans really didn't mind not having chicken or fish, coffee, tea or orange juice, as long as there was a good bargain to be had.
Together, we said, we would stir the airline industry and overhaul the business model.
Love blossomed. I still tenderly recall how we visited Phuket for $30 or how we went to Chiang Mai together for $80.
I always tell anyone who would listen about these loving moments. Those were good times.
Others may point fingers at her less glamorous stewardesses or her cramped seats but I didn't care for those material things.
Then, a few years down the line, we hit a rough patch.
She started asking me for money if I wanted to check in my bags. If I didn't tell her online beforehand, she would make me pay more.
I was slightly taken aback but I figured, well, there's bound to be some give-and-take in a relationship. We shouldn't let these niggling details get in the way of the good thing we had going.
Then I started hearing rumours of people whose flights got cancelled with almost no warning. Surely, this couldn't be my sweetheart's doing?
No, I thought to myself. I didn't want to believe in hearsay.
This brings me to our latest tiff.
On the most recent trip I was planning with my love, she asked me for more money - $5 for a convenience fee, to be exact.
What on earth is a 'convenience fee'?
'Bookings made using an electronic form of payment are subject to a convenience fee', it wrote on the website.
But, but... we always had to pay electronically, I protested. Wasn't that one of the ways to keep costs low? What does it have to do with 'convenience'?
I clicked around the site, desperate to see if there was some way of getting around this fee.
There was always some way to not pay for things that I didn't want to pay for, I muttered to myself.
Maybe I had to carry my own bag, maybe I had to use a smaller bag, but there was always some leeway.
Not anymore. She was giving me the cold shoulder.
So I tried calling. It's always better to patch things up personally.
'You have to pay this fee if you're paying online, sir,' her customer service officer told me.
'What if I don't pay online? Is there some other way to pay?' I asked.
'You can pay through our call centre.'
'Okay, can you put me through to the call centre, please?'
'I can, but sir, please note that you cannot get the special online fares if you book through the call centre.'
'Yes, but I don't have to pay the convenience fee, right?'
'You don't, but you will have to pay more for the fares.'
'So you're saying...'
'I would advise you to buy your ticket online.'
In other words, there is no way out. It's like charging you a 'safety fee' for using the seatbelt.
Ouch. After all that we've been through, she is doing this. For $5.
I'm not quibbling over the amount of money. It's not a big sum - it's the lying that hurts.
Will I break up with her? Can I bring myself to? I try to banish the thought. We have too much history, too much we still need from each other to break up.
But as it is with some old couples, the love, I'm afraid, is all gone.