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Sunday, June 12, 2016

I Could Not Protect My Child – An open letter to Mr. Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia

Dear Mr. Fernandes
As a father you know that the most basic instinct as a parent is to protect one’s child. You want to protect your child whom you love more than life itself from anything that can harm him/her. I am a mother and I wanted to protect my child, but I couldn’t protect her. I could not protect my child from the heartbreaking, malicious behavior of your cabin and ground crew on Saturday, April 9 at 6:30 pm inside the plane of AirAsia flight QZ508 in Bali on route to Singapore.
My daughter Aliya was born with a very rare genetic condition called Ichthyosis. For ten years I nurtured my daughter to be strong both physically and emotionally to tackle her condition as well as people’s behavior towards her because of her condition. I taught her to be strong and kind even when she was in incredible pain and the world at times was not kind to her. Aliya has embraced this teaching and managed to cope with life until that fateful AirAsia flight when everything unraveled.
Little did Aliya or I know that the worst experience of her life would be in your airlines when your staff asked my little girl to leave the plane because of her appearance and went on to inform me how she would ‘potentially be a threat’ to the other passengers as she may ‘infect’ other passengers. (It was baffling for me to discover that your staff who are all educated could not understand what a genetic condition is).
Your staff managed to destroy the belief that I built in my child over the ten years that the world will not judge her for her appearance but for the content of her character. I was wrong. I was so wrong. My daughter was judged, she was sentenced and she her spirit of self-esteem was destroyed because of how she looked.
Your staff managed to show with their action what they felt was permissible in AirAsia and that is to discriminate in the name of ‘rules’. Behind the shield of rules, your staff could effectively practice rude, discriminatory behavior towards anyone — even a ten year old child.
Ichthyosis is a condition that is not only very rare but it is incurable as well. It is a condition where sweat glands don’t operate. In other words, it is a condition where the largest organ of the body — skin — does not function. The manifestation of this is that an Ichthyosis patient cannot control her body temperature and the skin does not produce any moisture. As a result the skin of these patients will appear scaly and red.
While the physical challenge of this condition is manageable (still with much difficulty) with medication, lotions and continuous spraying of water, it is the mental anguish of the patient that is more of a challenge. It is difficult enough to keep oneself functioning and alive, it can be a heavy load to carry when one has to cope with the judgement of the society on the patient’s appearance.
Despite its challenges, my husband, my older daughter and I have done everything in our power to help Aliya to experience a ‘normal life’. Aliya is a happy little girl who loves school, does gymnastics, sings, dances and plays the piano. Aliya has also created a fund to help other children with Ichthyosis around the world called Diya and Aliya’s Friends’ Fund.
She actively raises money for the fund to help other children born with Ichthyosis. Aliya wants all the children affected with Ichthyosis to have as full a life as she has. In addition to her active little life, Aliya also loves to travel even though it is very difficult for her to travel.
Traveling with Aliya means we need to go through the security with all of Aliya’s medications, lotions, water bottles and sprays, several doctors’ letters, and then there is of course the actual act of taking care of her during the flight.
The care, the condition — it is all stressful and exhausting for us as the caregivers, but for Aliya as the patient, it is physically painful and challenging. However, Aliya never complains. She keeps up her spirit and tells me not to worry and keeps on reassuring me that she will be okay. This confidence of my little girl was broken into pieces by your staff on that fateful flight. I want to know as a mother, how you expect me to repair the spirit of a little girl?
Please allow me to elaborate on what happened on April 9 on flight QZ508. After several hours of delay, we at last get on the plane. We are all already tired but glad to be heading back home to Singapore. Just as we were settling in our seats, the stewardess (I believe her name was Monica) of Air Asia came over and asked very rudely, ‘Excuse, what is wrong with your daughter?’.
I took a deep breath and said, ‘She is fine. She has a genetic condition. Thank you for your concern.’ However, she continued, ‘She does not look fine. She looks terrible. What is wrong with her?’ I tried to explain this to her patiently while indicating we move away to spare Aliya who was listening intently at this point, ‘Again, thank you for your concern. She is fine and now please excuse us’.
Monica, the stewardess went over and started talking with the other staff. They kept on looking at us and I knew they were talking about us. Then a ground staff came over and said, ‘Sorry, we need to ask you to disembark because your daughter is a threat to the other passengers…’
I then lost it, ‘Have you gone mad? I had told your colleagues repeatedly that my daughter is fine. She has a genetic condition. You are discriminating against her because of how she looks?’…I said many other things but I don’t remember. I was a mother trying to protect my child.
Among the things I said that I do remember was, ‘you are making a judgement call based on my daughter on how she looks, well, I can legally sue you for it.’ Once I evoked law suit, your staff backed down and apologized. However, the damage was done, Aliya started crying, ‘Ma, they want me to leave the plane because of how I look??…’.
I hugged Aliya and held her tight. My older daughter also started crying, saying, ‘Ma, how could they say all that? It was not fair. How could they do this to Aliya?’ I had no answer.
As a mother I could not protect my child.
As an adult I witnessed a child’s spirit being broken. As an activist who has fought for countless discrimination battles, I could not protect a discrimination victim in front of me. The damage your staff caused was irreparable.
I waited a few weeks to see if time would heal the wounds, but it did not.
What will you do to heal this raw, open wound? What will you do to mend a child’s broken spirit?
A heartbroken mother.


Anonymous said...

AirAsia ia a Malaysian-registered airline. Reading this commentary, in particular, the choice of words used by the stewardess in addressing the poor mother smacks of the way Malaysians speak English. No mention of the nationality of the stewardess is revealed though. This incident reminds me of a Malaysian stewardess who pulled off a sickening stunt in the First Class cabin of SIA during the hot canapy service.

She asked a PCL pax.....would you like sauce on your balls?

Anonymous said...


If you really think that about Malaysians,then why don't you ask your government to stop hiring Malaysians,including for SIA.Even some of your SIA star performers are Malaysians! And mind you this is only in the field of aviation.Imagine if we include other fields in Singapore where majority of the personnel are Malaysians including those with PR. What will happen to Singapore if Malaysians stop working there? Every year most SG scholarships are also awarded to Malaysians.

AirAsia crew members were only doing what they thought was best at the time.If they didn't do anything,then other passengers may complain.I would also feel uncomfortable if I had to sit near a passenger with a visible skin disease and would probably ask for a change of seat.I mean its not like the passenger was being ostracized because of her skin colour or because she had her hear covered.

Stop complaining unreasonably about Malaysian crew members at AirAsia or other airlines or any Malaysian working in Singapore for that matter.

Stop expecting perfection and you might just live beyond 70.

By the way,Monica is Indonesian.All the crew members of that flight were non Malaysians (click below).


Angry Malaysian

Anonymous said...

Dear Angry Malaysian,

What Anon had said that COMMUNICATION is extremely important to the passenger. In this instance, the pax was offended because of the choice of language. Taken for granted, Anon had mistaken that the nationality of the crew is Malaysian, but was your nasty pro-Malaysian comment in Singapore necessary?

You realise that Malaysians do have a choice as well? If they are not happy in SG, they can always boycott, go back and seek employment back in Malaysia. We don't really mind, LOL. But I'm pretty sure that another Malaysian will be happy to take over their job.

In general, we don't mind Malaysians who have assimilated in Singapore over the years. Singapore and Malaysia are similar BUT not the same.

And oh yeah, we got kicked out of your dear country 51 years ago. So k if Malaysians don't want to work and if we don't have enough manpower, that's perfectly fine. After all, this is our own national problem (not yours) which we will solve it ourselves, thank you very much.

Happy Singaporean

Anonymous said...

We didn't 'kick' you out.Anyway,it's a debate for another day.


Anonymous said...

That's a good response from Happy Singaporean. Angry Malaysian's attitude is not new. We can stand on our own two feet, with or without Malaysians.....free loaders who never stop complaining.

Anonymous said...

If the condition of this victim was so serious, why was she allowed to board the flight in the first place? Mother and daughter were welcomed and shown to their seats, only to be humiliated in the presence of other passengers. Surely, they were fare paying customers. What happened to AirAsia's protcol on special needs for its passengers? Airlines in general are authorised to refuse carriage of certain categories of travellers. An example can found in the case of expectant mothers who are in their seventh month of pregnancy.

CEO of AirAsia is a rich man's son. Let's hear what he has to say in his reply to the aggrieved mother.

Anonymous said...

Second last Anon,
Freeloaders? Give it a rest mate.We have enough anti Malaysian sentiment in Singapore so don't make things worse than they already are.

First Anon above,
Please make sure you always confirm the nationality of the individuals involved first instead of assuming Malaysians could be involved.

Not so angry Malaysian

Anonymous said...

What is Not so angry Malaysian trying to say? He and his fellow Malaysians are certainly not as innocent as he is implying. The anti-Malaysian sentiment he claims is all self-made and if he is sincere, then he should pack up and leave. Where can he go to? Try criticising his UMNO officials and see what happens. Respect must be earned.

Anonymous said...

Malaysians always hide behind the Singaporean identity whenever convenient .
Hard truth. Haha

Anonymous said...

The most selfish and notorious foreigners next to the Chinese from the mainland. Self-serving,vandals, filthy toilet habits, breaking up marriages and hoarding SGD.

Anonymous said...

Self made?

Anonymous said...

Migrants in general are happy with their adoptive new home. This has a lot to do with their positive attitude and in settling down to new surroundings, neighbours and a changed life style. They abide by the laws of the respective countries, make new friends and continue their new found lives with their families happy and free. Singapore migrants are no exception. The percentage of our people who have come back is negligible. The queue for migration continues to lengthen.

Those who run foul of the law or get into trouble in Singapore must be prepared to pay the price. Michael Fay, the dismissal of a former law professor and the recent hanging of Kho Jabing; both of whom are Malaysians are just some examples. Another Malaysian, who was sentenced to death for drug trafficking had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment plus caning. His parents and siblings had come to the Istana main gate and pleaded for his life, kneeling down and crying loudly. So much tears....

These are just some true incidents that have contributed to the anti-Malaysian sentiment that have found its way into this website. Singapore never promised its PR or migrants a bed of roses.

Anonymous said...

Anti Malaysian sentiment can be found on various hardcore Singapore linked websites.It won't be an exaggeration to say that it used to be the PRC that most Singaporeans dislike but now it is us.SG hospitality is manifesting itself in a very ugly way today.Malaysian expats here are like those flying Economy while the Western expats are like those flying Business on certain Asian airlines with the former not being treated as well as the latter. Maybe that's why a certain local politician once said he felt lucky not to be a Malaysian.

Not so angry Malaysian

Anonymous said...

Stop diluting the issue. The anti-Malaysian sentiment described by this Malaysian blogger was brought upon by the Malaysians themselves. What does he mean by Malaysian expats....? There is no such thing. Malaysisns are hired on local terms, paid in SGD. Is that not good enough? Expatriate pilots from UK prefer to live in their neighbouring tax-free havens in order to enjoy their hard earned salary. Income tax is also much lower here than in Europe.

Europeans are generally easy to start a conversation with and are more responsive. Asians on the other hand are reserved and can be protective. This does not mean that we are not giving them better treatment. We respect their desire for privacy.