Indonesian passengers are being left stranded when it comes to making safety complaints to its aviation watchdog, with callers being subjected to engaged signals and a series of pre-recorded messages.
The New Daily also called both phone numbers listed on the website of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which deals with enforcing airline safety requirements, on more than 20 separate occasions.
One number went unanswered until an engaged signal sounded, the other was continuously diverted to a pre-recorded message.
The New Daily also asked two people living in Indonesia to phone the numbers locally. Calls again went unanswered on several occasions.
The New Daily also emailed the authority, but was unable to speak or receive a response from any authority figures during those attempts.
The authority is supposed to act as point of contact for the Indonesian aviation industry to airlines, airports and passengers that need to report aviation safety issues or even security concerns.
Press play to hear what happens when the authority’s listed numbers are called
On Monday, low-cost Indonesian carrier Lion Air’s new Boeing 737 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 on board.
The airline and several others in Indonesia have experienced a raft of serious safety incidents in the past 20 years.
Monash University Professor Greg Bamber, who has researched airline performance in Australia and overseas for more than 15 years, said it was “absolutely shocking” that Indonesian passengers were unable to make safety complaints in wake of the recent Lion Air tragedy.
“If there were passengers willing to complain about the safety of airlines prior to this incident and they were unable to do so then that’s simply unacceptable,” Professor Bamber told The New Daily.
“If there were serious complaints about Lion Air or other Indonesian airlines then this could’ve worked as a preventative measure,” he said.
He said he was not impressed with the authority’s ‘latest news’ section.
“The latest news on the website is almost three months old and it doesn’t even highlight the latest Lion Air tragedy – it’s really poor communication on their behalf.”
The New Daily has attempted to contact Lion Air via phone and email since the tragedy occurred on Monday, but has received no response.
The airline’s online contact form also encountered a ‘server error’ when users filled it out earlier this week.
The error now appears to be fixed, but there are several complaints online dating back to 2013 with passengers saying they were experiencing the same issue.
One passenger wrote on TripAdvisor in July: “I have tried to email Lion Air customer services directly but no reply, and I’ve tried to contact them through their online contact form – but this leads to a website server error.”
Swinburne University airline operations expert Dr Peter Bruce said if passengers had genuine safety concerns then there should be a simple process to complain directly to the airline or aviation authorities.
“In theory it should work for people to contact the airline and authorities directly but if they’re experiencing a high volume of calls then they should be responding via email,” Dr Bruce told The New Daily.
The New Daily also found that Lion Air doesn’t actively communicate flight and safety updates on Twitter, unlike other Indonesian airlines, such as Garuda. The airline’s last tweet was in October 2014.
Joseph Wheeler, principal lawyer at the International Aerospace Law and Policy Group, said all airlines should adopt improved social media practices to communicate with passengers.
“Word of mouth now has really become word of tweet because people use social media to express their views,” Mr Wheeler told The New Daily.
“Some airline’s devote a huge budget to social media channels, so they can better communicate with the public to resolve issues as soon as they can.”