The bodies of 282 of the 298 victims of the Malaysia Airlines disaster in Ukraine were being transported to Amsterdam as Travel Weekly went to press, although investigators had yet to gain full access to the crash site.
A deal with leaders of the breakaway eastern Ukraine resulted in the handover of black box recorders from flight MH17, which appears to have been shot down last Thursday on the way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
The evidence appeared to point to Russian-backed rebels shooting down the aircraft, as Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak announced the black boxes would “be held securely while an international investigation team is formalised”.
Airline association Iata denounced the disaster as “a hideous crime”, noting: “MH17 was a clearly identified commercial jet … shot down while broadcasting its identity and presence on an open and busy air corridor at an altitude deemed safe.”
Sadly, for the second time in four months – following the still-unexplained disappearance of flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March – Malaysia Airlines must deal with the fall-out from a tragedy it could do nothing to prevent.
The carrier acted quickly to do what it could, offering full refunds to anyone wishing to cancel a booking between now and the end of the year.
Passengers had until Thursday this week to cancel without charge, after which the airline will assess claims case by case.
Malaysia Airlines UK and Ireland area manager Weng Chi Lee said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those affected. Our primary focus is the care and attention we are providing to them.”
There were 10 British nationals onboard the flight when it was brought down and the carrier has offered to fly the relatives and friends of those lost to Amsterdam.
Support for families
Weng said: “We are in continual contact with them, providing support and keeping them informed.”
It is indecently early to look beyond the immediate concerns of the loved ones of those who died and Weng repeatedly emphasised that single point: “Our focus is the family and friends.”
But he also sought to thank the trade for the messages of support the carrier has received. “The trade has responded with overwhelming support and we thank it,” he said.
“We are in constant contact with our 50-60 primary agents. Our phone lines have not closed. It is not business as usual, but we continue to take calls.”
Malaysia Airlines operates two A380 flights a day from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur and Weng said: “The flights are still full. Bookings are still coming in. We have not heard of anyone fearful of selling or marketing Malaysia Airlines.”
Low cancellation rates
He said the extraordinary refund policy had led to “a higher level of refunds than usual”, but added: “Cancellation rates are low.”
Weng insisted: “It is early days and our primary focus is the care of family and friends. [But] I believe the trade will pull us through.
“We will come out of this. We are the national carrier of Malaysia. We have been flying 42 years. We have a strong heritage and an extensive network. We have 360 departures a day flying 50,000 people. We are doing everything we can to rebuild confidence and trust. I am confident we will see this through.”
Weng confirmed all flights now avoid Ukraine but declined to speculate on what happened to MH17.
“We follow what air traffic controllers tell us,” he said.
The aircraft was on the most common route from Europe to southeast Asia when it crossed eastern Ukraine.
Eurocontrol, the pan-European air traffic control body, confirmed there were flight restrictions in place over the region last week, but only to an altitude of 32,000 feet, and MH17 was at 33,000 feet “when it disappeared from the radar”.
Unlimited restrictions now apply and Eurocontrol said: “The routes will remain closed until further notice.”
Sourced from Travel Weekly