AirAsia apologises after Thai CEO's rude remarks to staff goes viral on social

AirAsia has responded to a video circulating online on Instagram, Twitter and Reddit showing Thailand CEO Tassapon Bijleveld insulting a female employee. The female employee was speaking when Bijleveld suddenly interrupted and said “What’s your f*cking question, come on.” The female employee then explained herself and he interjected once again with "What's your question, come on. Don't talk a lot, too much to talk.”

Bijleveld also told the female employee to "shut up" when she started speaking in Thai. Throughout this whole interaction, CEO Tony Fernandes, president of airasia Digital Aireen Omar and head of eCommerce Lim Ben-Jie were seen laughing and smirking, maybe uncomfortably, but silently in the background. In a longer version of the video seen on Reddit, Fernandes used a Thai woman to explain his point on deliveries. He said: "If we deliver a Thai woman to Ben-Jie, and business is good, then we have many more deliveries." The video has also been shared on the Instagram Stories of some netizens.

The airline told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that it has a zero-tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour of any kind which is never compromised, adding:

We are aware of this incident and it was dealt with immediately in the appropriate manner. We apologise to anyone affected and will ensure it doesn't happen again.

According to some online portals, Bijleveld has since issued an internal apology for this incident which happened two weeks ago. Nonetheless, the airline still came under fire from netizens. One Twitter user called this behaviour “disappointing”, adding that leadership is not just about driving results but also about doing no harm to individuals either physically or emotionally. Meanwhile, some also criticised the others on the call for smiling or laughing, saying it was “disgraceful”, “despicable”, and “absolutely incomprehensible and vile”. They also pointed out that this is not how things should be in any corporate environment and that the CEO should have apologised the moment he spoke those words. At the same time, one netizen added that as a woman, Aireen ought to stand up for her female staff and speak up against misogynist behaviour. 

Airasia Digital recently announced that it is acquiring Gojek's operations in Thailand in what is described as a win-win deal to rev up the expansion of the airasia super app in ASEAN, while enabling Gojek to increase investments in Vietnam and Singapore. In return, Gojek will receive shareholding in the airasia super app whose market value is around US$1 billion.

Fernandes previously said in a virtual press conference that the airasia brand will be promoted aggressively in Thailand while the Gojek brand will no longer carry any prominence in the market. He added that there will be no redundancies and it will be a seamless transition. “We want to grow and add people to this. There will also be career opportunities for our All-Stars in Thailand," he added.

Separately, it is also looking to raise about US$300 million by listing airasia Digital through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in the US, Reuters said. Quoting Fernandes, Reuters said the airline has been approached by a couple of SPACs specialising in technology. He added that the airline has already recruited its auditors to begin preparations for an American listing which is expected to happen in five months and is also in talks with other companies, Reuters said, including Malaysian and Indonesian private equity.

Airasia Digital manages the super app which comprises various offerings from food delivery to groceries as well as fintech, logistics, flights and hotel accommodations. According to Fernandes during a recent virtual conference, the super app is valued at US$1 billion. The app launched last November offering products and services under travel, eCommerce and fintech. The airline has also since expanded into the food delivery scene with airasia food. Amanda Woo was also named CEO of the airasia super app in May, taking over from Karen Chan who assumed a board position. 

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