Opinion piece: No, my name is not John Smith

Recently I bought tickets for the wrong flight. Yup.

On 13th October, at 5 am I arrived, with a healthy dose of caffeine already in my blood stream, to find out I had bought the tickets to fly to Malaysia on the wrong day. My flight was scheduled to fly on the 20th – a week away from when I needed to fly.

Quickly, I ran to one of the on ground staff for a rather popular budget airline to find out how I could salvage the situation. She said the only chance of help lay in the hands of the customer service folks. So I called the number handed to me. A chirpy automated voice greeted me and told me to summarise what I wanted in very specific words.

“Flight refund,” I said grimly.

The same Australian voice then proceeded to ask me my name in first name last name basis.

“Like John Smith,” she urged.

“Rezwana Manjur,” I replied. She couldn’t catch that and so, very politely, she asked me to repeat.

“Rezwana Manjur,” I said again.

“Oh I didn’t catch that,” she said, and proceeded to once again ask me to repeat my name.

“Rezwana Manjur,” I said, frustrated. And then my automated friend gave up. She referred me to a customer care service operator. Long story short, by the time an actual human operator answered my call at 6 am, I wasn’t the nicest of customers to her. And no, this is not just because I didn’t get a dime of my refund.

In fact, I’d like to believe (like most of you reading this post) that I am a rather nice customer under usual circumstance. I say my “pleases” and my “thank yous”. I try not to give waiters the stink eye if my food is late, even when I am "hangry".

But what really annoyed me here was the sheer lack of cultural sensitivity. Here in Asia, you can’t possibly expect an easy name such as John Smith to come by often. Yes, we have a cosmopolitan culture and Caucasian sounding names, but we also have very ethnic ones too. I am more than certain, there are many Asian names far more complicated than my own. I dare say, I think many Caucasian names aren’t as simple as John Smith anymore either.

So while I know this airline has been actively trying to embrace the local culture through many of its marketing tactics which I was honestly impressed by, at that moment, I felt a little bit cheated (excuse the melodrama here).

And while I probably will still be a sucker for the next cheap promotion this airline offers, it has for sure, lost the star power in my eyes after this incident.