A storm breaks around AirAsia’s boss

May 16, 2018

Co-pilots Najib and Fernandes

“YOU only have one vote so use it wisely,” advised the captain of a lunchtime AirAsia flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on May 9th. It was the third time he had reminded passengers of Malaysia’s election that day. Travellers delighted by the personal touch shook his hand as they disembarked. The pilot was not freelancing. AirAsia had planned to provide 120 flights with reduced fares to help Malaysians get home to vote (in the end, half of the flights were approved by the airline’s regulator). And the low-cost carrier’s political play went further than encouraging people to vote. Tony Fernandes, its British-Malaysian boss, arranged for an AirAsia plane to be painted with the slogan of the ruling coalition of Najib Razak, the prime minister at the time. Mr Fernandes also appeared in a video attributing the success of his business to the Malaysian government.

Then came the most astonishing political result in the country for 61 years, as 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister, defeated Mr Najib. On May 13th Mr Fernandes went in front of a camera again. He apologised for having “buckled” under pressure applied by the defeated administration of Mr Najib (the two men are pictured, in the centre). “It wasn’t right and I will forever regret it,” he...Continue reading

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