Sorry, we’ve overbooked the flight. You’re bumped.

These are the words you NEVER want to hear when you’re travelling with kids. And it’s just happened to us.

We’ve risen at 5.30am to get a one-hour transfer to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, arriving in plenty of time (or so we think) to check in our bags for Malaysia Airlines MH141, the 9am flight to Sydney. When we get to the check in desk there appears to be a problem; after a couple of phone calls the check in officer tells us the flight is overbooked and full. There is no space for us on that flight. We are – in industry terms – bumped.

I go to speak with the manager, Mr Ganesan, at another counter. The only option to get us home is a flight to Perth – they’ll put us in business class he says – but we’d have to stay overnight, and take an early morning departure the next day which will make our total travel time, from leaving our KL hotel, around 29 hours. When you’re travelling with kids, no business class upgrade is worth it if it extends your travel time that much.

I’m partial to an Asian stopover to break a long journey, especially with kids. And I wanted to take the day flight home so that the kids could get home sleep in their own beds and get back into normal routine as quickly as possible. Having just been in India, and concerned we might be tired (which we are) and possibly sick (luckily not) I planned a two night break at a gorgeous boutique hotel. The early start was not ideal but I figured we could snooze on the plane and the kids could get their fix of the in-flight films.

We’re given vouchers for breakfast (food average, coffee and tea undrinkable) but don’t have enough to cover our order and we’ve spent all our ringat at this stage. Mr Ganesan gives me a few vouchers more. A while later I return to his desk and he gives me a voucher for the airport hotel, and boarding passes for the flight home tonight.

He says he’ll give us some monetary compensation but he needs time to get the cash together as apparently they’ve overbooked by 40 seats. Unconscionable. And greedy. Malaysia Airlines have had that money in their coffers for months. You’d think they’d know that it’s the end of the Australian school holidays and families are unlikely to be no shows.

Turns out we’re not alone. And indeed we could be much worse off. I meet another Sydney family at the desk trying to sort this mess out. They have three kids, aged two, six and 12. Their flight from Langkawi last night was delayed several hours which meant they missed their connection to Sydney. They were transferred to what they described as a “disgusting flea pit of a hotel”  at about 1am and told to be ready to head back to the airport at 7am for the flight today. They’ve been bumped again, and are now on the evening flight with us – a full 24 hours later than they should have been.

What bothers me the most about this is the relative disregard for the passengers. We’re not flying on discounted tickets, it’s a full service airline. I’ll be interested to see whether the children’s meals we’ve ordered turn up on our new flight. And anyone with half a heart should see the effect it has on children and make allowances for them. Single travellers who aren’t so thrown out by sleep patterns and exhaustion might be quite happy to take a business class upgrade – and a bit of cash – for a later flight. Seems that option wasn’t even mooted.

On the upside, the Samu Samu hotel itself is nice and the kids are currently wearing themselves out in the palm fringed pool. You can’t actually hear any planes (although there’s a constant hum from the motorway only metres from the sun lounges). And the courtesy buggies that transport you to and from the terminal are a bit of fun; our veiled female driver takes corners like Mark Webber.

At this stage we’re booked on the 19.50 flight – the night flight that I really wanted to avoid. We have the boarding passes. We’ll check in early. Mr Ganesan says that really the only way to avoid this is to have checked in on line before coming to the airport. Next time you should do that, he says. I doubt there’ll be a next time with Malaysia Airlines.


This post was written just before the tragedy of the downing of MH17. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives in that horrific incident. We acknowledge that Malaysia Airlines had clearance to fly the route it did. We hope the airline can rebuild and regain the trust of the global travelling community.