Indonesia: Lion Air’s Hang Up, Don’t Call Back Customer Service

“What is your confirmation number?” Click. Disconnected.

By the 5th time I was quite suspicious, by the 8th I was livid.

I am trying to give Indonesia another chance. In 2005 I spent a week traveling Sulawesi, Bali and Java and had my worst trip ever. I can elaborate in a separate post, and will be eager to contrast the country with a passage of a decade, however my version 2.0 is not starting well.

My goal this long weekend, starting from Shanghai, is to get to East Timor. Previously prohibitively expensive through routing from Australia and Singapore, there are now more reasonable flight options from Indonesia. Both Sriwijaya and Merpati fly from Jakarta via Bali with virtually identical schedules and pricing. I chose Sriwijaya because their fleet is more extensive and their website less dysfunctional, though foreign credit cards do not work and I had to ticket through Indonesia-based tiket.com. This is breaking my prior rule, after experiencing now-defunct Adam Air and Lion Air, that I would not fly anywhere in Indonesia again until I could on Air Asia.

I have one day to spare so decided on a day trip from Jakarta to Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, purely for Travelers Century Club purposes. That large island nets 4 ‘countries,’ shared among Indonesia, Brunei and the Malaysian semi-autonomous states of Sabah and Sarawak. I did enjoy my prior Borneo trip, see the photo set.

Borneo 028

Of Kalimantan’s 3 principal gateways, Pontianak, Banjarmasin and Balikpapan, Banjarmasin had the most convenient flights (with back-ups) and looked attractive for a day trip. I overrode my nagging concerns about relying on Lion Air when the next day I needed to get on Sriwijaya, and using tiket.com I booked on Lion Air, which had the most frequencies. I have no idea if Lion Air’s website accepts foreign cards because I never got past server errors to get to a purchase. Search google for for Lion Air and the tagline for the homepage is “server error.”

Lion Air Server Error

‘Had’ is the operative word because I was emailed by Lion Air yesterday that the my new flights would get me in at 10:30 and depart at 14:30. Not what I planned! On tiket.com I found a number of their scheduled flights had disappeared, presumably to low sales or who knows what.

I called tiket.com and they first tried to only refund 50% because Lion Air had not notified them of the schedule cancellations. Once they understood the issue, they said I had to call Lion Air to request a full refund, then call tiket.com back to process it upon airline confirmation. That agent would not conference in Lion Air.

Then the games started. I called Lion Air, got the English service, explained the situation and click, the call dropped. Must be the connection. Tried again, same thing. Different phone, same thing. Always right about when I said the word ‘refund.’

Exasperated I called tiket.com back, pleading for help. To their credit they had already noted the situation in my record and agreed to call Lion Air. A few minutes later the tiket.com agent was back and said a full refund would be coming my way…in 30 days. It’s an $80 ticket so it will be a pleasant surprise if I get the refund, and a write-off if it never comes.

I now booked a trip to Pontianak on Sriwijaya and hope those flights exist!

Lion Air has ambitions to challenge Air Asia in the region, and I flew them without incident back in 2005, but I am steering well clear of them going forward. You can check out their website, if it is actually working.

Borneo 010

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  • Rebekah Rutledge

    I had a flight on Merpati which they cancelled and rescheduled for the next day. The email said I could cancel with no penalty. I called to cancel, was told that to cancel the return it would cost (I don’t remember how much). Of course this makes no sense. If I cancel the outbound, I also need to cancel the return. They said that they would email to confirm the cancellation and refund. After not receiving an email, I called several more times and sent a couple of emails. After about three days, I contacted Chase. After almost four months Chase agreed that I was entitled to a refund. I was skittish before, but certainly am more skittish now.

  • @Rebekah Rutledge – yikes!

  • Michael

    Wow, love to hear why you had a bad experience in Indonesia. I was an exchange student there many years ago. It was a transformative experience and I fell in love with the people and the landscape. Went back 5 years ago and love it even more.

  • @Michael – I am trying to take a new look, most of all I felt like I couldn’t take a step down a street without getting hassled by a pedicab driver or someone, add my worst food poisoning the first day from those restaurants that cook in the morning and let food sit all day, and other things that made me just want that trip to be over. This nonsense with Lion Air is how I felt the whole time.

  • Tom

    I found Sriwijaya to be incredibly pleasant. Simple, but warm service onboard, and I felt safe. Of the Indonesia carriers I’ve flown (Lion, Air Asia, Trigana, Merpati…the last of which I would never fly again) I preferred them to all but Garuda. Also, when dealing with Indonesian carriers, I’ve found that it’s better to use a local travel agency, preferably associated with a 5-star hotel in Jakarta or Bali, and pay their service fees. Indonesian airlines are so often problematic with scheduling that, for me, it’s worth the extra cash to let someone else deal with the hassles.

    Also, I know you’ve checked Kalimantan off your list, but I highly recommend Pangkalan Bun, for the chance to visit orangutans in the rainforest. It’s a wonderful two-night adventure upriver on a funky houseboat. And, spending time with those amazing, endangered creatures stays in the soul forever.

  • @Tom – thanks for the tip on the agencies. It looks like my only chance of getting money back on the Lion Air is that I used tiket.com to book. Glad that Sriwijaya is the pick of the group, so to speak. I am curious your experience with Air Asia in Indonesia. I have flown them elsewhere and really liked them, but I see they do operate as country subsidiaries. If I can every swing a business trip to KL, I want to do a quick hop over to one of the Sumatran cities. I do not know enough about Indonesia to understand what travel is such a basket case compared to its neighbors.

    I wish I could get to Pangkalan Bun however not feasible for my tight schedule. The airlines serving Iskandar seem even a tier below, Kal and Trigana. I have to not get greedy, which I usually do, and focus on the main goal this time of seeing East Timor.

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