Airlines For Great Justice

Dear Singapore Airlines Public Affairs Team…

Here's how to avoid unnecessarily antagonizing your customers

It’s been a tough couple of months for you guys. First, you had to deal with the outcry over plans to charge certain customers for seat selection. Then, you had to deal with the fallout from the much-reviled decision to levy credit card fees for certain ticket classes (and the subsequent backtrack). And now, you’re having to respond to disgruntled malcontents in that August Assembly of public discourse, the Straits Times forum.



What about? As reported in the Straits Times:

 Singapore Airlines (SIA) customers are upset with a new booking feature that automatically includes travel insurance unless travellers opt out. Once payment is made, asking for a refund is tedious, said those who realised they were charged only after their bookings were confirmed.

I understand that with a stock price that’s back to where it was five years ago, cut throat competition from the ME3 and continued pressure from budget carriers, management is putting pressure on every facet of the operation to make money.

But allow me to put forth the idea that just maybe, possibly, including an upsell by default without the consent of the customer is a scummy practice. 

Here I am trying to book a flight to Seoul. Note my price- S$1,788.70.

I proceed as per normal to the final payment screen. Wait a minute- the price has gone to S$1,816.70. What’s going on?

As it turns out, hidden away on the add-ons screen is this little gem: automatically included travel insurance, “for my convenience”, S$28.

Let’s talk design and UX, because those are conscious, deliberately-made choices. Note how the “Remove” button is greyed out. Anyone who’s done UX 101 for the web knows that when you use grey, it’s to imply that a button is not clickable. Blue buttons encourage clicking. Grey buttons are designed to be ignored. That to me is already pretty damning.

But on to the final payment screen. You guys claim that the automatically included insurance is “clearly displayed”. I disagree. Here’s what you see:

Notice anything amiss? Me neither.  That’s because the travel insurance is hidden; you need to click on “more details” to see this:

I fail to see how this counts as “clearly displayed”, when at no point during the booking process was I alerted to the fact that travel insurance was automatically added to my cart. In fact, I only spotted the price change because I knew to look out for it. I can imagine many, many customers auto-piloting past this step.




This is shady. There’s no other way of describing it. This “gotcha” behaviour is something I’d expect more from budget carriers (and indeed, Tigerair was notorious for doing such things) than from a trusted Singapore brand.

Why this practice? As per your spokesperson, Campbell Wilson (the ex-CEO of Scoot):

Singapore Airlines encourages customers to take up travel insurance to safeguard their travel plans, and we refer to the benefits of insurance in our conditions of contract.

The “opt-in” default was implemented in some markets, including Singapore, last year. The inclusion of insurance is clearly displayed, the cost is reflected in the booking summary panel at the payment page, and customers can opt out if they do not wish to add the insurance to their booking.

This is completely disingenuous. It is one thing to “encourage customers to take up travel insurance”. It is another to slip it in when no one’s looking.

If the intention was to encourage customers, then perhaps you’d have prominent warnings on the add-ons page that encourage them to take up travel insurance. Heck, you could even do it in the form of this scaremongering pop-up and although I’d be annoyed by the insinuation that “by proceeding without insurance you become the worst non-German person never”, I could probably let that go.

tiger4

But including it by default under the guise of paternalism is unethical and flat out wrong. It’s a sneaky way of making additional money from unsuspecting customers. Expecting the customer to spot and remove it is tantamount to telling them “be on your toes when booking with us because you never know what we might make you pay for!”

You want me to spell this out for you? Fine. I’ll put my MS Paint skills to the test:



Default options matter. The decision to change travel insurance from an opt-in to an opt-out purchase is a conscious one, made by someone within SQ, and I’d like that person to sit me down and tell me with a straight face that he or she did this for the benefit of the customer.

And by the way, it’s no defense at all to say this:

Additionally, customers who have taken insurance but later change their mind may cancel the insurance without penalty prior to departure. In such cases, refunds will be credited to the customer’s credit card within 10 working days.

If this is your mea culpa, it’s the weakest I’ve ever heard. It’s like the kid who breaks a lamp and expects to get praised for fixing it. What happens if you only spot this after you depart? What happens if you don’t spot it at all? What happens if you already have travel insurance (you can’t claim for the same incident on two different policies)?

So, SQ, let’s not pettifog the issue. No one is saying travel insurance isn’t important. You should absolutely make sure you’re covered when you travel. But there’s a right way of doing it, and a wrong way of doing it. And you’re doing it wrong.

Granted, you’re not as bad as Ryanair, which infamously used to opt passengers in for travel insurance by default, hiding the opt-out option under “No Grazie” between Malta and Norway in a drop-down list of countries of residence before the watchdogs told them to knock it off. But I think something has gone horribly, horribly wrong if I am comparing Singapore Airlines to Ryanair.

I’ve flown with countless airlines and I can safely say that your inflight service and product still sets the bar for the competition everywhere. You’re better than this. You don’t need to rely on sneaky tricks and gotchas to generate incremental revenue. So please, in the words of Michael O’ Leary, stop unnecessarily pissing people off.

Right here waiting for you,
The Milelion



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62 Comments on "Dear Singapore Airlines Public Affairs Team…"

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“I feel like I want to punch you.” The words right out of many of our mouths. 🙂

SIA could possibly be found to be conducting an unfair practice as per the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, in particular: 20. Omitting to provide a material fact to a consumer, using small print to conceal a material fact from the consumer or misleading a consumer as to a material fact, in connection with the supply of goods or services. 22. Purporting to assert a right to payment for the supply of unsolicited goods or services. Interpretation of Paragraph 22: 1. For the purpose of paragraph 22 of Part 1 — (a) “unsolicited goods or services” means goods or services… Read more »

Those are some mad ms paint skills… Respect.

Interesting. I just tried a few dummy bookings on the mobile app and the insurance hasnt been added in yet

Probably because the mobile app caches an older version of the site. Booking on desktop (after clearing cache) leads to it showing up

Wilson Campbell forget he is no longer at Scoot. These mistakes are so embarrassingly bad, I can’t believe they came from SIA.

A lot of credit cards probably cover travel insurance….please explain why we need to pay for additional Insurance? So we can claim twice? Are SIA becoming an insurance reseller/broker?

Most credit card travel insurances don’t really cover for travel inconvenience btw! Only a few select cards do sadly.

Agree with you Matthew. Many people don’t realize the free insurance from CC companies can be quite inadequate.

Wow i seriously didnt know this. Which cc provides free insurance? Can share?

Citi premiermiles visa, DBS Altitude just to name 2. However many of these cover travel accidents and not illness, travel inconvenience. For instance an ED visit in the States for severe diarrhoea and vomiting can easily cost one USD 500.

Thought Citi Perm provides $40k medical via AIG as one of their coverage points plus travel “inconveniences”? Probably detailed on their webby. Still doesn’t change the tactic of SIA not asking one to be charged!

That, and usually these cards add pointless conditions such as, “your trip has to start and end in Singapore.” That cancels out almost all of my travel strategies.

Asian Miler: Wouldn’t a positioning flight still be considered as part of your trip? Just that you took a slight detour to somewhere else first

if you buy all the tickets (including the positioning ticket) to the same card, should it get the same coverage, cos technically you’re starting and ending here..

I also found that all the passport info and KrisFlyer numbers disappeared from my account Nominees during yesterdays system update – a pain in the backside to go back and add it all in. Poor form, I expect better!

Having that Kiwi fella around is not good for business.

Bad ideas are not restricted by nationality.

“I’ve flown with countless airlines and I can safely say that your inflight service and product still sets the bar for the competition everywhere.” Actually I disagree. Inflight service has been going downhill and isn’t competitive. Internet access isn’t available on a lot of flights and even if they are, they are seriously much more expensive with a ridiculous data cap. Some planes even have LCD screens which backlight so worn out that I’m unsure if I’m watching some pirated VCD. It used to be that Singapore Airlines economy class was just as good or even better than other airlines… Read more »

You only “cannot choose seat” if you’re on the lowest fare bucket on the lowest Y fare.

Mileage accrual has actually increased with the fare structure change.

Flexibility comes at a price. You pay bargain bin price you still want to be able to change your ticket any time? Sorry even gulf carriers don’t let you do that.

Before the GCC crisis I flew Qatar economy and it reminded me of the SQ experience a decade ago. SQ no longer delivers the premium that it charges or more correctly put other airlines offer that standard at a cheaper fare. You can cry unfair competition but that’s life. If your competitor can, they will undercut you, that’s reality

Gotta disagree with you there. The SQ flight crew is better.

erm … nope

So what you expect SQ to do? You want a race to the bottom for price but don’t want the negative effects that has on service? Gulf carriers have the luxury of interest free loans from their governments and no obligations to pay them back. SQ on the other hand get pressured by scholars in Temasek to make short term profits and are asked to do stupid things like sell off SATS (which now makes money like nobody’s business). Changi Airport group gives no favors to local carriers when it comes to slots, ATC here, unlike everywhere else, give no… Read more »

@Jonathan – of course there are those who want their cake and to eat it too. But the point being made here is that SQ has always marketed itself as a premium product, and charged accordingly particularly ex-Sin. But the policy changes over the past few weeks smack of LCC territory – yet without the LCC prices.

“But the point being made here is that SQ has always marketed itself as a premium product” Not at all. I was replying to this. “SQ no longer delivers the premium that it charges or more correctly put other airlines offer that standard at a cheaper fare. You can cry unfair competition but that’s life. If your competitor can, they will undercut you, that’s reality” But to answer your point. I’ll just say this. Singaporeans are entitled AS F***. Complain that SQ only hires crew that look good and have no service standard, saying that they’d rather have less good… Read more »
I have never needed to buy things for crew to be well looked after. I have never encountered an SQ crew that wasn’t top notch either. But passengers have alternatives and no matter how good the crew is, if competitor airlines can take you to the same destination in 1-2-1 for the same price as sq 3-4-3, then the choice is clear. And while all the examples of entitlement you cite are legit, I have seen exactly the same behaviour from customers of different nationalities. Do however agree tt singaporeans are disproportionately triggered by (female) crew physical attributes. But if… Read more »
Show me where you can find a 1-2-1 j class seat for the price of a Y seat on SQ. I’ll take 10. And let’s be fair by comparing apples to apples. Every airline offers bargain bin deals. SQ’s just happen to sell out a lot quicker and you’re left with full fare, which is of course almost the same price as a J class seat. I can get a J class seat on SQ for the a little more than the price I’ll pay for a Qatar full fare Y seat as well, and I won’t have to stop… Read more »
of course it is possible, you just know where to look. In this case sq full fare Y sin bkk in july 2017 which due to last minute booking was very expensive. OTA gave me cx biz for essentially the same price. Direct flight also. Not a promo, not a two to go. I also sourced sin seoul on asiana biz for same price as sq full fare Y. Both flights direct. Oh. Plus six mpd for booking on OTA for both cx and asiana vs 4mpd on sq/wwmc. But really, feel free to pay sq fares if you wish.

Feel really sad for the hardworking, stellar flight crew that’s way way better than any airline out there. They don’t deserve these stupid management faux pas.

Exactly this. People say SQ crew quality has declined, but really when you fly with other airlines you realise they’re still miles ahead. they’re let down by management that has lost its way a bit in recent times

I agree too. I think a part of that, at least for me, is the comfort and sense of familiarity I get, as a Singaporean talking to a fellow Singaporean.

When a big fish in a small pond swims into the sea….it will take a while.

Not everyone can purchase their insurance. Those with pre existing medical problems need to purchase insurance from NTUC pre- enhancef X which covets pre existing medical problems n& currently the only one.

I really don’t see any “dishonesty” by sg air as implied by aaron’s article. First, I never assume a grey button is unclickable. Second, it is clearly stated “that travel insurance has been pre-selected for you”. Finally, if you find that the price has changed, would you not want to know why and click on details button? I always click on details button if available, for any online transaction I do before submitting. Aaron’s comparison of sg’s travel insurance issue to a grocery store situation, where the grocery clerk slips in a few candies to the basket for payment is… Read more »

First, you need to learn not to put words into other’s mouth. Where in this article do you see a “dishonest” word. A check with Google shows dishonest mean “intended to mislead or cheat”. No one here says SIA is cheating. The article is saying SIA is sneaky to change the insurance option from default opt-out to opt-in, WITHOUT informing the mass market before implementing the change. And to me, that’s indeed sneaky. No big deal? Then why SIA can inform before hand on changes like seat selection and credit card fees, but not insurance option?

SQ needs more customers like you.

It is sad to know that our national pride airline is resorting to this. Sad !

SIA cheapen themselves, it’s really sad to watch, they didn’t have to do all these pathetic attempts to make more money.

If i am SQ , why i make this things complicated for generating more revenue such as introduce credit card fee or compulsory travel insurance which people will notice. If u just increase the base fare, none will realise it LOL

This shady practice has been wide spread in Singapore, including gov bodies like CPF board etc.. eg CPF MediShield scheme / implementations which were very much like sticking its hands into members Medisave savings without an Op-out!
It could well be the norm of the day, given that many SG enterprises like NOL, SPH and SMRT etc. were all under heavy stresses.

You hit the right spot!

Do you know that if you didn’t book the tickets directly from them but through a 3rd party, you won’t get to book your seats until 48 hours before when you do online check in. During which, you will find every other seat is taken and you can’t do anything to change it.

Yeah found that out the hard way during a recent flight to LHR (my company uses a travel agent service). The trick is to head to the airport 3 h before and beg the check-in counter to help get a better seat.

Wow didn’t know SQ is doing that and so glad you took the trouble to address it on all our behalf. Very well written, I especially like the comparison with tigerair and burst out laughing re Ryanair. You are so right about it. And your comic.. rocks!

I had the same issue which charge me more

No idea why our national airlines is succumbing to dark UX patterns that started with the likes of RyanAir’s website.

This just makes the experience seem petty and cheap. Does SQ really need to “cheat” their customers out of this small amount of money??

All the Reply buttons here are also grey mah! Or is it my computer only?

[…] Payment page where insurance is supposedly “clearly displayed” via […]

This kind of desperate behaviour is becoming the norm in Singapore companies. It doesn’t fit into the SQ brand does it? Luxury is in essence penny pinching, but the connotation is a generous serving of what you pay for. SQ charges premium prices. But has lagged behind the competition. Emirates? During the oil crisis, while SQ was splurging on dividends; Emirates was investing. Note that during this period SQ ticket prices remain high. Emirates has been investing on in-flight experiences. Innovation. Now that oil prices aren’t cheap anymore, SQ girls get their rest time and other benefits cut. Pay cut… Read more »
Why is SQ always a target?

Other airlines has the same structure when i booked my air ticket few years ago.

Which airlines?

Woo Hoo!! Well done Milelion for making enough noise for SQ to back down from this auto opt-in nonsense.

[…] The second feature, which was already integrated into the booking process last year, was removed on 30 Jan following another round of complaints from passengers who unwittingly paid for insurance that they preferred not to have. An author on The Milelion demonstrated how easily the insurance opt-in feature can be overlooked by users, and called the “upsell by default” a “scummy practice”. […]