It was supposed to be a regular flight to Iloilo. Cebu Pacific Flight #5J 457. Departure time: 3:50. We were in the hotter than hot departure area by 2pm, waiting patiently for seats to present themselves. Eventually, they did and we managed to settle and entertain ourselves despite the chaos. We were to board at 3:20. 3:20 came and still no sign of boarding. Then a mother behind us– who was sitting with her husband and baby–said the flight was delayed and we were leaving at 7:15. Unbelievable. It was so unbelievable we didn’t believe it. So we went to the monitor where it simply showed “CHECKING-IN”. It was only at past 4pm that it changed to “DELAYED” with 7:15pm as the new departure time. Strange that some people seemed to know 7:15pm was the new departure time while a good number of us didn’t know anything.
Then came the first delivery of styrofoam-packed food and the long cue of passengers waiting to claim their portion. Warrior-friend, colleague and fellow traveller, Jay, cued up but the ration wasn’t for our flight and the crew refused to serve us, as they needed to do it in batches. It was for the Puerto Princesa flight that was already a good 2 hours delayed (they eventually left after a 3 hour delay). We were to get our food a few hours later. From there the afternoon progressed horribly. No one would give us information. We had to seek it out and mostly got blank stares and practised but empty replies: “wala pa po kasi kaming nakukuhang information tungkol sa eroplano”, “wala po kasi kaming manager dito”. It was our companion–fierce, wonderful, all- woman Mae, who practically collared one of the runners and told him to go get a manager. She looked at her watch and said “7:10 ha. 7:10 kita inutusan”. Yes, by that time it was 7:10 and we were nowhere near boarding.
In the meantime, several flights had come and gone going to Caticlan, Kalibo, Cebu, Tacloban, Tagbilaran–not one was headed towards Iloilo. Horror stories were surfacing. There was no food allocation for the non-paying children. One mother was told they were simply not included. People were angry, asking for an explanation–many of us simply wanted the truth: were we going to be able to leave or not? By then my group had been in the airport for more than 5 hours.
Finally, someone announced our flight number and said the new departure date would be 8:55pm. There was a lot of booing and a lot more chaos. People were angry and there was still no one to talk to. No one was coming forward to address the group and answer questions. We cornered a group of female runners (a term I use for them because they are airport employees but not connected directly to the airline and all they did was run around) who all looked nervous and confused. One tried to explain: “Baka po mapaaga ang alis niyo ng mga 8:15 po (instead of 8:55)”. By this time it was 7:30pm and last we heard, there was no word yet about the arrival of THAT plane, so how could she tell us we might actually leave early? We pointed this out to her and she crumpled. We asked again to be simply told the truth and be given a guaranteed time of departure (really, how kind and accommodating of us, since we were already sitting there half the day), but all that did was bring us back to square one–the square of no information. At this point they started issuing travel vouchers–one way tickets to any destination in Luzon, free!
Whoopee. Whatever. But we were determined to get any kind of remuneration for our agony. We dutifully lined-up to get ours. (There were two IloiIlo flights scheduled that day: ours at 3:50 and another one at 7:15. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the aim was to collapse both flights into one at the expense of the passengers.) By then I had reached the point I normally don’t like to reach because once I cross it I never turn back. This point for me had been reached when 7:15 came and went (that was already 4 hours from the original boarding time plus 1 hour waiting)and there was still no plane. (Oh, at some point a “manager” did arrive but he should have just stayed invisible because he was just as effective as the other zero-information workers in the area.)But I was with a group so we made a group decision to wait until the arrival of the plane at 8:15. That time came and went. So we started the ball running for our refund.
First, they got our travel vouchers back, “E kasi kung hindi naman po kayo sasakay…” How’s that for really crappy service? But nevermind, I was out of there and determined to never buy another Cebu Pacific ticket. By the time we got outside–back to the ticketing area for yet another round of delays, it was announced that the flight was finally boarding. Alas, I was past that point. Half the group decided to go anyway, while Dale and I decided to go by what we agreed and call it a day. I was sick, tired and angry.
So, there we were–refund time. Still another round of horrors. Surprise! There was a “refund fee” of P336 each way, per person. Imagine hearing this at the end of a 6 hour and 40-minute wait where you were pretty much treated as invisible–nevermind that I was nursing a cold and cough in that congested, terrible departure terminal. We suffered, they gave appeasement vouchers which were taken away, and then we had to pay to get our money back which, by the way may or may not be processed in 45 days. Cebu Pacific should just go out of business because it clearly has no idea what it is doing. It has not idea what customer service means.
I had to tell the lady at the ticket counter to stop talking and feeding us with more terrible justifications of their substandard service because she was just making things worse. Really. Stop already. That’s what I said. Then she shoved two forms for us to sign. Just look how legible they are. All you can see are the check marks that we were supposed to fill up:
I was so angry and insulted I showed it to her and let it go, making it flutter prettily beneath her. I won’t even go into all the petty exchanges we had and how I had to point out obvious things just so we could be served. I just wanted to go home. With our poorly xeroxed promise for a refund in hand, we finally made our way out of the chaos, nearly colliding with a trolley full of sytrofoam-packed meals. Hah. Another few hours for a few hundred miserable Cebu Pacific customers. Just as I thought that, a porter muttered, “Naku, may na-delay na naman.” Just another day in the life of a promising service that turned into a business whose time is running out.
In the car at last, Dale’s father called to check on him. He berated him for even flying Cebu Pacific, “Why risk your lives?”, he asked. At that moment I did feel that I had experienced a death of some kind– an alternative to the monopoly and bad service of PAL, the promise of good service and the chance for every Filipino to see the Philippines without breaking the bank or wasting a perfectly good day of his life at the airport.