You buy a plane ticket, get email confirmation regarding your booking, print out the tickets and you’re set for your flight, right?
As my cousins and I found out on our way to Caramoan, no. Hell to the NO.
My sister and I were booked on the Friday 5:45 am flight to Virac, Catanduanes on Cebu Pacific, the only Manila-Virac flight for that day. We paid almost double what we would’ve if we flew to Naga, but we wanted to maximize our time in Caramoan. We arrived at the airport about 1 hour and 2o minutes before our flight. We went to look for our check-in counters only to find out our flight didn’t have one. All Cebu Pac counters were open to all flights and each counter had a line of its own. A ridiculous set-up, even more so during a busy Friday before a long weekend.
We were in line for about half an hour in a queue that was not budging when an attendant started to call for passengers for our flight. My sister and I were relieved, since we were starting to get worried we would not make it to the front of the line before our check-in cut off. We handed our tickets to the attendant, giddy with excitement at the prospect of the start of our journey. He got back to us a few minutes after with words a passenger NEVER ever wants to hear: “Ma’am, we have a bit of a problem.”
That “bit” of a problem was that the flight was full and we could not be accommodated. The airline overbooked the flight, which they are within their rights to do, the attendant was careful to point out. So unless two passengers willingly give up their seats for us, then my sister and I had no choice but to board a 9:30 am flight to Naga.
Unsurprisingly, no one gave up their seats. My sister and I were stuck in the airport for 3 more hours, missed our resort’s boat from Naga and arrived at our destination at around 5pm. If everything went according to plan, we would’ve been there by 10am. But since a local airline was involved, of course it didn’t.
There are no flights to Virac on Saturdays, so my cousins were booked on a 5:30am PAL Express flight to Naga. They arrived at the airport at around 2am, anticipating the even bigger crowds and wanting to avoid what happened to me and my sister. They got to the check-in counter confident that they’ve done everything they could to ensure that they would be on the 5:30 am flight, only to find out that there is no 5:30 am flight. It was cancelled. In APRIL. The tickets were booked in March, the flight was cancelled way back in April and my cousins only found out about the cancellation on May 11th, the day of the flight.
They had to be re-booked on another flight to Naga at 8:30 am. To this day, PAL Express has yet to offer any sort of acceptable explanation as to why no one bothered to inform passengers that the flight they booked tickets for NO LONGER EXISTED.
I wish airlines were not allowed to overbook their flights, or at least flights on peak days and times (i.e. the Fridays before long weekends, the Monday of that long weekend, etc.). I wish they would remember to inform their passengers of changes to their flights, especially the major ones like, you know, cancelling a flight entirely. If my cousins were informed ahead of time of their flight’s cancellation, I’m sure there would’ve been less disappointment and frustration (and more sleep) for them. I wish Cebu Pacific would get their checkout counters in order.
But since this is the Philippines and this is the airline industry we’re talking about, we can’t rely on the airlines to improve their services willingly. It’s up to the passengers to act to make sure that they actually get on the flight they paid for. So, to help you along, here’s what my cousins learned from our ordeals:
- If you’re flying on a particularly busy day (during a long weekend, for instance) and and/or on a once-a-day flight, be early. Like, international flight kind of early. These flights are more likely to be overbooked. Being three hours early for a domestic flight is less painful than being bumped off to a later flight to a different city.
- Monitor flight schedules. I know this is not something we’re used to doing. But apparently, airlines forget to let passengers know that they’ve cancelled a flight a month before its schedule, so how else are we supposed to know? You can check their website for flight timetables or have your travel agent confirm it for you.
- Know your rights. My sister and I are entitled to free domestic round trip tickets from Cebu Pacific because of what happened. We were also given PhP 500 transportation allowance. My cousins, however, are not so lucky. As of this writing, PAL Express has offered nothing in compensation for their cancelled flight. They are still checking the T&Cs of their tickets to see if they are entitled to anything, but you can bet that for their next flights (whenever they decide to risk getting screwed over by a local airline again) they will know what they will be entitled to in cases like this. It’s just so much harder to after run after and try to claim from these people after the fact. So it’s better to know what you can demand, just in case. With the current state of things, that info will come in handy eventually.
I hope, for all our sakes, that there will come a day when we don’t have to be at the airport 3 hours before a 1 hour flight, just to secure a seat in a flight that has been bought and paid for. But until that day comes then it’s best to be prepared and informed. Hopefully, the airlines we’ll get tired of us calling to double, triple and quadruple confirm their flights schedule that they’ll finally do something about their crappy service.