Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dealing with airline stupidity: Cebu Pacific likes to screw over their travelers and PAL serves crap vegan food

Before I babble about food, can I just rant, again? If you recall my last post I was whining about how traveling can be so complicated. Well, Cebu Pacific will never cease to complicate the lives of travelers. This airline looks as us travelers as commodities, mere objects that can be easily replaced or easily maltreated. Their cheap promos never fail to get us to be repeat customers, never mind how horrifyingly disrespectful and condescending they are. And, they can get away with it! Because we Filipinos are too shy for confrontation! We think we're inferior to The Man! Cebu Pacific's bribe of a free round trip ticket to whatever country they fly to, usable within a year, doesn't help either. A lot of Filipinos who travel are OFWs and would kill for a free ticket.

Why the rant? I was set to come back to Manila last Monday, flight at 11am. I arrive at the airport and line up for check-in at 9:30. As usual the check-in lines to the Cebu Pacific desks are the only ones that are crowded with people. Probably too cheap to buy those barricade things for orderly lines. A Cebu Pacific guy asks some of the customers if they're willing to shift their flight to the 7:30pm one as there were "too many passengers". Almost all said no. We had our schedules to follow. I was set to go boxing in the afternoon followed by hours of baking.

For 30 minutes I didn't move my position in the line. By 10:20am I was second in line, but then we (me with 15-20 other people) were told that we couldn't board the plane, because the plane was already full, because they were overbooked. Yes folks. Cebu Pacific books flights by 10% over maximum seating, then at the last minute screws over the customers who just so happen to be last in line. "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do. It's not our fault," says one of the clerks. Apparently it's the "booking agent"'s fault. And, "it's the first time it has happened." Bullshit talaga. I've heard stories of Cebu Pac's cruelty (Marketman rants splendidly here and here). They'll screw you over then bribe you with free tickets.

Oh yeah, so I was forced to take the 7:30pm flight. But they didn't accept early check-ins so I had to leave my luggage at their storage area and shell out HK$55. And HK$200 for 2 train tickets, to and from the city. The only good thing that came out of this was I finished my Christmas shopping and got my hands on New Moon. I think I spent more on shopping (for other people!) than on how much those free tickets are worth...


This wasn't the first time an airline pissed me off. Back in May I flew PAL (Philippine Airlines) to and from Singapore. I made it a point to contact PAL beforehand and let them know that I needed vegan food (by the way, apparently you can't make a food request on their customer service email, you have to call their hotline, which is busy 98% of the time. Best to go through a travel agent). On my flight to Singapore the 3 other people in my group were bumped up to business class for free because economy was overbooked. I got stuck in economy because of my special food request. Which turned out to not be very special.

PAL, why oh why do you choose to torture people who don't want to torture animals? Why can't you offer better veg options? Ladies and gentlemen, I was served overboiled tasteless vegetables (the green beans were practically the same shade as the pumpkin) with rice. They weren't even salted. Seriously, that's all I had. And a dish of fruit. They gave me a "salad" of leaves and tomatoes, WITH NO DRESSING. And, they gave me margarine that had milk products. THE ONLY FLAVORING I HAD WAS SALT, and I had to add this on my own. It was not a good meal. My return trip was a lot better though -- I had pasta with tomato sauce and black eyed peas (meal was better probably because the food came from Singapore).

Traveling vegans, I highly encourage that you make your food requests as detailed as possible. Tell them what you can and can't have. And, if they screw you over, complain! We don't want these things to happen to others. Complain, but be respectful :)

After my bad experience with PAL, I sent them an email:

Hi, I'd like to give you some feedback on the vegetarian food I was served for my flight with your airlines on PR 505 and PR 504.

I have to say, I was very disappointed with the food during my PR 505 flight last Friday night. I had vegetables with rice, a dish of fruit, a side salad with a slice of lemon, and a dinner roll with margarine. The vegetables were overcooked and had no taste -- they were merely boiled / steamed to the point that the colors of the broccoli and string bean were almost the same as that of the kalabasa. These had no flavor whatsoever and had to be dressed with salt and pepper. The salad's only dressing was a slice of lemon. The roll was okay, and the fruits were nice, but the margarine had dairy in it. I reported this to the stewardess / purser and she was very gracious and apologetic. She handled the situation well and even gave me some more fruit.

The food on PR504 on Monday afternoon was a lot better, I'm happy to say. The spaghetti with tomato sauce and black eyed peas was delicious. The margarine was a different brand that didn't have an ingredients list so I could not make sure if this contained milk.

I hope that your future non-dairy, non-vegetarian meals will be similar to that of PR504 and never of PR505. As an airline that caters to an international consumer base, this is an important feature to work on as not everyone eats meat, seafood, dairy, and egg. I hope PAL improves on this. Thank you."

And their reply:

Dear Ms. Gonzales,

We acknowledge receipt of your email and attachment below.

Please allow us to convey, at the outset, our sincere regrets and apologies, on behalf of Philippine Airlines, for whatever inconveniences you may have felt as a result of your reported experience.

A request for feedback from the offices concerned is now underway to look into the circumstances surrounding your complaint. We will correspond with you as soon as we have the results of our investigation. We would appreciate your patience in awaiting our reply.

Thank you,
Customer Relations"

2 months later, they email me back:

Dear Ms. Gonzalez,

This is further to our acknowledgment email regarding flight PR505/23MAY08, from Manila to Singapore. Thank you for your patience in awaiting our reply. On behalf of Philippine Airlines, please allow us to convey our sincerest regrets for the disappointment caused you.

We took note of your feedback regarding the overcooked and tasteless vegetarian meal that was served to you. You will appreciate to know that we had since brought your concerns to the attention of our Assistant Vice President for Inflight Planning and Standards for the appropriate corrective action. You can be assured of the preferential attention.

Ms. Gonzalez
, we, at Philippine Airlines, recognize the importance of your feedback for a more effective delivery of service. We have always believed that passenger feedback serves as an important tool for us to gauge what our customers expect from us. Please be assured, therefore, of our unwavering efforts to always try to meet these expectations. We hope to be of service to you again on board one of our flights, soon."

And I replied:

Thanks so much for sending an update on the food, I really appreciate it. I'm very patriotic and I want PAL to be world class and friendly to all people with different tastes (food and non-food alike). I think it's important that an airline adapt to current trends, especially since this reflects its ability to be hospitable to everyone. One customer's bad experience with your service can discourage a lot of people from trying your service out! I think the statistic is that one person will share with people his or her bad experience with a product / service +90% of the time.

I sincerely hope that the quality of non-dairy, non-egg vegetarian food (aka "vegan" food) improves because I would really like to continue to patronize PAL. If you need suggestions on how to improve your menu or what have you, please don't hesitate to ask me. Not only am I vegan, I love to cook and bake vegan food.

Thank you."

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