The 2-lie system of SEAir’s Manila-Basco flights (a warning)

When I created this blog, one of my resolutions was to make this new blog as free as possible from rants, sarcasm and writings made in the heat of extremely angry moments (which are things that characterize most of my social networking output).  This is why I held off for more than a month before writing an entry about something that made me absolutely furious at the time it was happening.  I was hoping that the passage of weeks would somehow diminish my anger and allow me to deliver this warning in a calm and reasonable manner, without resorting too much on unduly negative language.

As the title of this entry suggests, this is about the inconvenience, frustration and disappointment caused to me by SEAir in the days leading to my trip going to Batanes, the northernmost Philippine province.  For those who don’t know, SEAir has had for a long time a monopoly on the Manila-Basco (Batanes) route.  This advantageous position has led to instances of irregularity and even downright abuse that appropriate authorities have seemingly turned a blind eye on.  In fact of the two times I flew with SEAir, I experienced such irregularities/abuses on both instances.

More particularly, the source of all this resentment is their dishonest claim that they offer daily flights to Basco, when in fact they don’t.  Please bear with me as I go through a detailed explanation on this dishonesty.

“TECHNICAL PROBLEM”

Here’s the background: In the past year, SEAir has invested heavily on advertising and has made a big deal about their claim that they offer daily flights to Batanes.

I originally was scheduled to fly to Basco on September 8, 2011, and return to Manila on September 12, 2011.  I booked and paid for this round-trip flight as early as January 13, 2011, and I was supposed to spend my vacation with my work colleague Danna and her friend Rhea.  We made sure that we have filed all the necessary vacation leaves in the office months before the actual vacation so that we would be prioritized and our vacation would push through as smoothly as possible.

Then on September 6, exactly 2 hours before our flight, we each received an email informing us of a “technical problem” that supposedly necessitated the cancellation of our flight and rescheduling it 2 days later on September 10.  (With the return flight also rescheduled to September 14.)

SEAir’s email informing me of the flight cancellation and rescheduling.

Before ranting about it, my immediate concern was whether there was still enough time to reschedule the vacation leaves i filed.  Fortunately, my request was granted.  Unfortunately, Danna’s request was not, despite much begging with her manager.  And since Rhea was not inclined to push through with the trip without Danna, that meant I would be traveling to Batanes alone.  Needless to say, the itinerary and budget estimate that I prepared was wrecked.  So as not to make things seem worse than they already are to Danna, I didn’t rant too loudly about this misfortune because I at least was going to Batanes, while she was not.

(Here’s the thing:  I don’t know much about airplanes, but if they’re going to announce a “technical problem” 2 days in advance, why can’t they use those same 2 days to repair whatever the problem is so that the flight takes place as scheduled?  Here’s how absurd it is: Since they’re rescheduling the flight another 2 days later, then that’s an astounding 4 days to repair a “technical problem” from the time that it was discovered.  4 days to fix a “technical problem”?  Really?)

Okay.  So let’s just assume that there indeed is a “technical problem” and that it truly would take 4 long days to repair it.  By the time of the rescheduled flight, then there will no longer be any problems, right?  I mean, surely, 4 days of repairing should be enough to ensure that the plane flies on schedule.

Wrong.

TECHNICAL PROBLEM (AGAIN)

Since the rescheduled flight is at 5:15 am, I arrived at the airport 2 hours before, as standard procedure.  By 4:00, I was already waiting at the pre-departure area.  Then they announced a 15-minute delay.  Well, that didn’t sound too bad.

By 5:15, all of us Basco-bound passengers were already called to the boarding area.  I was so excited that I was even the first one to present my boarding pass.  Wow, it looks like we were leaving with very minimal delay.

Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

By 5:45, after realizing that we have been standing at the boarding area for 30 minutes without any word as to why were were not boarding yet, we started to grumble.  All the while, the SEAir employee who was supposed to escort us to the airplane was just talking to someone through her 2-way radio.  There was a sinking feeling that somehow we were in for another disappointment.

Finally, by 5:50, we were told to return to the pre-departure area and wait for further announcement.  When pressed for an explanation, the SEAir employee said that there was something wrong with the airplane that we were supposed to board and that we had to wait for an airplane replacement.  (In short, a “technical problem”.)  Later on, it was announced that we had to wait for another 2 hours to prepare the airplane replacing the one we were supposed to board.

Those 2 hours gave me time to think a lot about SEAir’s previous excuse and how it’s incompatible with what has just transpired.  If it took them just 2 HOURS to find a replacement airplane on the spot because of a “technical problem”, then I could not understand how they had to delay our original flight for 2 DAYS in the first place.

The only sensible explanation about all this is that they LIED about the existence of an earlier “technical problem” in order to cram as many people as possible in each flight, even if it means transferring paying customers to later flights with absolute disregard for the inconvenience it might cause to their plans and schedules.  They never intended to offer daily flights to Batanes.  They routinely resort to FALSE ADVERTISING to bait people into paying for flights and lull them into a false sense of security that those flights will take place on schedule, when in fact, there’s a considerable chance that they will not.

So the next time SEAir posted a “daily flights to Batanes” ad in their Facebook page, I just had to put this as a comment:

THE 2-LIE SYSTEM

So in summary, here’s how SEAir’s Manila-Basco flights are handled by the airline:

1.  LIE about daily flights to Batanes and accept bookings for any date.

2.  If too few people book on a specific date, notify passengers 2 days prior that the flight is postponed and as an explanation, LIE about the existence of a “technical problem”.

3.  Transfer those passengers to another flight 2 days after the original flight, regardless of how they might inconvenience paying customers.

4.  Repeat process whenever applicable.

THIS IS A WARNING, NOT A COMPLAINT

Surprisingly, this is exactly the same thing that happened to me when I first went to Batanes in December 2009.  I complained about it, even corresponding with a SEAir executive with a foreign-sounding name in Facebook.  Nothing happened.  They pretend as if there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing, and given that they had a monopoly of the Manila-Basco route, authorities are not inclined to take action against them.

This is why this blog post is a warning, not a complaint.  I don’t care if this ever reaches SEAir.  (Because, frankly, I know for a fact that neither will they care.)  This is not addressed to them.  This is addressed to all those who have never visited Batanes before and who are forced to book with SEAir and might possibly be victimized by the airline’s lack of transparency.

(Note:  A number of professional bloggers endorse SEAir, and at least one prominent blogger is in their payroll.  Don’t be swayed by any blogger who has a glowing review of SEAir’s services.  Most likely, they have been adequately compensated either in cash or in preferential treatment for giving such reviews.)

Set your expectations.  Assume a 50% probability that your flight will be postponed and rescheduled and insulate yourself from schedule disruptions by doing the following:

1.  Allow for at least a 2-day cushion when filing your vacation leaves for your Batanes trip.  If your intended length of stay is 4 days, then file 6 days vacation leave.  If you don’t have enough VL credits, then tell your boss at least a month before about the unreliability of SEAir and that you might need to make last-minute rescheduling of your approved VL.

2.  Do not schedule an important appointment immediately after the date of your intended return to Manila.  If your trip back to Manila is also rescheduled 2 days later, you will definitely miss that appointment.

3.  If you have made arrangements with a tour guide, make sure that he/she is apprised of whatever delay you might be experiencing so that alternative arrangements might be made.

ARE WE STUCK WITH SEAIR?

Fortunately, not anymore.  Recently, at the time of my visit, a smaller carrier named “Sky Pasada” began offering Manila-Basco flights at competitive rates (still not cheap though).  Caveat: Sky Pasada’s safety track record in the Manila-Basco route is virtually nonexistent because they’ve just begun offering flights a month ago, and only time will tell if they can match SEAir’s safety record.  It also remains to be seen whether Sky Pasada’s pre-flight services are better than SEAir’s.

Nevertheless, I do hope that the entry of Sky Pasada as a competitor would somehow force SEAir to shape up and improve their pre-flight services.  At the very least, I just hope that the latter stops lying to the public and their paying customers.

Will I fly again with SEAir on my next Batanes visit?  Most likely, yes.  I already know what to expect so I can take contingency measures.  But I’ll also give Sky Pasada a try once I’m convinced that they are more reliable than SEAir.

= = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Batanes II series dated September 10-14, 2011:

1. Return to Batanes (a prologue)
2. Hiking in Northern Batan
3. Preview: Mt. Iraya
4. The Back-breaking Mt. Iraya Climb
5. Mahatao’s Lighthouses: Setting the Facts Straight
6. Stuck in Batan: New Sites & Sentimental Favorites
7. In search of Batanes’ prehispanic past
8. The 2-lie system of SEAir’s Manila-Basco flights (a warning)
9. Everyone’s kinder in Batanes (even the tourists.)

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19 thoughts on “The 2-lie system of SEAir’s Manila-Basco flights (a warning)

  1. Hi,

    This happened exactly with my sister’s flight to Batanes. Since she is just vacationing in the Philippines and had a strict schedule, what I did was explain the situation to Seair for an hour on the phone and they then returned the flight schedule – not back to the original schedule but as close to it as possible.

    You’re right! Lesson learned for my family. Never go on vacation on seair on such a strict schedule.

    • It’s sad that it’s so inconvenient for a customer to make a complaint and bring attention to this issue to the authorities. I wonder how long local tourists will have to bear with this type of disservice from SEAir.

    • Air Philippines too? I guess in all their haste to compete with each other, these carriers, with seat sales every other week, spread themselves out too thinly. The DTI should require them to place fair disclosures on all their seat sale ads in a font size not smaller than 10.

      • Yes, Air Philippines, on our flights to Coron (from Manila) and back. The local in Coron told us that this always happens with Air Philippines (take note: in Coron).

        Apparently, we didn’t hear any delays for the Air Phil flights to Caticlan. It was just our early Coron-bound flight in NAIA 3 that had cancelled and delayed flights to Coron (and back).

        If you’re going to Coron, I advise you not to fly Air Phil.

        What sucks most is that we, the passengers, have no choice. We pay for our tickets, we wait in the airport, and if something goes wrong, all we can do is complain and wait. We are in the mercy of their service to bring us to our destination, so whatever we do – rant, trash talk, lash it out on the service crew – we still end up waiting for that delayed flight.

        We can buy another ticket, but it’s still our loss. As if they care; they already have our money.

        Tsk.

      • Oh I’ve been to Coron already. I flew with ZestAir. So far, it’s the only airline that hasn’t screwed me up. But I’ve heard bad reviews too from some so I guess it’s just a matter of time.

        Whenever someone asks me which mode of transpo would be best if one were going to Batanes, I still grudgingly recommend SEAir. No choice eh. It’s the safest and fastest (if there are no delays of course). They’re aware of that and that’s why they blatantly screw up passengers when it suits their business needs.

  2. Here’s another lie. Often times SEAir uses the weather in Basco to cancel or delay flights when the real reason is they don’t have the right number of passengers to make a return flight to manila.

    • It enters the realm of absurdity when a competitor flies to the same destination on the same day. I came across one such instance recently when a friend’s flight to Batanes was canceled due to “weather” but upon inquiry, the smaller planes of Sky Pasada were able to make it to Batanes the same day.

  3. same thing with our Zest air morning flight last month to bacolod. Went to the airport at 5 am for the 7 am flight only to be told that it was cancelled due to “technical problem” > I learned later that they advetise for two times /day flight but actually they packed their daily passenger in to the afternoon flight for Bacolod. It is like hearding cattles.gathering more passengers but flying only when the number of passengerper flight can justify the cost.

  4. This happened to me., just last Nov 23! it is so obvious that they lie about the technical problems. May I cite your blog? I am going to log in an official complaint, and it helps to show that they have been doing this to other passengers for months.

  5. Your experience with SEAIR is sad but a fairly common experience to anyone flying to remote places with bare minimum transportation to the place. Monopoly? Yes, indeed wichever angle one might want to look at it.
    Today, Sky Pasada aircraft went over-shoot the main runway on Itbayat, Batanes due to real mechanical problem. I do not know which airline is safer. I still retain my residence in Ivana, Batanes (cnter of town) but working international requires me to take as much time to go on vacation so I do not miss as much.
    Best period to visit Batanes if traveller is a fair weather one would be from March to May, however if one wants to experience the cold season and unpredictable flights, that would be from December to late January. Travelling to visit Batanes if trouble is what one wants would be sometime from July to early January.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ivatan Native. I’m aware of the risks of traveling to Batanes depending on the month in the year. My beef with SEAir however has nothing to do with weather issues. It has everything to do with plain and simple corporate dishonesty.

      • My dad and mom had the same experience as yours. They were dying to go home because they usually run out of budget after a month-long stay in the city. Retirees both, it wasn’t easy for them to be going to and from the domestic airport – the taxi fare, the time, the inconvenience, etc. etc. Aside from the high fare, SEAir oozes with dishonesty.

      • There’s a new player in town, and its name is Skyjet. I haven’t come across any feedback yet if they’re better than SEAir. For the meantime SEAir has suspended its Manila-Basco route.

  6. AirPhilippines will soon start their flight to Manila-Basco vice versa.
    Last heard it will start this March 2013.
    Hope they will also give their promo PISO fair.hehe

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