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.
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.)
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.
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.)