The Joys of a Home in the Sky

Your Home in the Sky,” says the slogan of the country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL). Being a budget traveler and because of the extreme difference of the company’s airfare against low cost carriers, I have never been on any PAL aircraft since I started flying. So I have long been wondering how does it feel like to aboard a plane which promises the comforts of a home.

Thankfully, PAL has its subsidiary PAL Express competing with low cost carriers like Cebu Pacific and AirAsia. It may not be PAL per se but, ya know, it still gives you the feeling as if you’re flying with PAL. And that’s the closest thing I can do to experience “home in the sky”, to book flights with PAL Express. I never had any regretful encounters with PAL Express until recently.

Photo from Philippine Airlines’ Facebook page.

Me and Rowjie were scheduled to go to Batanes last October 14 with a return flight of October 21. I specifically chose those dates for important reasons and had them booked with the help of Izah’s travel agency Explor8 during a travel expo last February. It was October 9, five days before my scheduled flight, when I got an email from Izah informing us of the changes in our flights. The flights were changed to October 15 with a return flight of October 22. We were still out of the country during that time and won’t be back until October 13 and so I couldn’t manage to call PAL Express for clarification.

When we got home, I consulted the Twitter handle @flyPAL about my dilemma but I was referred to their hotline. I immediately called the hotline using my mobile phone to ask why the sudden changes and to let them know that the changes are not agreeable on my part as I need to be back in Manila by evening of October 21 because of an important business I couldn’t afford to miss. I was told that our flights were affected by their “operational requirements.” I asked the lady I spoke with what it meant and what resolution the company could provide me. She said there are certain factors involve with it and that she couldn’t pinpoint which of which. As for the resolution, I was provided with four options.

  • To go back to Manila at an earlier date. Are you kidding? You want me to cut our vacation short? It’s Batanes for goodness’ sake!
  • To go back to Manila at a later date. No can. I have a flight to Boracay on October 23.
  • To reschedule the round-trip flight 30 days within the original flight schedules. Na-ah. I have a family to feed and bills to pay. In short, I have a job and another vacation leave is not possible.
  • To get a refund. Nope. Have you any idea on how difficult to get deals like this? A one-way flight to Batanes costs more than the amount of the round-trip flights we scored during the travel expo.

I said no to all four options and asked if they could rebook the flights February of 2015. The lady declined and so I had to ask for a supervisor because the conversation was going nowhere. When the phone was passed to the supervisor, I felt intimidated by the I-am-a-supervisor-and-you-must-fear tone I felt in her voice. She made me feel like a kid who couldn’t understand that she had to repeat herself over and over again. I cut the conversation by saying that if they couldn’t stick to the flight schedules I booked, then they must reschedule the flights to my preferred dates. Finally, the supervisor gave in and said that she would forward my request to god-knows-what department for approval and that I had to call again after 24 hours.

When I called back, I was told that the request was declined and that they are sticking to the four options I was provided with during my initial call. FINE. I then opted to get a refund thinking that it’s the only choice I’ve got. Voila. The lady said that the refund is still subject for approval and I need to call back AGAIN to know its status. Once approved, it isn’t still guaranteed that I am gonna get the whole amount I paid for. I was at my wit’s end with this issue and I hung up.

I again consulted the Twitter handle @flyPAL with my concern and I received a quick response now referring me to an email address. I sent an email to the address I was given with and got a response within the same day as well. The message was apologetic and also confirmed that I would get a full refund for the inconvenience the changes have caused me. All I have to do is go to the nearest PAL ticketing office. Great, I thought. I Google-d the nearest ticketing office from my location and found the Petron Belair branch in Makati. I sent an email to the branch asking whether I could have the refund processed in their office and quickly received an answer that they could process it for me as long as I bring proper identification cards.

The next day, I went to the ticketing office hopeful that this would now come to an end and that I could now get my money back, forget about the hassles, and just move on. To my dismay, I was told that the full amount would be reversed to the credit card used during the booking three to four weeks depending on the bank.

And that’s how my recent encounter with PAL Express went.

I am actually very grateful to all the helpful people who helped me (except for the supervisor). What I don’t like are the process and the policies of PAL Express. Here are my reasons.

  • The flights were booked February. Why were the notice of the changes sent just FIVE DAYS before the supposed flights? Are you not aware that not all have the luxury of time for sudden changes like this?
  • The changes happened on PAL Express’ end so why make the passenger suffer from it? I did not call for cancellation or whatsoever. If the changes are really that important, make sure that the passenger is ammenable to it.
  • The refund process is tedious! What if the booking was paid using a credit card owned by someone who you kicked out of your life or a person who is already abroad or worst, deceased? Can you imagine the hassle that affected passenger will have to go through just to get his/her money back?
  • I spent a generous amount of time and money (mobile phone calls, gas going to and from the ticketing office, internet usage) trying to fix this issue that was caused by the changes and yet I was given a resolution that I don’t agree with.

I have had no previous experiences with other airline companies similar to this one so I cannot really tell if how PAL Express handled my case sucked or if it’s really just the way the cookie crumbles. Nevertheless, I just have to voice out the disappointment with the home in the sky that I regard so highly.

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