Friday, June 07, 2013

Why All the Hate for Cebu Pacific?

Our university president Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., has been at the forefront of the storm of criticism against Cebu Pacific. The word of the head of a major school must carry a lot of weight because his angry letter to the airline made news. It doesn’t help Cebu Pacific, either, that Fr. Tabora is Twitter-savvy.

Before you accuse Fr. Tabora of over-reacting, consider this: one of the two Ateneo teachers in that ill-fated flight is still in the hospital. Up to now, no one from Cebu Pacific has bothered to check in on her.

No one is really blaming Cebu Pacific for the accident itself. (Not yet, anyway, but the stories and suspicions are heading in that direction.) If anything, it was a miracle that no one died in the crash. The immediate cause for anger at Cebu Pacific comes from the airline’s inept and insensitive response.

Much has been made of the crew’s inaction following the crash so it doesn’t bear repeating here. But the pattern of ineptitude and insensitivity persisted long after the crash itself. Every action, every word from Cebu Pacific bespoke of attempts to disclaim responsibility, or at the very least, a lack of transparency.

Lance Gokongwei said that the crew acted heroically and “followed the book” in handling the crash. It took two days for the airline to remove the plane from its crash site. Up till now, the pilot and first officer remain anonymous entities.

These are the immediate causes for anger at Cebu Pacific; but I think that anger at Cebu Pacific has been brewing a long time. This is just the proverbial straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

I can still remember when Cebu Pacific was an upstart airline. It was a refreshing change from the stiff and oft-times arrogant treatment we got from Philippine Airlines. The competition they brought helped bring down airfare costs. Even when their plane crashed in Misamis Oriental in 1998, Cebu Pacific had enough public good will to bounce back.

But that was the Cebu Pacific of old. Nowadays, flying Cebu Pacific is an infuriating experience. It’s almost bait-and-switch, in a way. They draw you in with the promise of cheap fares, but every little thing on top of that, from the baggage allowance to in-flight amenities, has an attached price tag. If you decide you did want the baggage allowance after all, you have to pay 50% more than if you would have gotten it with your tick

Cebu Pacific ground staff are often grumpy at the times that I’ve had to deal with them. Perhaps I’ve just lucked out on their bad days, but maybe I shouldn’t complain. Persons with disabilities have it much worse with Cebu Pacific, like the ten deaf students who were denied boarding, and the wheelchair-bound woman in a Singapore flight who had to crawl into the plane.

And yet we still patronize Cebu Pacific because, well, Piso Fare, right?

I don’t know about you, but I stopped playing that game a long time ago. It used to be fun, and once, I managed to snag cheap fares to Singapore and Hong Kong. But after a while it really felt like I was being played, that Cebu Pacific was preying on my compulsions. And really, after the taxes and surcharges, the fares aren’t really that cheap anymore.

There are only two reasons I’ve still been flying Cebu Pacific. Because it was, until recently, the sole airline of Ateneo de Davao; and because it was the only one flying the Dumaguete-Cebu leg. Fr. Tabora has just gotten invalidated the first, and now I’m just looking to another airline to fly Dumaguete-Cebu to drop my business with Cebu Pacific altogether.