Customer service
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2020 - 12:00am

With digital technology advancing in leaps and bounds in this day and age, there is no reason why airlines can’t have better customer service. Something as basic as communicating to the customer can be done easily and cheaply.

Early Tuesday morning, the NAIA domestic terminal was sheer bedlam. There were long lines of confused and sleepy passengers not really knowing where to get reliable information on their flights.

My daughter texted me: “The airport is a mess from previous stranded flights. People sleeping everywhere. I pity the ones with children. They all look exhausted.”

All the anguish could have been avoided if the airlines had a system of informing passengers the status of their flights after an airport shutdown. I realize those were iffy days and neither airlines nor airport authorities knew when flights would get back to normal.

But the airport was partially opened Monday afternoon. There was enough time to text, e-mail or call passengers to tell them if their flights remain cancelled or if their flights will push through. I am sure 99 percent of people who fly have cell phones.

My daughter and her American husband arrived just before the airport was shut down last Sunday. They were set to go to El Nido on Tuesday. We were trying to reach Air Swift for information on their early morning flight after the airport was partially opened Monday afternoon. Nothing. Information blackout.

At 4 a.m. Tuesday, I was frustrated and desperate. I was also embarrassed that my American son-in-law was seeing how Third World we are. Then I remembered… that’s it… we are Third World. Maybe I should just send my daughter to the airport to check in person.

She did and found out her flight was on. Their tickets would have been forfeited if we assumed the flight remained cancelled.

What happened bothered me the whole day. Finally, I wrote an email to JAZA late Tuesday afternoon. Ayala owns Air Swift.

JAZA responded within the hour. Yes, he said, he understands the frustration of not knowing the status of your flight.

JAZA related that his daughter, who is taking her MBA in Singapore, “could not get a direct response on her flight out and I told her to do the same and just head out to the airport (she was able to leave in the end).”

JAZA then agreed with the point I made about using technology to communicate to customers.

“You are right that with the advent of technology on so many mediums we have to be more efficient on communicating with our passengers on Air Swift. I can well imagine the frustration they must have felt and I apologize for that. We will make sure to learn from this and I have included Junie Jalandoni of Ayala Land in this email response. I am sure he will be in touch.”

Mr Jalandoni was in touch a few minutes after. He said it has been challenging since last Sunday afternoon when Taal erupted. They have protocols for storms and typhoons, he said, but none for an erupting volcano.

Huh? It should be the same protocol for airport closure and resumption. They were clearly not prepared to respond to customer concerns, crisis or not.

Then he agreed with me that they need to harness technology.

“You are correct that we need to improve communication to our passengers particularly in crisis situation. With this, we will look at technology perhaps app and web-based applications. You have my commitment that we will implement these applications within the next six months or earlier.”

I guess the same problem bugs the bigger airlines, or there wouldn’t be all those passengers milling around the domestic terminal like headless chickens.

My wife was due to return from Los Angeles on Wednesday and was leaving LAX Monday evening LA time. I texted Cielo Villaluna, the PR head of Philippine Airlines and she assured me the flight is on.

Tuesday morning, there is this press release from NAIA with a list of flights that it said were cancelled Tuesday morning. I got confused because my wife’s flight was on the list. So I texted Cielo again, who after checking, confirmed the flight was on.

I got the information I needed because Cielo has been a long time colleague in the broadcast news industry. Not everyone is as lucky. Indeed, when my wife tried to check her flight’s status from Los Angeles as an ordinary passenger, she got nowhere.

The situation is totally unacceptable. I got in touch with Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat who is also the vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. I suggested that CAB promulgate a rule requiring airlines to communicate to their passengers the flight status whenever changes happen for whatever reason including airport shutdowns due to typhoons or erupting volcanoes.

Airlines should be required to make it a practice to text or email their passengers of flight status or be penalized for failure to do so. Sec Berna agrees with my proposal and promised to bring it up in their CAB meeting. It should probably be an addition to the passengers’ bill of rights.

It is not much of a burden to the airlines because even now, they send e-mails to passengers urging them to upgrade their tickets and other such things. Even if they are unable to provide certainty because they are waiting for government authorities to open the airport, they should still communicate and say so with a promise to text or email again.

For Air Swift, it should even be easier because Globe Telecom is a sister company and Globe most likely has a ready solution for them.

The earlier the CAB mandates this rule to communicate, the better for all passengers. Or, the airlines take their own initiative and do it before it is mandated.

Our domestic airlines should drastically upgrade customer service by harnessing the latest technology. No justification for the information blackout I just experienced.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco                              

JAZA MBA NAIA
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