The heart of the Filipino
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR - Singkit (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2018 - 12:00am

There’s a report making the usual rounds of social media and cyber groups about a passenger’s Facebook post regarding his experience with an Asian airline when his flight to Manila was delayed to the next day due to the Xiamen Airlines plane that overshot the runway at the NAIA a couple of weeks ago.

The passenger wrote about how they were given regular updates by airline officials – generously laced with apologies – “unlimited sandwiches, muffins and drinks” and then accommodated overnight at a five-star hotel before being transported back to the airport and checked in for their flight the next day.

Reactions to that post in several Viber groups I am part of were all negative – condemnation, sarcasm, disappointment, why didn’t our airlines do the same, only in the Philippines, etc.  

That carrier is known for its reliability and service and I am in no way belittling or taking away from the efficient, gracious and laudable way it handled the situation. But I must point out that they were dealing with just one flight, while our airlines were dealing with many, many flights, both domestic and international, that could not land or take off, plus those diverted to other airports around the country and even to neighboring countries.

Among the 250,000 passengers affected by that disaster were our ballet group of 26 bound for Shanghai on a cultural diplomacy project; a theater group bound for a festival in Moscow and a 100-member youth orchestra returning to Hong Kong. Let me jump to the end of the story and tell you everyone got to leave within 48 hours of their original departure times.

Our PAL flight was delayed by 30 hours; we were back and forth at Terminal 2 three times during that span of time, not including several false starts when we were about to go to the airport but were told to stay put because the flight had been further delayed.

The departure area at Terminal 2 was jampacked, with weary people sitting on their luggage, some asleep from exhaustion. Everyone wanted information: when can we fly, where is our plane and, the $64 question, when will the runway open.

Unfortunately, airline personnel could not answer the first and third questions. But, besieged by tired and irate passengers – including us – I must commend PAL personnel, especially the duty managers (all women, by the way), for not once (at least during the time I was there and harassing them) losing their temper, each one each time stopping to listen then explaining the situation as best they could and assisting those who finally found flights to rebook their tickets, retrieve their luggage earlier checked in and finally, finally heading to immigration and their  boarding gates. Everyone was multi-tasking, attending to three, four or five passengers at the same time; checking computers, answering calls (one manager was talking on a landline and a cell phone, at the same time!)…  

Cartons of bottled water were brought out and distributed; I also saw boxes of mamon and fried chicken meals. I didn’t get any as I was too stressed to eat.   

It certainly was aggravating, hanging on to every bit of news, spirits buoyed by each NOTAM (notice to airmen) that said the runway would be opened by this time, only to find out the deadline for clearing the runway was again pushed back.

Did authorities fall short in handling the situation? Certainly, emphatically. Infrastructure-wise the airport is way inadequate, and government’s admission that this disaster was a “wake up call” – again! – for them to finally and really do something about upgrading the existing airport and/or building a new one is hardly encouraging.

Could the airlines have done a better job handling their passengers? Of course. I don’t know how it was at the other terminals, but given the horrible circumstances, I must say – and I am quite sure there will be those who will disagree with me, hopefully not violently – that the heart of the Filipino at the core of PAL’s transformation into a four-star airline was on display during those 48 or 72 nightmarish hours.

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