I think the thing I would like the most in the world is to love and be loved by someone, enough to stick through all the bad times and all my faults. To stick by me when things are bad because I promise with all my heart that when things get better, I will make it all good.
Finally got to meet Cebu Pacific personnel face to face about being a 5J-971 passenger. I know it’s irritating to have to hear from this over and over again (even I’m annoyed at myself for how long this is dragging out) but I think that it’s important for passengers to know what they’re entitled to before, during and after a flight particularly when it concerns safety and security. This has been the most serious incident that has ever happened to me on an airplane and yet this is the only incident that truly makes me feel like the passengers of this flight were a complete afterthought to salvaging the plane, profits and Cebu Pacific’s reputation.
Considering how serious the situation felt inside that plane, I would have been satisfied if Cebu Pacific had done the following (and this is by chronological order):
Immediately following the disaster:
- Immediately evacuated passengers away from the smoking plane. If this was not possible, then inform us regularly and immediately what was happening so we wouldn’t be alarmed. Once off the plane (and within the jurisdiction of the airport), made sure that they had one senior and decisive Cebu Pacific manager making announcements about the plane, our baggage and what was being done regarding the situation.
- While waiting for our baggage, immediately begin providing dinner and medical assistance as time passed. Start systemically checking with passengers who needed accommodations and transportation assistance while waiting. If they couldn’t provide this, set up a system how this could be reimbursed at the soonest possible time. Get psychosocial support to come in or arrange for this to happen soonest.
- After everyone’s safety was insured, refund everyone their ticket. Uniform, across-the-board refunds(Just because we got to Davao, doesn’t mean we paid for an unsafe and unprofessional experience. This isn’t the service you pay for). What you DO NOT do is offer a free round trip ticket (and I’m sure this has strings attached, what with tax, promos and the five hundred loopholes you have to be careful with). It’s like offering the very thing that caused the problem in the first place.
- DO NOT issue a statement like Lance Gokongwei did, saying it was a precautionary evacuation and that the flight crew did the best they could under the circumstances. Precautionary implies you are taking action to avoid a imminent or possible risk. In this case, the plane had landed roughly, the cabin had been smoking, the wing, propellors and landing gear were damaged, and evacuations started half an hour after that. This was an emergency evacuation, not a precautionary one. And for professional flight crew, you expect them to immediately follow protocol, take control of the situation and ensure passenger safety, rather than letting the passengers dictate what should be done for their safety’s sake. If this was the best they could do under the circumstances, then maybe I, a completely untrained passenger, could be a flight attendant. Instead, DO issue a statement that apologises to the passengers and other people affected by the flight for the incident, one that does not give yourself a pat on the back for a job well-done. And change your communication line from “Sorry for the inconvenience” to something else. An inconvenience is having your bag delivered to another destination. An inconvenience is not an incident where I feel like my life is being threatened.
- Immediately, set up a crisis management team. No, this is not under the wheelhouse of guest services or customer services. It is not a G.R.O. concern. This was and should be treated as a crisis affecting human beings. The crisis was not whether the plane lodged next to the tarmac could be towed with the least amount of damage to it so that this could be fully operational at the soonest possible time.
24 hours to a couple of weeks after:
- The first phone call from the Cebu Pacific staff the day after was greatly appreciated. I appreciated the fact that they were calling so quickly to ask about my concerns (although I would have appreciated that they arranged accommodations and dinner immediately after landing as it became clear that we were spending more than 2 hours there). I did not, however, appreciate the next 3 or 4 calls asking me the same thing. For each call where I would make a laundry list of concerns, I would have to rehash this over and over again to different personnel, proving that there was no continuity between my calls. The second call should immediately have concrete follow up to your concerns. And this should all be organised by the crisis management team and calls should all be done by people who have knowledge of decisions being made. There will be persistent passengers, like me, who will never be placated by “There’s no decision yet on this, ma’am, eh.”
- If you decide to have Family Assistance Teams, Cebu Pacific should make the effort to meet the passengers and not have passengers to make the effort to meet you, like they did with us. And if the resources to do these aren’t possible, then set it at appropriate times and make sure that a SENIOR official is there who can tell you something decisive and not pawn you off to volunteers. No, it is not convenient for professionals to go to Crowne Plaza from 10-12nn and 2-4pm on a Monday or Tuesday. Set up meetings after work hours or on Saturdays. Make sure you also meet passengers who don’t live in Davao City or Metro Manila. We flew into the biggest airport hub in Mindanao and so you can expect that there are people who DO NOT live in Davao City proper. Lastly, reimburse people the transportation they took to get to your Family Assistance session. If you are going to make the passengers, who are by now endlessly stressed, then at the very least, make the effort to reimburse them of their effort.
- Very importantly, and this is a point that Cebu Pacific is completely missing, passengers at this point are entitled to damages. We sat in a smoking plane for 30 minutes (or more) without a clue what was happening and seriously alarmed by our safety, we waited for more than more than 2 hours in holding without being providing dinner, concrete information or even seats (at one point), we are prodded and poked by Cebu Pacific to give our concerns and when we do, there’s no follow-up. Cebu Pacific’s line has revolved around them making a big deal of reimbursing accommodations and transportation, medical and psychological assistance. Well, Cebu Pacific is required to give us all that because the airlines caused us to need accommodations, transportation, medical and psychological assistance. Cebu Pacific cannot make it a big deal because they are required to do this. For a completely safe flight in the rights of carriage, simple delays of a certain point require you to provide dinner, transportation and accommodation if necessary. A messed up landing, damaged plane and emergency situation should entitle you automatically to that and more for the trouble this has caused. So immediately after the incident, whether or not results of the investigation place blame on Cebu Pacific, the airport, the pilot or elsewhere, you must begin repairing the damages caused by being on this flight and dealing with the series of events following it. Compensation is reparation. It could have been as simple as actually having personnel attending to our needs in a systematic, organised manner or Lance Gokongwei issuing a non-offensive statement. But the longer you drag this on and the more inept the action is, it will snowball into needing something bigger as reparation for dealing, not only with that flight, but Cebu Pacific’s actions. What Cebu Pacific also fails to realise, at least from the people I have talked to, is that damages here relate to 2 things: 1) everything related to the plane and 2) everything related to how Cebu Pacific dealt with the passengers the second we landed.
After the investigations are concluded:
- There are two parallel investigations, one with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and Cebu Pacific’s. Most likely, these will be highly technical investigations and according to Mr. Don Agcaoili of the Legal Affairs Department of Cebu Pacific, the investigation of CAAP will most likely not be privy to the public. While I personally feel this is entirely questionable (frankly, this could stink of corruption. Doesn’t it sound questionable???), the final conclusion of the investigation should be relayed in a press release and personally to the passengers so we can finally know what happened with that plane and how best we can avoid that kind of situation from happening again. We would like to know who or what is to blame for all this is, because definitely there is something there that caused this incident. If it was pilot error, a faulty plane, the weather, then passengers and the public are entitled to know.
- Once this has been determined, then Cebu Pacific has to take a clear look at what next to do and this once again revolves around taking steps to repair the damages to the passengers. If it does turn out that it was a pilot error or a technical error, then passengers were wilfully at risk and the passengers would have a case to pursue legally. And if it turns out that it was bad weather, then you can still cite the way the passengers were handled immediately after the landing as a case to be pursued. Cebu Pacific management needs to take a look at the results of the investigations and an even longer, harder look at how the discovered cause of the incident impacted the passengers. And I cannot stress this enough, Cebu Pacific needs to pull their focus away from the plane and their profits, and look AT the passengers. If it was acts of God that caused the incident, passengers were still mistreated (yes, I say mistreated) and Cebu Pacific needs to answer to do that. And if it was real error on the part of Cebu Pacific, then they need to answer to that + how passengers were dealt with.
- A very interesting thing that came out in the Family Assistance talk I went to was there is a grey area where CAAP jurisdiction falls and where Cebu Pacific jurisdiction falls. From what I understood from Mr. Agcaoili (and I’m sure of my understanding since I went through this over and over again), the airline is in charge while in flight but the minute that the plane hits the tarmac, then it falls under the jurisdiction of CAAP. In this case, it looks like Cebu Pacific will be shifting the role of emergency response to the Francisco Bangoy airport and CAAP for not failing to provide the right response. I asked, what about the 30 minutes that we were waiting for evacuation inside that plane that was sealed? Wasn’t Cebu Pacific flight crew still in charge of us? Why weren’t they in charge of us? Mr. Agcaoili’s response was that the pilot gives the final call regarding the safety of the passengers and that since the plane landed, it fell under CAAP jurisdiction. To me, I get the impression that 1) Cebu Pacific is looking at passing the buck to CAAP and the airport for this lapse and 2) Cebu Pacific is still at fault because the pilot took no control or conveyed this to passengers at any time. The time we were still on that plane, do they meant to say that no one was in charge of the passengers’ safety or that no one knew who was in charge of passengers’ safety? Regardless, of who blames who, it remains that the passengers were first and foremost clients of Cebu Pacific and the airline is the first in line when it comes to accountability.
What’s happening now is that Cebu Pacific is still in the process of asking our concerns and reimbursements and providing medical/psychological assistance. Almost three weeks have passed and I can say for myself that I’m past that stage and I want to know what they are doing now to move forward. They are still “responding”. When the doctor earlier took my blood pressure, I was thinking “if I had high blood pressure since June 2 as a result of the flight, then I would have had a heart attack by now. For goodness’ sake, do they expect my blood pressure and my medical state to be exactly the same as it was immediately after the flight?”
I have no credentials to give recommendations to an airline except for being a frequent flier but here’s what I would do:
- Start beefing up your safety and security protocols and show PROOF. If it’s doing a news segment running through how you do trainings, announcing that a credible external consultant to go over your safety and security protocols or creating a communications campaign revolving around a checklist of how you’re worthy of your security or airline rating. Assure the public that availing your piso fares don’t mean scrimping on other things.
- Take a long hard look at your image. This incident is a long line of “scandals” affecting you. There have been reports, verified or not, that you don’t connect planes to tunnels making people walk in bad weather for the sake of saving a few bucks, forcing handicapped persons to crawl because they don’t have the money to pay for your wheelchairs, airplanes running across NAIA runway lights. It looks like your image revolves around making money, making money, making money and passengers be damned. So do something about it.
- Treat the passengers like human beings and not like you just awarded us reimbursements and roundtrip flights and medical assistance out of the incredible goodness of your heart. Come up with reparation already and make sure it is appropriate. By appropriate, I mean that offering free roundtrip flights was a knee-jerk reaction and completely insensitive to the trauma passengers were caused. I was told by a Cebu Pacific call service person that flights were offered because it was your service. Be realistic. You have other resources you’re reluctant to dispose of.
- Take a look at how you deal with crisis management. To have an incident like this be looked beyond the human element and straight to the profit is inhumane. It took 3 days for that plane to be towed out because, and this was said to me straight, Cebu Pacific wanted to put the least amount of damage to the plane. And this at the expense of the passengers. For shame.
This incident continues to stress me to no end for several reasons. One, though I was calm during the incident, I find that increasingly, my reactions during plane landings have gotten increasingly more anxious and panicked, although I know the odds of this happening to me again are very, very slim. As a frequent traveler for work purposes, this could be a huge problem for me. Two, I may not be an aviation specialist but I do have common sense and some background in disasters. And I felt like the crew was running around headless and the passengers were figuring out their own way, as if we were all aviation specialists. If I were to give Cebu Pacific a rating, I’d probably rate it a generous 2. Three, and this is biggest stressor, I personally have never felt less valued as a human being. I feel like we were all weight against profit and found wanting. No one died in the landing and immediately after that, we were an afterthought to the recovery of the plane and resumption of flights. Thank you for making us feel like we’ve never been valued less.
I think the Philippines tends to lose interest after a few weeks have passed and I think Cebu Pacific is banking on that. As much as it stresses me no end to deal with this, having Cebu Pacific be accountable for all this needs to happen, otherwise this kind of reaction will be the status quo of every single one of your own flights. And I wouldn’t wish the helplessness of being in a sealed smoking plane with no idea when we could get out on anyone.
I wish I knew who the photographer was though.
Turn down the lights;
Turn down the bed.
Turn down these voices
Inside my head.
Lay down with me;
Tell me no lies.
Just hold me close;
Don’t patronize me.
‘Coz I can’t make you love me
If you don’t.
You can’t make your heart feel
Something it won’t.
Here in the dark
In these final hours,
I will lay down my heart
And I’ll feel the power;
But you won’t.
No, you won’t.
‘Coz I can’t make you love me
If you don’t.
I’ll close my eyes,
Then I won’t see
The love you don’t feel
When you’re holding me.
Morning will come,
And I’ll do what’s right;
Just give me till then
To give up this fight.
And I will give up this fight.
Man, I used to think this song was really cheesy… and then I read the lyrics.