It’s two weeks to my sister’s wedding in Batanes. Like most weddings in that northern tip of the Philippines, it’s meant to be an intimate affair, with just the closest family and friends. More than the wedding preps, we spent the last 11 months on travel preparations–negotiating deals with hotels in Basco, arranging tours, attending travel expos in Manila, doing whatever we can to ease the cost for our guests. Our biggest concerns — until three days ago — were final gown fittings, table setting and what extra desserts to bring. Everything was easy breezy.
And then Skyjet, that “boutique leisure airline” peddling “a better way to fly” decided NOT to fly to Basco this month. No warnings, no advisories, no explanations. My sister’s wedding is on January 27, and 21 of our 55 guests are flying Skyjet on January 26-28/30. They paid for their tickets as early as September last year, and yet, as of January 6, they had no flights.
If we’re going to be glass-is-half-full here, then I suppose we should be thankful that we got the shocking news more than 24 hours before the flight, which is usually when the very ill-served airline passengers in the Philippines are advised of any changes in schedule. We are thankful that my sister, the bride, had called the owner of Bernardo’s Hotel in Basco to arrange a pre-wedding dinner for guests — it was from Bernardo’s that we learned Skyjet won’t be flying to Batanes this month. I called BCTA, the travel agency owned by the Skyjet COO, and they confirmed that there will indeed be no flights due to aircraft maintenance.
“The whole month?!” I screamed.
She said yes, that was the memo. I asked what Skyjet plans to do with those who already hold tickets, and the woman on the other line gave me two numbers to call about that. Fine. I rang both numbers: nobody was picking up at 5543333, and the other number, Skyjet’s airport office, confirmed that they will stop flying after Jan. 9. “Aircraft technical evaluation,” this other employee said. Again, she had no clue what to do with us.
I know that in the midst of all the war and strife going on in this world, losing your flight is practically a non-problem. If it had been any other travel plans, I’d agree with that. But this is my youngest sister’s wedding — it means the world to two people. And we, their families, have worked hard to make it as stress-free and beautiful for them. Skyjet cannot possibly know what it took the couple to get here, how everyone pitched in leading to the sacred moment, how guests have been saving to be able to come to Batanes. Skyjet does not understand its responsibility to its clients. An airline who treats you the way Skyjet does, does not care about your personal reasons or needs or goals. They fly when they want to, they hide when they don’t.
To date, Skyjet owes us PHP 198,732 (roughly USD 4,500) in refund. The crisis manager, Ian Barron (09157400478) has not picked up even once in the gazillion times I called him. My other sister has been calling Skyjet offices but she’s being passed around. When she asked for Skyjet’s new address in Makati, so we could go there and demand action, the customer service officer refused to tell her. It was only with the threat of reporting Skyjet to the Department of Trade and Industry that we got what we needed. This beyond-lousy handling by Skyjet of a damage it has caused has turned us into people with nasty words and little patience — something we’re normally not. It has made us lose faith in yet another institution.
Only three months ago, I was at the office of Skyjet COO Joel Mendoza, whom I interviewed with a classmate for a PR audit report we needed for my MA class. He was a jovial guy. Sounded sincere enough, undeniably passionate. He was big about “not just selling seats, but experiences.” We bought into that. We asked him about how Skyjet deals with the fact that its Facebook page is littered with complaints on cancellations, poor customer service and refunds taking forever. There was also that maiden Taiwan-Boracay flight that got cancelled hours after the passengers have boarded, and then the jet that overshot the runway and ended up on the beach in Balesin. He said they had hired a crisis manager and set up a call center to handle these things.
I never thought we would soon be among those who would rage at Skyjet on their social media accounts. I called, texted and emailed Joel the moment we confirmed the cancellations. He ignored the texts and calls but replied to my email. He referred me to a Capt. Ted Fojas, who never responded. Earlier today, I got an email from a certain Leo Gimena of Skyjet (cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) saying that our refund was being processed. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or curse. What a load of BS! They do not even know the names of our guests or our booking references! When I pointed that out, Mr. Gimena (email@example.com) finally thought to ask for our booking reference numbers. He hasn’t gotten back to us since. This is like the Skyjet customer service representative who took my sister’s call for another case last year — we had to bug Skyjet to issue tickets because it’s been two months since we paid for them (which should have rung alarm bells already) — and not knowing what to say, the Skyjet employee told my sister she would call us back. She did not get my sister’s number.
We’re not luxury travelers — the market Skyjet aims for — but we’re no fools, and it makes us angry to be treated that way. We’re decent people, and for the record, we know how to travel. The Passengers’ Bill of Rights does nothing much for us at this point. Sure, we’re entitled to a refund, but who’s going to be accountable for this major hassle we’re going through? Will Skyjet be compelled to shoulder the difference between the Skyjet airfare we got and the PAL airfare we need to pay for? That’s easily some PHP 30,000 (USD 667) When will we get our almost PHP 200,000 refund? How many more times do we need to call, text, email, leave scathing comments on Twitter and Facebook before Skyjet acts?
If this is the experience Skyjet is selling, then I’d rather have those annoying in-flight games and cup noodles in an airline with no legroom. Isaksak nyo sa baga nyo yang champagne (na sparkling juice lang naman) at yang Cafe France muffin!