The travails of air travel

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Nowadays, more and more Filipinos travel by air. This is due in part to the aggressive marketing efforts of the airlines, the Department of Tourism and the tourism industry. Returning balikbayans treat relatives to tours around the country. It used to be that national and international conferences were held in Manila. Nowadays these are held in the provinces. Provincials who work in Manila go home more often than before. These days, people travel by air, not only because they have to, but because they love travel itself.

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Unfortunately, the increase in the number of air travelers is accompanied by visible deterioration of travel facilities, whether these be airports, roads and places of accommodation. Delays in departure as well as traffic jams, whether on land, airport or sea have become the “new normal.”

During the past three months I travelled six times to the Visayas–three times to Dumaguete, once to Ticao Island in Masbate via Legaspi, once to Cebu, and another time to Bohol.

All of the flights during my six trips in three months were delayed, whether leaving or arriving. Delays of two hours happened. A thirty minute wait on the runway was nothing out of ordinary in those six trips. The same thing happened to other airline passengers. During the graduation rites of Silliman University, our speaker, Ryan Cayabyab’s flight was delayed and finally cancelled. Our board meetings in the university went awry because members’ flights were either cancelled or delayed.

My last trip to Dumaguete was particularly nerve-wracking. I needed to go home on March 22nd to receive an award in Guihulngan City on March 23rd. Since my flight was at 1:30p.m., I left my house at 9:30 a.m. to enable me to reach the airport by 11:30 a.m., two hours before departure.

The passengers were starting to line up when it was announced that our flight would be delayed due to servicing of the plane. One hour went by. No news. Then another hour. Some passengers started getting restive and berated the airline staff. Just before 4pm, the irritated passengers were instructed to transfer to another plane, in another departure area. They ran to crowded buses and raced toward the other plane. I was fortunate because I was in a wheel chair and my porter sped off with me as if he were on fire.

The passengers barely had time to push their way into the bus, climb aboard the plane, put up their hand carried luggage and finally sit down, when the steward announced that the plane could not leave. The collective howl of protest was deafening. Departure was not allowed by the control tower because of the “sunset requirement,” meaning we would reach Dumaguete by sunset. The lights in the Dumaguete Airport are not sufficient.

The passengers left the substitute plane, shoved each other to the bus, rushed to get back their off loaded luggage and crowded around the ticket counters. This time, there was no orderly line. Everyone was pushing and elbowing others out of the way. They were shouting, cursing, and demanding that they be put in the next earliest flight. The passengers were booked for different flights. These led to a lot of ugly denunciations and threats, and charges of favoritism. Priority was given to those who had dead relatives to come home to, and those with urgent appointments.

Once the matter of booking was “settled” albeit with a lot of grumbling, we had to wait for more than thirty minutes for a bus to take us to the hotel– tired, hungry and exhausted, but still in an ugly mood. We were told to be ready for pick up at 6:00 a.m. of the next day, meaning we had to get up at 5:00 a.m. The next day, May 23rd, the first batch of passengers piled into a van-sleepy, breakfastless and even more grouchy.

I arrived in Dumaguete on March 23, one day after my scheduled flight, had a quick meal and careened to Guihulngan City just in time to receive my award.

An airline trip which could have taken only 1 hour took one day of frazzled nerves. Is this “the new normal” in air travel?

With the hundreds of billions stashed in Special Purpose Funds, (P282 billion for 2014 alone) off-budget items and other lump sum appropriations, couldn’t some billions be spent to untangle the traffic in the runways and put up lighting systems in frequently travelled areas? Couldn’t the airlines sympathize with harassed passengers and make sure their planes are in flying condition? If the government and the airlines don’t act now, they will eventually lose the very passengers they are courting so aggressively

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1 Comment

  1. Jake Crisologo on

    The state of air travel in the Philippines really is shameful. Coming from a tourism perspective, accessibility and transport are essential in actualizing the benefits of the travel and tourism industry. The tourism economic ripple can be tremendously helpful to a country in need of better employment numbers. Unfortunately, the ripple of delayed flights and poor airline services affect the people themselves in the form of delayed appointments, commitments, and time that is generally wasted, which could have been used better.

    The game is efficiency, and our system of transport is losing big time.