A Sweet Vacation Turned Sour — Thanks to Cebu Pacific Air

by: Ruffy Biazon

It was a vacation that we had planned and yearned for, a vacation that would give me the opportunity to catch up on the lost time with my children who had endured my divided attention between them and the public.

With the kids on a long break from their school, my wife and her sisters planned a joint family vacation in Boracay, which we knew that the kids would enjoy since they all love going to the beach together.
It was a perfectly planned trip, from the reservations of the flights including reserved seating on the plane (which is a paid option offered by Cebu Pacific Air), transfers and room assignments as well as the activities that we were going to do while in the world famous island.

To sum it all up, it was a wonderful time spent with the family, filled with happy memories, unforgettable experiences for the kids (like riding the Zorb and introductory scuba diving) and precious moments with loved ones. As pristine as the powdery white sands of Boracay, our vacation was simply perfect.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and so our perfect vacation ended and we had to go home. Little did we know that not only was our vacation ending, it was going to be capped off on a sour note, thanks to Cebu Pacific Air’s customer service which was nowhere near satisfactory.

My initial dissatisfaction (and irritation) with Cebu Pacific had something to do with our flight booking and reservations. In order to make our travel easier, we availed of Cebu Pacific’s seat selector program where you can reserve specific seats for a fee. We decided to pay the extra amount just to make sure that we will get the seats most convenient for us and our travel plan. On the way home to Manila, we reserved the front row seats for me, my wife, our three children aged 11, 8 and 4 and one yaya.

In connection with that, we had pre-determined seating arrangement, which enabled us to better manage the kids and in case of an emergency, we had a plan of action on how to handle the children. The plane’s configuration is six seats to a row with an aisle in the middle, making it a 3-3 seating arrangement.

Our plan was to have our four year old son sit with my wife and the yaya and the 11-and 8-year old sit with me. It was all part of our family plan.

But those plans went to ruin as soon as we settled down into our seats just before the plane was set to taxi for it’s take off position. Being the front row passengers, we were the last few to board the plane. But we were told by the flight attendant that we couldn’t occupy those seats because the minimum age requirement for an emergency exit seat (which the front row seats were because they were right beside the main door) was 15 years old.

Of course we understood that it was for safety reasons, although when we checked in, it never occurred to me that passengers on the entire row had to be 15 years old and above. Form what I knew, as long as the passenger right next to the door was old and capable enough it was fine.

But safety measures are there for a reason, so it wasn;t really the issue at hand. The issue at hand was that we underwent a series of steps in the booking process where we could have been advised by Cebu Pacific about the limitations in the seating.

When we booked for the flight online, the ages of all the passengers were required. After that, when we talked to an agent to arrange for the reserved seats (which we specified to be the front row seats), the agent asked for our children’s ages. When we checked in at the airport, we were required to physically present our children to the personnel at the check in counter. In all those steps, we could easily have been informed by Cebu Pacific personnel about the safety rule of a minimum age requirement for the front row seats.

But Cebu Pacific personnel allowed us to get bookings, reservations and check in for the seats that we reserved. And paid for.

And so it was that after we had settled down in our seats, our children were asked to vacate the seats they were already sitting in. In comparison with other airlines that I have flown with both here and abroad, if safety issues require passengers to exchange seats, the flight attendants first look for a passenger willing to exchange seats and then THEY assist the passengers in moving from one seat to another.

In our Cebu Pacific experience, they simply asked us to unseat our children and transfer somewhere else. The flight was fully booked, so obviously, if our children were to transfer seats, other passengers would have to be displaced. The flight attendants did not make a move to assist us in asking other passengers but instead, a ground staff who came on board told my wife “ma’m, maupo na kayo para maka take-off na yung eroplano” (ma’m just sit down so that the plane can take off).

The Cebu Pacific staff and flight attendants acted as if it was purely our fault that the plane could not depart immediately. As we were trying to figure out how to exchange seats to comply with what the flight crew wanted, our four year old son began crying because he did not want to leave the seat he was already sitting on. All the commotion that was going on gave the other passengers the impression that we were the ones holding up the plane, on simple reason of seating arrangement. It was indeed embarrassing.

Finally, my wife and sons aged 11 and 8 were able to transfer to the second row, with our 4 year old seated on my wife’s lap since he did not want to part with her. The three passengers seated on the second row transferred to the front and one seat was left vacant. All those seats were paid for by us under the seat selection program of Cebu Pacific, but we never got to use them.

Payment for the reserved seats are not really that big an amount. But my point is that we could have been spared the additional expense, aggravation and embarrassment if Cebu Pacific had been more diligent and efficient in implementing it’s rules. As I stated, we do not have a problem with the safety rule. But it was Cebu Pacific’s inefficiency that brought us to that situation.

In addition, Cebu Pacific’s flight crew displayed utter lack of knowledge and skill in dealing with the situation, not to mention poor customer handling and communication. Instead of assisting us in finding a solution, they just stood there making comments that simply did not help.

All the while I struggled to keep my cool and just tried to pacify my son. He eventually quieted down and the rest of the flight was uneventful. I realized that it was pointless to confront the flight crew because I believed that the root of our problem (the booking, reservations and check in) was beyond them. Even their poor performance was something that needed to be taken up with their higher ups, not them.

So I decided to keep quiet and just bring the matter up to the duty manager of Cebu Pacific as soon as we landed. It has always been my belief that complaints should immediately be brought to the attention of supervisors or higher ups who can make decisions or take action. It is pointless to rant and rave to the rank and file because they are not in the position to actually do something to solve the problem. And most of the time, they are the problem. So it is best to bring it to the attention of the bosses.

Upon landing, I immediately looked for Cebu Pacific staff to ask for the duty manager. It took me a couple of minutes to find one, since at the arrival area and all the way to the baggage claim, there was no Cebu Pacific desk or staff around.

I immediately informed the person that I wanted to speak to the duty manager because I wanted to lodge a complaint. The person asked if it was about luggage because he might be able to help. I told him that I don’t think he could help because the matter of my concern was not about luggage but about the bookings and our failure to avail of the seats we paid for.

At that point, I as a paying customer, wanted to bring my concern to the attention of a responsible Cebu Pacific official because I wanted to make sure that my concern would be attended to properly. I knew that if I left the airport without making the complaint, either the company will just give me delaying tactics until I forget about it. I’ve seen it happen before.

I was told that if I wanted to talk to the manager, I could go up to his office in the third floor. I said no, I want to speak to him there at the baggage claim area because we had four big suitcases with us and I didn’t want to leave my wife and three young kids and the yaya waiting by themselves.

The person said that the manager was busy and that perhaps I can just go up to the office. I reiterated that I wanted to speak to the manager personally and if he could come down to meet with me. I also stressed that I was a paying customer who wanted to complain and I believed that it was the manager who could address my concern. I asked the person to specifically tell the manager that I wanted to file a complaint before him.

The person I was talking to left and returned after about 13 minutes. He then told me that the manager was busy. So I asked him, “Is he too busy to talk to a complaining customer?”. The guy simply repeated that the manager was busy. He then asked me to fill up a complaint form.

In the past, I have filled up so many complaint forms and 100% of the time, nothing happened. That’s how it is here in this country, whether government or private, complaint forms have a way of simply fading away. That’s why I wanted to speak to the manager person to person.

But it seemed that he was too busy to attend to a complaining customer. Is this a reflection of company attitude towards the customers they are supposed to serve? What kind of customer service philosophy are they teaching in Cebu Pacific?

So my original complaint regarding the booking, reservations and check in got bumped down the ladder of importance. That duty manager, who was too busy to attend to a complaining customer, or even assign someone else to at least hear me out, suddenly became number one on the list.

I filled out the form, expecting that it will get nowhere, but I am determined not to let this pass. The person who was talking to me, the one who gave me the form, said that I can call customer service. I said not only will I bring this matter up to customer service, I will bring this matter up to their top honcho.

Now, if I do that and still, nothing happens, then I shouldn’t be blamed if I call Cebu Pacific Airlines the crappiest airline I’ve ever flown. (

to where? i do not know...


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