If It Can Happen, It Will Happen.
We purchased our One-Way tickets online through the Philippine Airlines website as we always do. I logged in with our Mabuhay Club number and booked two seats for a flight to Manila and then on to Guam. We’ve done it this way several times now for over three years. I call it the “Annual K-Mart Shopping Run.” Well, my wife likes to think of it that way. It seems I just go along to drive the rental car and keep her company (and honest with multiple shoe purchases). The morning flight departs Calbayog City early at 0650 and arrives in Manila about 0810 (usually it is just about an hour). Our Philippine Airlines flight leaving for Guam is not scheduled to depart Manila until 2205 (that’s 10:05pm for those of you who do not understand the 24 hour clock) and puts us in Guam at about 0330 local Guam time. It’s only a two-hour time difference but can take a full day to get there from where we live in Samar.
We were checked in waiting for the flight to arrive. It seemed like it was taking forever. Nobody bothered to do the FOD walk down on the tarmac (FOD stands for Foreign Objects and Debris) and nobody seemed in any hurry to don any aircraft handler safety gear such as noise abatement head-gear, orange safety vests, or aircraft marshalling equipment. Even the auxiliary power ground-unit hadn’t moved into position. Nothing or nobody was moving. Then came an announcement. “The inbound aircraft from Manila has been delayed due to extra maintenance.” Okay I thought, we don’t need to be in Manila for another 14 hours or so, no problem, we can afford to wait. Fix the problem because it’s better to be safe than sorry, I thought. Another 30 minutes passed and then another announcement. “Due to the required extra maintenance on PAL flight No. 2072, the flight to Manila has been cancelled.” I should have suspected initially that “Extra Maintenance” is code speak for the plane is broken and we have no idea what is wrong with it!
Not Many Options!
When a travel derailment occurs in the Philippines, and you live in the province, sometimes your options will vary, but time is NEVER on your side. We had a choice of re-booking a flight the following morning but we had that connecting flight from Manila-Guam this same evening. What if we could not get re-booked on that flight tomorrow? Our hotel and rental car accommodations in Guam were all in place. We really needed to hold to the rest of our planned schedule, but how would we get to Manila in time for the 2205L flight? Then PAL announced that there were two contracted vans awaiting any passengers who would be willing to travel to Tacloban for either of two afternoon flights to Manila. Now we had a choice; resked for the following day, or take our chances with a killer van on the road for 3 and a half hours to Tacloban to catch a flight we were not even booked on. After a 15 minute discussion among PAL agents, it was decided to try to book passengers on the Tacloban flight directly from the Calbayog terminal. Will someone just throw another wrench in the fan please! So, we were able to get an actual booking, complete with boarding pass, for the 1430L flight out of Tacloban. It was now about 0830L and we now had 6 hours to reach our new destination. Not even a flat tire would cause us to miss our flight, unless of course we did not have a spare. But hey, no worries, there are only about 150 vulcanizers between Calbayog City and Tacloban. Barring a blow out on the San Juanico Bridge or even worse, engine failure, we should have no problem making our flight. Anyway, with 12 passengers and luggage all fit snugly into a ten passenger van, we hit the road for the provincial capital of Leyte – Tacloban.
I curse at them all the time. I swear to myself that someday I will turn around, chase them down, and rip some driver a new, er…. give them a piece of my mind. I always say to my self “The next time I get pushed-off my side of the road on my motorcycle, I’m going after them!” I never do. Now I find myself an insider… a passenger on board – silently cheering the driver on, to pass other vehicles and other killer vans… on a curve… going uphill! Then I think, “Wait, did I get a frontal lobotomy performed on me and not know it?” I regained my senses after our driver almost collided with a scooter making a U-turn in a barangay school zone. Our driver issued a prolonged honk at the scooter driver as if it were his fault and the scooter driver honked back even longer as we passed him by at nearly the speed of sound. I really can never figure out why these vans (they are no better than the killer buses) have to drive so fast. We had nearly 6 hours to make a 3.5 hour trek, and we could have done it in a much safer manner. Maybe the driver earns longer nap bonus points before having to make his return trip. Who knows.
Tacloban City Airport and a PAL Reward.
We have been to Tacloban many times, but have never had the opportunity to visit the airport. It is much improved since Typhoon Yolanda, and even bigger than I imagined. There are much bigger planes coming and going, mostly Airbus 320’s, to and from Cebu and Manila and other island destinations. We got there about two and a half hours before our flight departed. If this flight happened to be delayed (due to extra maintenance or something), I thought, there were actually two more flights on the schedule which could get us to Manila in time to catch our flight to Guam. I asked the ticketing agent at check-in if I could use my Mabuhay Club Miles for a seating upgrade for our inconvenience, and without as much as checking the computer she responded “Sorry sir, but this flight is booked.” So much for spending the day carousing the Malls in Manila. So much for that Italian lunch we had planned. But not all was lost as PAL provided us with a “refugee” box lunch from Mister Donut which consisted of a scrawny piece of chicken and 2 (yes, TWO!) generous scoops of rice, neatly wrapped in a paper wrapper similar to that found in a Jollibee’s meal. Dessert was a “miniature” Mister Donut (just big enough for a gecko to crawl through). We washed it all down with a bottle of warm water – also provided.
Even More Options – Soon!
Soon, there will be some airline competition in Calbayog City as Cebu Pacific moves in to provide round trip service for the Manila-Calbayog City route on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Flights are scheduled to begin February 18, 2017. More information about Cebu Pacific’s flight expansion plan can be found here.
We returned to the Philippines using a Space Available flight from Anderson AFB in Guam (a Navy C40) to Clark Air Base in Angeles City. When we eventually returned home to Calbayog City, I found a PAL Satisfaction Survey waiting for me in my email inbox. Since they were kind enough to ask, I thought I would be nice and accept their request for feedback. And because I am retired, I took the extra time necessary to carefully craft a most thoughtful response and I also expressed my sincere and heartfelt gratitude for their excellent choices in their “refugee” meal selection. I also reminded them that their booking system might have a few bugs, because contrary to what the counter agent told me, the business class section was only half-occupied. Have I ever mentioned It’s More Fun in the Philippines?