Friday, August 6, 2010

A Philippine airport horror story

This was published by Stanley Palisada and I thought it was worth a read as it is from a traveler's end user perspective ..

I was supposed to pick up my mother, sister, nephew and my sister’s mother-in-law before noon at NAIA last July 3 for a brief Manila furlough. On my way to the airport my sister called to tell me their flight was delayed. I also got a message from a friend who was at the NAIA pre-departure area waiting for her plane to Kalibo which has not arrived.

Planes bound for Manila that day were grounded elsewhere. With no arriving aircraft the tarmac stood empty while passengers waited in agony in NAIA and many airports across the country.

Although it’s rainy season, it was sunny that Saturday. However, there was smog. But NAIA said planes can still land in smog if only its Very High Frequency Omni-directional Radio (VOR) was working. The VOR which guides planes under severe weather conditions had bogged down forcing pilots to land on visual flight rules which is safe unless visibility is obscured by fog, rain, or darkness.

I headed for the terminal’s flight status displays, only to find out that the TV monitors that updated everyone on flight schedules were turned off. The information desks were also unmanned and the security guards were clueless when asked, while passengers and well-wishers have waited for answers for hours – cramped, irate and harassed. An OFW from Mindanao was hysterical as she missed her connecting flight to Hong Kong. Down to her last P500, she barely had enough for terminal fee, let alone food. Like many of us, she was getting hungry and the few stalls there do not offer much but outrageously-priced snacks.

By afternoon, the smog had cleared and one by one, planes started to land. By late evening, many flights have arrived in Manila, including that of my folks. Finally their grueling 13-hour wait ended. We left for home, drained and irritable but relieved that everyone was safe.

The airlines and the Manila International Airport Authority announced in the news that while they cannot do anything about weather disturbances or the busted navigational equipment, they have handled the crisis “rather well.”

Did not!

MIAA in particular said that aside from flight status monitors, it “had public assistance desks at the airport to help answer questions.” In reality, the desks were deserted and the monitors were padlocked.

The airline offices were just as bad. At the PAL ticketing office where crowds squeezed in to rebook their cancelled flights, passengers were tired and angry mainly because of poor customer service. It was just hard to get simple information such as flight status from airline staff that snootily ignored over the counter inquiries. I was even required to get a priority number (usually for transacting customers) even if I just wanted to ask about flight schedules. If they assigned someone to handle inquiries, life at the counters would have been easier for both passenger and airline personnel.

What happened at the airport were not just the usual inconveniences of flight delays. It was also a breakdown of communication, wanton inconsideration, and failure of customer service.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines blames these aviation difficulties on outdated navigational facilities. The US and Europe have downgraded NAIA for the same reasons. Unless the airport is upgraded Philippine carriers cannot fly into Europe and the US.

It may have been easy for the government to trivialize calls for new aviation facilities and the downgrade as these only affected the airlines. But with the recent delays caused by problematic equipment the government may be reckless and I hope it does not take wholesale deaths from an air accident to open its eyes.

It is not just the airlines that incur losses from flight delays. The government itself may be losing more. For a country which considers tourism and overseas workers its bread and butter, it’s ironic that airport modernization gets sidetracked.

In an interview with ANC, new Tourism Secretary Albert Lim belabored the fact that compared with other Asian countries, there are fewer flights from Europe to the Philippines because of poor airport facilities.

“Many tourists need to travel to other Asian countries where they take connecting flights to the Philippines and it’s bothersome,” Lim said.

Tourists would rather fly conveniently and directly to Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore than the Philippines. Of what use are the country’s diverse tourist spots if the world can’t access it?

With airport neglect, the government is really putting its money away from its mouth on this one.

Posted via email from Aviation Professionals dot Org

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