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Monday, May 7, 2012

Claudine Vs. Ramon Vs. Raymart: Who Lost?

The answer is us.

(Courtesy of

And I'm referring to consumers. Whether you are an artista (actor) like Claudine Barretto or Raymart Santiago, or a newspaper columnist like Ramon Tulfo, or, more likely, a regular Joe. A regular Jose or Josefa.

(Courtesy of

What their "brawl", yesterday's top news, brought out is how little we matter to airline companies like Cebu Pacific, who are out to make a quick peso on our collective account, no matter the consequences.

Until someone perfects the science of teleportation, for those who need to travel fast, we will be needing the services of airline companies. And we have seen a slew of competitors in the field, all jostling and pushing to claim a share of the consumer pie, largely competing on one singular point: Price. The prices have gotten so low, recently, that there are cases where taking the flight can be the better alternative as opposed to ship or land travel, even on price points. That's how competitive it is - it's starting to encroach into other transportation modes' shares.

Of course, for those of us (yes, I'm one of them, I like a good bargain, sue me) who are quick and ready on the "click" for online airline deals, we've seen how it has grown to a peso for a flight (and with "the charges" added on, it only resulted into 2 thousand pesos for a roundtrip to an Asian country, 3 thousand tops) to really being more expensive than the usual benchmark we've had for the longest time, Philippine Airlines. PAL has been the only homegrown airline company for decades, and as a consumer, I was actually glad when Cebu Pacific arrived on the scene. It was followed by other entries, so it gave consumers a choice, whereas in my parents' time, it was PAL or bust.

Case in point: Arthur and I recently went to Cebu, and comparing the prices for PAL and Cebu Pacific (with the same conditions: lowest possible price in its class, 15 kilograms allowed baggage weight for check-in, no snacks, etc.) Cebu Pacific was actually more expensive (by about 300 hundred pesos). My advice to consumers: Check competitors first - and their pricing - before paying with your plastic. It may seem "low" at first, but that's because what they put in their headlines of GIANT SALE!!! is just the base fare: after factoring all the "hidden charges" (not advertised), you'd start wondering if budget meant something else.

I have heard of these horror stories of luggage being lost or "to follow", but yesterday's altercation revealed to us that this is actually Cebu Pacific's policy. A plane can be overbooked and incapable of carrying all the luggage (alloted at 15 kilograms per passenger), but the company still proceeds with the flight - and more importantly, taking your money. And when the passenger arrives at the destination and doesn't find his/her luggage, the explanation is that for everyone's "safety", they couldn't load the baggage together with the passenger.

One of the company's VP's said this in a statement point blank, which leads me to ask some questions:

(1) If you set a maximum of 15 kilograms for check-in luggage, why is there a danger of compromising "safety"? Wasn't this factored in when you were arranging price points for your tickets?

(2) As someone who has been riding airlines since I was 4 or 5, I know that some passengers opt to pay a premium for carrying baggage that is in excess of their "allowed" weight. Was yesterday's incident a product of allowing "more than you can chew"? Because if the plane cannot handle the weight, and you already set limits of what people can bring, the only variable factor will be those that "pay extra". Is this the case? Shouldn't your system incorporate some form of warning that you are selling close to allowable plane capacity?

(3) I understand planes carry other things aside from just luggage. Shouldn't you have factored those in as well in your declaration for how much people can bring?

(4) I do not recall ever being advised that you have the option of not bringing my luggage together with me as a passenger in one flight. When people take flights, they fully expect to leave the same way they entered it: in one piece, with 3 pieces of luggage if that's what they checked in. Is this clearly stated in your "policies"?

(5) When people book flights and you accept the money for the service, is it too much to ask for the service that you promised? Or are you going to blame "budget" customers, and say something atrocious like "eh, kasi pang budget lang presyo nyo eh"? (well, your price is only for budget)

As stated by Claudine, the root of the problem was really the fact that the luggage of their party did not arrive on the same flight they did. You don't know if there is medication there that someone has to take, or a person has to make a sales presentation the moment he lands, or there is a connecting flight to Zimbabwe from Manila that a client is late for. For those and a plethora of other reasons, you have to state CLEARLY to people that "we're looking out for your safety, so that means your luggage will arrive in more than a month's time".

Consumers have the right to know what it is you are offering as "service".

I am not taking sides as to who threw the first punch between the parties involved in the scuffle. They both should not have come into blows, and settled as amicably as possible. But Cebu Pacific cannot wash its hands off this incident: it should be held responsible for its neglect to inform passengers of their supposed "right" to not deliver the luggage on time with the same person's flight, regardless of reason.

Bugbog sarado nanaman ang mamimili. (Consumers are once again, beaten black and blue.)

(Courtesy of

Once again, consumers lose the day.

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