27 September 2009 at 3:00 AM, NAIA Terminal 1
When I reached the airport at 2:30 AM, I was doubly horrified by the sight of numerous stranded passengers and knowing that I’d be among those left by the flight because we didn’t make it at 1:15 AM. Now, I’m naming this airline.
CUSTOMER SERVICE THAT’S GOING TO MAKE YOU CRY
Etihad Airways is the national airline of the UAE and I guarantee you that its inflight services and flying are of topnotch quality from and to the Philippines. It’s just that, its customer service IN THE PHILIPPINES disappointed me big time just when the people/we needed it most.
On the morning of Saturday, I was already trying to reach the numbers of Etihad Philippines to confirm flight cancellation and to course through the request for rebooking, which can’t be done online. From that day until Sunday, the calls were never attended. At early noontime of Saturday, the water favorably receded that we braved the roads going to the airport. With the horror of waist deep water in Calamba, we managed to pass by with God’s help (I leave to your imagination the impossible) and reached Terminal 1.
Joining the stranded passengers, who were a mixture of panicky, angry, emotionally and physically helpless fellows, I had to console myself. I remember the words from our highschool algebra teacher, “When you are working on an equation, work on the given, don’t look for the missing variables. Don’t complicate things.” Incidentally, from the time I set foot in the airport, there was no representative from Etihad Airways. At 9:00 AM the offices of the different airlines located on the second floor of the departure area opened, except for Etihad. 😦
I asked the (airlines) offices around. I tried to gather impressions about Etihad’s working hours, which supposedly is the same for the other airlines. It turned out that its airport employees are known for their laziness and even the people at the information counter were no longer surprised when we told them about the unattended calls since the preceding day. You probably know how it feels to be a stinking gal together with other stranded passengers. The main difference is that their airlines representatives are pacifying them in whatever way they can, luckier as they already have direction as to their rescheduled flights. While Etihad passengers were still clueless. Annoyed. Hungry. Yes, we had to feed and do other necessities at our own expense.
I was determined to be part of the next available flight. Hence, I stayed on the second floor, infront of the door of Etihad office while the others already got tired of waiting. Before 12 noon, the lady representative came. That time, there was already a queue before she got to open to the door. And I was first in line. Then she said, “Hindi sana ako papasok, Pinapunta lang ako ngayon.” At that point, I really burned but I managed to compose myself.
To cut the long story, the lady representative told us:
* That she cannot comment on why the plane flew when it was announced on the preceding day that all the flights in NAIA 1 were cancelled.
* That she cannot process a rebooking for us because the ticketing office is in Makati and we should go there instead.
* That when I asked if it’s open because Sunday is a weekend in the Philippines. She said, it’s not and we should wait until Monday to be able to rebook. What?????!
* That we would still be charged of no show and rebooking fees if we do. I can’t believe she said that.
* That when we demanded an explanation why they were not attending to our calls since Saturday morning, she reasoned it’s a weekend. At this point, I wanted to punch her. Hay. (Just a thought heehee. I’m not violent but just to let you know how I felt that moment).
* When I reasoned that there’s a calamity, so it wouldn’t matter if it’s a weekend or not, just like what the other airlines are doing, there my “saga” begun.
She: Intindihin nyo po kame.
That point, I cannot tolerate.
Me: Miss, inintindi na namin kayo simula pa kahapon. Personally, I tried to understand you why you came late today. Baka nanggaling ka rin sa baha. But what about us? Inisip nyo ba yung sitwasyon namin. Alam mo ba na lumusong na kame sa baha at kung saan saang lugar pa kame nanggaling? Dapat nung midnight pa lang, inisip na ng management yung action plan para sa mga na-stranded, yung probability na massive rebooking, kung iwe-waive ang charge or hindi. Supposedly nga ihohotel nyo kame pag ganitong sitwasyon.”
She: Eh ma’m, wala po akong magagawa. Empleyado lang ako dito. Wala sa authority ko na magrebook ng ticket.
Me: Alam ko. Naiintindihan ko na wala sa authority mo na magrebook. Pero responsibility mo na magpakita ng mabuting customer service. At responsibility mo rin na i-inform yung immediate superior mo kung ano ang sitwasyon sa office nyo sa airport ngayon. Kase, kung hindi mo sasabihin, ia-assume nila na everything is under control. Tingnan mo yung ibang airlines, nagagawan nila ng solusyon. Simula 3am nag oobserve na ako dito, kayo lang sa Etihad ang walang ginagawa. Actually, sa office nyo lang ang walang tao (representative).
She: Hindi nga ako dapat papasok. Pinapasok lang ako. Kung gusto nyo po, overseas na lang kayo magparebook.
Me: Last resort na yun. Tapos kame yung gumagastos sa calls coordinating to your office in another country. Baka gusto mong i-check yung terms and conditions upon purchase of tickets. Na in case of change in booking, ang instructions eh to contact the nearest office, tapos sasabihin mo overseas kame magparebook. Fortuitous event ito, kaya sigurado ako may ready action plan, down to waiver of charges pag may calamity or emergency.
She: Wala po akong magagawa
Me: Ako may magagawa. Pag nakabalik na ako sa Abu Dhabi, magfifile ako ng formal complaint sa Etihad main office dun. Sasabihin ko yung klase ng customer service na pinakita mo dito. Hindi lang yun, pati yung mga na-gather kong information tungkol sa katamaran nyo at hindi pagsagot sa telepono.
She: Naku ma’m, wag naman po kayo magsumbong.
Me: Gusto kong ma-rebook ngayon. I-earmark nyo sakin yung available seat. Willing ako magbayad ng charges kahit hindi dapat. Basta, kelangang makasabay ako sa susunod na flight (1:15 AM).
She: (Tinawagan nya boss nya). Ma’m hindi daw po kame makakapagdesisyon dahil weekend ngayon.
Me: Dahil weekend? Anong klaseng excuse yan?
She: Ma’m wala po kameng magagawa.
Me: Yun lang ang kaya nyong gawin? Titigil kayo? Nakikita mo ba kung gaano kadaming stranded dito sa airport. Uupo ka lang dyan kahit alam mong merong pwedeng gawin?
She: (Pagkatapos ng isang oras ng pakikipag usap kung kani-kanino). Ayan, ma’m pwede na daw po kayo marebook. Saka wala na pong charge dahil fortutious event nga daw po.
Me: (Ngumiti na ako). Salamat. Sa susunod ayusin mo ha.
Nakakainis lang. Kelangan pang takutin para gumawa ng paraan. Sabi nga di ba, kung gugustuhin talaga, may paraan.
NAIA 1 MAKE OVER, PLEASE?
Since I was stranded in Terminal 1 for at least 20 hours, it felt like I’ve been its long time resident. I already memorized the partitions, number of counters, and other things that you wouldn’t imagine I would ever pay attention to.
* It has only one food kiosk that serves siopao, siomai, sandwich, beef steak, sodas, etc. which are all overpriced. That’s monopoly.
* There are no computers for free net surfing, which is available/common in international airports
* The people at the information counter are so attentive and composed even if they’re already on duty for straight 24 hours.
* One of the guards stationed near the terminal fee counter “loves to sit”. Ayaw nyang magpahiram ng upuan.
* There’s no charging booth. Lucky are those whose phones were accommodated through the information counter.
* The offices at the second floor of NAIA 1 are kawawa naman. Mukhang abandoned areas yung ibang cubes.
* The elevator was not functioning that day. According to one employee, that was only for that day. I hope he was telling the truth.
Due to absence of charging station, you have to charge at your own risk. I found this (top) outlet going to the comfort room. I unplugged the sort of TV (I don’t know what’s its purpose) and charged my phone. But it’s quite high I needed to make ends meet. So I chained my bags. This lady followed. She held her phone while charging.
You will notice I intentionally packed so light not because of the typhoon. I was avoiding to check in any luggage since I can only have limited time in Abu Dhabi airport as I was reporting to work straight after a quick shower.)
HOW TO ENTERTAIN YOURSELF WHEN YOU’RE STRANDED IN TERMINAL 1
* Engage yourself with the laptop or PSP. In my case, I didn’t bring a laptop, I was accessing through the mobile. While PSP’s battery died and they don’t have a 3-hole outlet for the recharging.
* Sleep at your own risk
* Spend time at the x-ray counter, discreetly, and study/observe the bags/all the things passing through the x-ray. Just like what I did. I enjoyed and learned a lot. Lol.
* Do a soul search/reflect. I think I did in passing.
* Write on a journal. I wanted to, but I’m too lazy to pull out the moleskine from the pink bag.
* Try all the food from the lone kiosk in Terminal 1. Lol.
* Socialize with the other strangers who were stranded.
* Be an extension of information counter, i.e. help passengers with their queries, etc.
I both love and hate this experience, i.e. the flood, the difficulty of reaching the airport, being stranded, being treated not so pleasantly. But I learned a lot. It’s humbling and awakening. To be patient as much as possible and be assertive when necessary. But most of all, it was a test of faith.