A Return to Fantasy Island?

Alternate Paradise!   

   After traveling to Guam last month to set up homestead in what will become our “alternate paradise,” I will be traveling back to Samar next week to pick up a few things, namely some clothes, some personal items, and the Mrs. (being the most important obviously). We plan on spending some time there visiting with friends and family before we say our good-byes for the summer. Our next planned trip to our Home Sweet Home away from Home will likely be during the Christmas holidays, which is the most festive (and noisiest) time of the year to be in the Philippines. It is also the time when the best weather arrives there (normally). While there, we can enjoy an abundance of holiday gatherings and parties, including an expat party or two, and our own family Christmas party at the homestead.

Nothing Seems Easy Peasy

   The planning of this trip offered up some real frustrations on the travel front. First, I will usually always fly Philippine Airlines because I have a Mabuhay Miles account. I have accumulated enough miles for several free flights and, in my eyes some perks. But perks, I found, have become rather elusive with customer unfriendly PAL. When doing my flight booking online, I also learned how dysfunctional the airlines website really is. In my attempts to book a flight from Guam to Calbayog City, the system responded by saying there were no direct flights available to that destination. (I already knew that). Even though I know the subsidiary airline PAL Express flies round-trip from Manila-Calbayog 4 days a week (this is down from 6 days a week prior to Cebu Pacific Airlines expanding their Samar market with a Calbayog-Cebu City route recently), I would have thought that the parent and child speak to each other, somehow! They apparently don’t.  In any case, because the two airlines booking systems have this dysfunctional disconnect, I could not book the complete itinerary. With all the technology available, you would think… right? I was forced to book two separate flights for the trip. Two bookings, two payments, and two separate sets of rules for baggage.
I first booked the round-trip for me and a one-way ticket returning to Guam for the Mrs. I selected a day to travel that would allow us to easily connect our flight from Calbayog with our return flight to Guam on the same day. This way we could avoid an overnight stay in Manila (which would include hotel and travel costs, not to mention a number of meals).
So, after booking and paying for the Guam-Manila legs, I quickly realized when I logged on again that the returning Sunday flight from Calbayog to Manila no longer existed. I contacted the airlines on the phone and tried to get some answers… like “when was that Sunday flight cancelled?” They simply would not provide me that information, even after asking repeatedly. Not that it would make any difference in this situation, but I just wanted to know. So, my next request to PAL was to kindly adjust my Guam-Manila booking so we could easily avail of the Tuesday morning Calbayog flight to Manila, so we could catch the flight to Guam on that same day. The re-booking fee… $88 for each ticket! It was absolutely like taking to a wall and PAL would not bend on their rules. So I tried the website chat option. After trying to reason with this “chat” airline rep (about 30 minutes) and with no success, I demanded to speak with a supervisor. Nope! That was not going to happen. This airline is soooo un-accommodating! So, I was forced to make the switch from using PAL Express and I booked all travel between Samar and Manila on Cebu Pacific … via Cebu City. As it turned out, and although the length of overall flight-time is greater (two legs), it was actually cheaper. Ha, two flights were cheaper than one! Go figure. 

Guam rainbow

Fantasy Island vs. Paradise!

   Unfortunately our fantasized utopia is nothing like living in paradise, where we still must live with some true realities.The reluctance of Philippine Airlines to work with me to help me arrange my bookings was a real sour pill for me. I even offered up some of my Mabuhay Miles to waive the re-booking fee, but they were not interested in appeasing this passenger(s) at all. The way I see it – the fallout is on them because it cost them at least three bookings (two for me and one for the wife) on the Manila-Calbayog routes (as we will now use Cebu Pac). It will also cost them additionally in the future as we will now avoid PAL whenever possible (after I use up my Mabuhay Miles of course).

Bombardier Dash Q300

                Bombardier Dash 8 Q300

   In retrospect, I never gave it much thought, but the last 3 times I have flown the PAL Express from Calbayog City (Bombardier Dash 8 Q300), it has been significantly delayed twice and the flight was outright cancelled once… all due to aircraft maintenance issues. Do they have a safety issue? I’m not sure, but I no longer wonder why some airlines have problems with customer loyalty.
   Oh, and Fantasy Island? It exists only in one’s mind… and on TV!  But that plane – it looks awfully familiar though!