UPDATED: PAL's response letter below. Read all the way to the bottom.
This is roomie's letter to PAL's CEO. Just want to share so that maybe, someone actually makes improvements with PAL and their procedures.
"I actually wrote it to Jaime Bautista, the COO after the flight attendant told me to write him. In the in-flight magazine he urges customer to send their complaints and comments to his email address. So it's sort of long but I can't explain all that in a few short sentences!" -Roomie
Dear Mr. Bautista
I am writing you to share my personal experiences with PAL. It is quite a long email, so I appreciate your patience in reading it.
I have never flown PAL before until last week, when I decided to give it a try to fly from Jakarta to Manila because of the favorable fares. I usually stick to Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific when flying anywhere, but their prices to Manila were quite steep. My best friend lives in Manila and I wanted to visit her for a 4-day weekend.
Here are the highlights
* I was booked and confirmed on PR 536, with a booking reference of: BJC67S. However, when I arrived at the check-in desk 1.5 hours before the flight departure, I was told that I couldn't get on the airplane because the flight was overbooked. I was also told that I came late. Since when is coming 90 minutes before departure considered late? I was bumped off my flight with no suitable alternatives, at midnight in an airport that isn't exactly known for it's safety.
Being a single traveling female, this isn't exactly my idea of starting off my 4 day holiday weekend. I should have been offered accommodations, some sort of voucher, and a guaranteed booking on the next flight out, but no such thing.
* Mr. Sigit, the ground staff for PAL in Soekarno-Hatta, was very helpful. He tried to get me on the next flight out with Singapore Airlines to Singapore, and from there with PAL to Manila. He couldn't find anything. By this time it was already 1:30 am and I was desperate to get home, which was an hour away with no traffic. I had to request a voucher for my taxi fare, because it wasn't even offered. In the end, I did not take it because Pak Sigit wanted to give me cash instead of a voucher, and I wasn't going to have him pay for something that is not his fault.
Finally, at around 3:30 am Pak Sigit called me to let me know that he was able to confirm a seat for me on the SQ flight, but he could only state that the PAL flight from Singapore - Manila was confirmed...but not my seat. I was not about to be stranded in Singapore after being bumped from my original flight, so I told him I didn't want to risk it.
* I had tweeted about the ordeal, asking @flyPAL why the company overbooks flights, and was met with the answer "Everybody does it". I don't think so. I was once late for an SQ flight from LAX - Singapore. The plane was already full, and my seat was given to somebody who was wait-listed, but I was immediately offered an upgrade to business class on the next flight. Perhaps the horrible US airliners overbook their flights and bump people like it's a thriving business. But to be bumped off an international flight, which I had paid for, with no suitable alternatives, is unacceptable.
First of all, this ruined my 4-day holiday weekend, and also put a dent in my friend's plans. And to get such a cheeky answer like "Everybody does it" without an explanation...that frustrated me.
* My best friend, who is a popular blogger in the Philippines, wrote a blog post about my experience as I kept her in the know through BBM. It can be read here: http://triportreats.blogspot.com/2011/06/dear-pal-you-suck-unless-you-fix-this.html Only after she pulled some strings for me with her travel agent (who does a lot of business with PAL) and people in the airline/travel community, did I get a call from PAL. If it wasn't for her, I really wonder if PAL would have reached out to me to apologize and offer an alternative way of getting to Manila.
I spoke with Ms. Dan Dan from the Manila office. She graciously apologized, but then could not guarantee anything for me. She could not guarantee that I could be confirmed on the next flight out (which would be on Friday, with PR 504). I had requested an upgrade to business class since the only available flight was the PR 504 flight, which takes up a whole day of travel. What an inconvenience! I had paid for the direct flight for a reason.
So by now, I had lost 2 days of my 4-day holiday. On top of that, besides not being able to guarantee anything, and hearing her supervisor feeding her words (very unprofessional by the way), she told me to email firstname.lastname@example.org
requesting the upgrade. So now, after telling her what happened, I had to go tell somebody else, through email? Asking a paying customer to do more work after being wronged is simply not acceptable. That is bad customer service.
* Finally after emailing customer support, Ms. Mariah Reyes granted me an upgrade for the Jakarta - Singapore - Manila leg, and extended it for the Manila - Jakarta as well. This was very generous and much appreciated. I replied with a thank you and a few questions on if I would get a new ticket issued, and if I could get an itinerary. No reply. I had to call Pak Sigit to find out the itinerary. Yet again, I had to go out of my way because there was no follow-up. Pak Sigit was a great help during this whole ordeal, and I think he should be recognized for his efforts.
I must commend the inflight crew on the Jakarta-Singapore-Manila flight. They were extremely friendly and well-trained, and actually suggested I write you after telling them about my ordeal. The business class crew from Manila - Jakarta were also quite good
However, the story does not end here. After arriving in Jakarta last night (June 5) with PR 353, I saw that my luggage was not tagged "Priority", and that one of the wheels (out of 4) had broken off my suitcase. My brand new luggage tag, which is made out of some metal rod that has to be screwed together, was also missing. The only way that can be taken off is if somebody took the time to unscrew it. I could not find a PAL ground staff member to report the incident to, and since it was already past midnight, I was in no mood to go to the Lost & Found at Soekarno Hatta because that would mean spending another hour there when I had to go home and get sleep so I could wake up for my 7 am meeting.
Mr. Bautista, I am not somebody who is quick to complain. I have worked in hospitality and I have an account facing role at a digital marketing agency, meaning I deal with clients all the time and handle the client relationship. So I know about customer service. I also know when customers try to take advantage of a situation. I am not trying to do that here. I have flown quite a bit in my life, and I am no stranger to long haul flights between Asia and the United States. I understand that travel is never perfect; there are always things that are frustrating, but I can dismiss them as part of the routine.
However, what I experienced isn't routine. Overbooking a flight and bumping me off was a breach of contract of carriage. The general lack of caring and understanding and just dealing with it quickly (as if to swipe it under the rug) only because I involved the social media, is so unprofessional. The before and after flight procedures and processes can definitely be worked on. I suggest a major overhaul to the training of all ground staff. I know this requires a big investment, but it will pay off - just look at your successful competitors. I also suggest an online check-in system to prevent the whole overbooking problem.
I am planning a trip to Davao end of August. Honestly, I am not even considering PAL because I fear a repeat will happen. This is a shame because your inflight crew is exceptional and your fares are quite good. As a paying customer who was eager to experience PAL, you can now count me as a missed opportunity, because I do not trust your airline, until the day a major overhaul happens.
Chantalle van Doorn
This is PAL's response, which I believe is a sincere one. I really hope that they learn from this and improve their service. They are, after all, our flag carrier.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, Jun 10, 2011 at 3:45 PM
Subject: Fw: Formal complaint against PAL
Ms. Chantalle Van Doorn
Dear Ms. Van Doorn,
We acknowledge your email to Mr. Bautista, our President & Chief Operating Officer, apprising our office of your reported incidents when you checked in for our flight PR 536/02 June and when you took PR 504/03 June and PR535/05 June. Mr. Bautista read and forwarded your email for our investigation and reply.
We are most grateful for your giving our airline a try, however, we are gravely disappointed having missed the opportunity of providing you satisfaction on our service with the non-accommodation on PR536/02 June and the handling that followed after the denied boarding. From our investigation, we have learned that PR 536/02 June was overbooked that regrettably necessitated denying accommodation to some passengers. With due courtesy, please allow us to explain that overbooking or oversales is an accepted and established airline industry practice sanctioned by the International Air Transport Association(IATA). The same practice is also allowed and regulated by the different aviation authorities worldwide including our own Philippines Civil Aeronautics Board.This is in recognition of the highly perishable nature of the airline product in the sense that when the flight departs with empty seats due to " no-shows" and late cancellations, the empty seat is an immediate loss to the airline.
In the event of an overbooking, and there are no volunteers who are willing to give up their seats, the passengers who arrive last at the check-in counter are advised that they can no longer be accommodated on the flight. We deeply regret that you were in such a situation that time. When we can not accommodate a confirmed passenger with booking, the passenger is entitled to compensation. From the explanation of Mr. Sujarwo Sigit, he reported that he met with the three passengers who were denied boarding that time and informed them of the round trip ticket, hotel accommodation and transport allowance that would be given by the airline. We understand that you just wanted to go home and requested to be booked the soonest to Manila. Mr. Sigit did his best to get confirmed bookings for you but had difficulty in getting confirmation which was communicated to your mother that same night. Consequently, you were re-protected on the next available flight, PR 504/03 June. We are glad to know that you were extended upgrade to Business Class, on said flight and also on your return, PR535/05 June 11.
We have taken serious note of the other areas of our service which added to your disappointment - the curt explanation regarding the overbooked flight, the handling of your request for upgrade, the no priority tag/ damaged luggage and most especially, the perceived general lack of caring and understanding in handling your concerns. This is likewise a big disappointment to us considering our active efforts in the promotion of total passenger care. Please accept our sincere apologies for the service shortcoming that you encountered. We recognize the importance of your feedback for us to attain a more effective delivery of service. We have always believed that passenger feedback serves as an important tool for the continuous improvement of our service.
May we again extend our offer of a complimentary, round trip ticket, economy class, Jakarta Manila Jakarta as part of the compensation for the denied boarding. In response to your damaged baggage, may we offer to have it repaired. Please expect our Station Supervisor Ms. Alma Munir to contact you regarding its repair.
We would like to acknowledge with pride the appreciation that you accorded our cabin crew, and Mr. Sujarwo Sigit, on their exceptional service. Rest assured, that we remain vigilant in looking for ways to keep on improving our services.
Ms. Vandoorn, again, our apologies for not meeting your service expectations on the first time you tried us. It is our fervent hope that you may still grant us another opportunity to serve you, this time at higher levels of service.