PAL stands for Protected Airline

​Cebu Pacific has accepted the fine of P52 million for its many cancelled and delayed flights from December 24 to 26, 2014. Philippine Airlines, whose initials PAL had come to be known to stand for Plane Always Late, was never fined by any government agency in spite of its many cancelled and delayed flights. That is because its owner was malakas with the presidents – Marcos, Erap, and GMA.

As my job included many trips to distant provincial cities, from Laoag to General Santos, and occasionally to foreign cities, from Perth to Chicago, I had been in many cancelled and delayed PAL flights. But one ordeal that I and my family experienced belies the supposed readiness of PAL stewardesses to be of help to passengers inconvenienced and aggrieved by delayed flights. Here is our harrowing experience:

When the captain of PAL Flight 734 said through the plane’s PA system “There will be a further delay due to a minor problem that has to be rectified, but it won’t take long,” the ordeal of the 367 passengers began. Because the cabin doors had been locked for about 15 minutes by then, the cabin had become uncomfortably warm and stuffy. Infants and toddlers on board started to scream. Water dripped profusely from the overhead bins onto passengers at window seats. All the cabin crew could do was passing out paper napkins to the dampened passengers.

The plane sat near a runway for about 40 minutes before the captain’s voice came on again on the PA system. Said he apologetically, “The problem cannot be rectified. We will have to go back to the ramp. We are now being towed towards the terminal.”

By this time, the heat had become unbearable. All passengers were fanning themselves with the plane’s laminated safety cards as the aircraft’s overhead fans were not functioning. When the doors were opened, some passengers tried to go back to the terminal building,
presumably to get a breath of cool air, but the stewardesses told them to remain on board.

I pleaded with the flight attendants to allow the mothers with babies to go to the terminal building where the children could be better pacified. The stewardesses said that
getting the passengers back on board again might cause further delay.

The plane sat at the tarmac for another 40 minutes. As they boarded the plane ahead of the others, passengers with small children had been sitting cramped, sweltering, and harassed for more than two hours inside the aircraft, with no assistance extended to them by
the cabin crew. Maybe no assistance was possible. No sympathy was conveyed, either. Perhaps, no sympathy was necessary, as the predominantly Caucasian (British, German, and Australians) passengers remained admirably quiet and patient.

Two hours after I and my family boarded the plane, the purser said, “We will be leaving in 15 minutes.” Beverage was then served. Shortly after, the electricity went off. The Australian passenger two seats away facetiously remarked, “Brownouts here even extend to the airplanes.”

The cabin had become like an oven. Passengers begged the cabin crew to allow them to disembark, to no avail. The foreigners became visibly restive. The Filipinos began to murmur “Nakakahiya talaga tayo.” Three hours after the passengers had boarded the plane, the crew allowed the passengers to disembark and wait in the pre-departure area in the terminal building.

Had PR 734 taken off as scheduled, dinner would have been served. As it was not, I expected the dinner trays to be distributed in the pre-departure area. Most passengers were famished as they had not had anything to eat in the last six or seven hours. Check-in time was 5 o’clock for the original 6:55 flight. The food outlets in the airport were closed by then. No food was served the passengers, not even beverage.

Then it was announced – four hours after the scheduled departure time of 6:55 p.m. – “Flight 734 has been cancelled. Please get your luggage from the cabin and proceed to the ramp of the building. From there, buses will take you to the hotel.” I asked a ground crew member which hotel. “Silahis,” came the answer.

As we walked to the ramp, I noticed that the airport had also closed for the night. The lights and air-conditioning had been turned off or down. There we waited, outside the building for about 15 minutes before the buses came.

At midnight we were cruising on Roxas Boulevard. After a quick stop in front of Silahis Hotel, the bus moved on. It drove into the driveway of Diamond Hotel, moved on to Hotel Aurelio, turned back to Silahis, drove on again towards Diamond, went past
Aurelio again. Noticing that we were going round and round, an English lady wondered aloud where we were going. An Englishman good-naturedly said, “Nowhere. We’re just lost.”

I asked the driver where he was taking us. Holiday Inn, he said, as we sped towards the Luneta. It turned out he didn’t know where Holiday Inn was. When we got off at Holiday Inn, some passengers started looking frantically for the other members of their party. Everybody assumed we were all going to be billeted in the same hotel. Four busloads were dropped at two different hotels.

At Holiday Inn we were instructed to proceed to the second floor. I had expected dinner to be ready there. Instead we were told to queue up for our room keys and dinner coupons. I asked Loida David, the PAL ground coordinator, if the rigmarole could be dispensed with. She said it would not take a while. But two busloads of people queued up to get their keys and coupons would take a while. And Loida just stood there and watched. No briefings were given by her as to what we were supposed to do the next morning.

I was in bed at 2 a.m. At 5 a.m. the phone rang. It was a recorded wake-up call. As I didn’t ask for one, I checked with the front desk if it was part of PAL’s arrangements. Yes, we were supposed to go down for breakfast at six and hop into the bus at 7:30. I thought the 5 o’clock wake-up call was too early

Two International School buses had brought us to the hotel. Now smaller California Lines buses were going to take us to the airport. Not everybody had seats. The buses were not designed for tourists with their entire luggage. They had no overhead bins capacious enough to accommodate the large hand-carry bags. So, many passengers had their luggage on their laps. I and my son stood on the aisle, luggage in our hands.

Passengers of PAL Flight 734 were told to board the buses at 7:30 am. At 7:30 we were all aboard the buses. But by 8:10 the “standing room only” buses had not started for the airport. I asked Loida why we were not moving. She confided that we were being held up at the parking lot of the hotel because the already 12-hour delayed flight was still not ready.

The cramped and sweating passengers could not get off the bus and wait in the Holiday Inn lobby. I asked Loida why we were kept in the bus. She said, “Because a certain Chuanco of Holiday Inn didn’t want the 120 PAL passengers to wait in the hotel lobby as that was already congested with the hotel’s own guests.” So, there we were cooped up in the cramped buses for 45 minutes.

The passengers waited at the airport for another 40 minutes before we were told to board the plane. At the pre-departure lounge, many passengers were heard kidding about the situation. One said that, with the time difference and the 14-hour delay, she didn’t know anymore if her daughter’s birthday was “yesterday, today, or tomorrow.” Another said “My family is waiting for me at the wrong airport on the wrong day.” She was supposed to be met at Heathrow Airport but the delayed PR 734 was scheduled to land in Gatwick 15 hours later.

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