About four weeks ago, during the time when Philippine Airlines (PAL) was hogging the headlines after a huge number of its pilots deserted the carrier for other airlines, I was notified via e-mail of a discounted miles promo being offered to the company's frequent flyer members.
I was attracted instantly by the offer since the package gave out selected foreign trips at 70 percent lower than their usual mileage requirements. I hurriedly tried to book online but an instruction at the PAL Web site indicated that the actual booking can only be done at their office.
Although I found that setup a bit odd and inconvenient, I still went to PAL's Makati office. What I saw upon arriving at around 1 p.m. surprised me--a kilometric line of people who were either rebooking their flights because of the exodus of pilots or they were like myself who also wanted to avail of the miles promo.
The security guard gave me a number--3539, if I still remember it right--and was told to wait for my turn. The electronic counter, at that time, showed number 3320, which meant there were still more than 200 people ahead of me.
I tried to endure the sweltering heat inside the room for about two hours, but the process was agonizingly slow. By then, it was already 4 p.m. and since I had a mid-term examination scheduled at 6 p.m. on that same day, I decided to leave but, doing so, I asked for another number, hoping that I can still go back after taking my examination.
I was able to return at around 8:45 p.m. with the doors of the PAL office already closed. The guard, however, allowed me to get in after showing him of the number stub that I took before I left. After a brief transaction, I was able to finally to get my precious tickets.
What should have been a very short booking process took me an eternity to accomplish. I say this with conviction because just two months back, I was able to redeem a free flight with Singapore Airlines (SIA) without breaking a sweat.
All I did was to go to the SIA Web site and book a flight using my frequent flyer points. After paying some taxes with my credit card, the site produced my e-ticket, with a duplicate copy sent to my e-mail. As a bonus for booking online, I was given a discount of 3,500 miles. It was painfree.
The huge difference in the booking process between SIA and PAL only goes to show that Singapore's flag carrier continues to innovate to stay on top of the game, while PAL bleeds because of its refusal to embrace and harness technology fully. Yes, customers can book and pay their tickets at the PAL Web site but that's basically the only thing they can do there.
It's no wonder that its pilots are deserting PAL and that it continues to lose money. It's also a shame that PAL, owned by multi-billionaire Lucio Tan, is paying its flight attendants with a salary that is barely above the minimum wage.
PAL, Asia's first airline, has slid to mediocrity over the years, with upstart local competitor Cebu Pacific Air even overtaking it recently in terms of passenger volume. Cebu Pacific, a low-cost airline, didn't do much to accomplish this: it just offered much cheaper tickets with full use of its online booking system.
In this age of cheap air travel in which customers prefer to plan and book their itinerary online, PAL has not responded to the call of the times. Sadly, our beloved flag carrier is in danger of missing this flight.