Philippine Airlines: Prepare for Pre-Flight Turbulence

philippine-airlinesTravel in Asia normally works well and there are some great airlines here, but there can be some painful challenges with some. One of our most frustrating experiences has been dealing with Philippines Airlines.

Perhaps the most frustrating experience we’ve had in booking flights in Asia has been with Philippines Airlines, trying to schedule a flight from Shanghai to Dumaguete via Manila. Working with the various uncoordinated offices and archaic systems at Philippines Airlines, in our experience, feels like working with a bureaucracy out of the Dark Ages. We’ve been on the phone for hours trying to resolve a simple issue that is still unresolved as I write.

Basically, we have tickets we booked months ago through Travelocity.com for a flight that begins with China Eastern from Shanghai to Manila with a 4-hour layover, followed by a flight on Philippine Airlines to Dumaguete. But China Eastern made a schedule change — as they often do! — which reduced the layover to 2 hours and 50 minutes. Unfortunately, the suggested minimum time for a transfer in Manila (apparently a chaotic airport) is 3 hours, and we are now 10 minutes under that. My wife has made that connection before in just 1 hour, so 2 hours and 50 minutes should work, but Philippines Airlines is refusing to issue the ticket that we have paid for until we change to a later flight. But that change that might require sitting for 8 hours or longer in Manila and missing our first day of planned activities. We’d rather take the risk with the current schedule.

Philippine Airlines has given us and our Travelocity agents conflicting information and hasn’t properly responded to requests for help. They have bizarre internal rules that don’t allow even Travelocity to contact the right people directly and require email contact only for dealing with schedule changes like ours, greatly complicating things.

After much effort, the people in their main office in their help center told us that we need to get special approval by contacting some mysterious office in San Francisco. As I write, it is 2:30 AM in Shanghai and we have been trying since 1:00 AM to reach the San Francisco office right as they opened at 9:00 AM California time, but the number that the airlines gave us to call never answers, and a similar US number listed for their San Francisco office also does not answer. We called the US 800 number and have been getting different answers depending on how we ask the question, but in the end it appears that we still need to call the mystery office in San Francisco but are also waiting on hold for various offices inside P.A. to “coordinate” something or other. Ugh. Next time, we’ll strive to avoid Philippines Airlines.

At the moment, we are being told that we need to get Travelocity to send the same email that the airlines already has received, but to a new address that will reach the mystery office in San Francisco. And no, absolutely no, the customer service office we reached through the US number for Philippine Airlines simply cannot forward that email to San Francisco or call San Francisco. They lack the advanced resources needed for such a thing.

Update, 3:37 AM: We finally reached the San Francisco office and learned that they could help us, maybe, to get on a later flight that day, but they would need to contact the Philippines office to do that — the same office that on multiple calls has required us to go through San Francisco — and also learned that this would take two or three days (pushing us dangerously close to our departing flight next week) because they cannot just check things and do things on their computer and cannot just call the Philippines office but can only communicate internally with them via email, and since the Philippines office in question is closed on the weekends, we won’t find out if there are even seats for us until Monday at the earliest. Bizarre.

Wish us luck. We are getting a little airsick from all the pre-flight turbulence. Hope things go more smoothly once–or rather if–we get on the plane.

One of the biggest challenges in general with flights in Asia (and the US) is that when you book them months in advance, there will frequently be significant changes like the cancellation of a flight and a new flight that may leave hours earlier or later than you want, causing lots of headaches late in the game. And lost sleep.

By | 2018-02-09T12:43:25+00:00 February 9th, 2018|Categories: China, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Philippine Airlines: Prepare for Pre-Flight Turbulence

Airlines in Asia: Thoughts on Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, China Southern and China Eastern Airlines

On recent trips to Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Europe, and other spots, I’ve had some interesting experiences on various Asian airlines. Here are some thoughts and travel tips based on this experience.

First, I’m delighted with Malaysia Airlines. After their disasters a few years ago, they have clearly taken remarkable steps to rebuild their reputation and attract customers. If Malaysian Airlines is going your way, you may find low prices, good planes and helpful staff, with some of the best customer service I’ve seen. This week I had to fly from Shanghai to Jakarta. Malaysia Airlines offered surprisingly inexpensive round trip ticket (2400 RMB, about $350) with a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I called customer service to make seat assignments. For major US airlines like United and Delta, this is a painful experience because you are likely to wait 30 to 50 minutes to reach anybody, and sometimes it takes over an hour. I called Malaysia Airlines twice, and in both cases I was able to reach an English speaking agent within about 2 minutes or less. Astonishing. And unlike China Eastern or several other airlines in China, I didn’t get some spiel about how you can only make seat assignment more than 3 days before the flight or only on the day of the flight or some other annoying story, Malaysia Airlines simply helped me on the spot. In fact, they explained to me that I could also check in right then and print out a boarding pass. This was wonderful because with my printed boarding pass, I did not need to wait in line to get my ticket (if you want to check baggage, you’ll need to queue) and could go straight to security. So nice.

Air Asia, also based out of Malaysia, is on the other end of the spectrum for customer service. It is very difficult to find a phone number to call (I don’t think it is listed on their website). When we did find a number, it took a long time to reach anyone and in the end they were not helpful. Their system wants you to do everything online, but this requires being a registered user with your ticket linked to your account. Because we had bought our tickets through OneTravel.com, we could not link our tickets to our account and their customer service agents could do nothing to overcome this bureaucratic snafu. Further, because of that problem, their system would not send us email to notify us of changes in the flight. They supposedly emailed OneTravel, but OneTravel knew nothing about this. This became a near disaster, for our flights from Shanghai to Krabi, Thailand (via Kuala Lumpur) that we bought in August 2016 for the end of January 2017 were moved to 12 hours EARLIER than what our booking confirmation showed. EARLIER. And they didn’t bother to contact us to let us know.

Fortunately, we had friends on the same flight who were notified of the change and these friends let us know. If it weren’t for them, we would have showed up at the airport only to learn that our flight have left the night before. And I bet the airline would have washed their hands of that and said it was our fault.

When we reached customer service to ask why they had not let us know, they had no good answer. Claiming they had sent another company an email does not explain why they didn’t try to reach us directly. How is a customer supposed to know? Don’t book a ticket on Air Asia unless you do it directly on their website. Going through a third-party will cause trouble for their antiquated computer system.

Air Asia had the worst seats I’ve seen in terms of leg space. I literally could not fit into my seat. Fortunately, a helpful crew member found another seat for me with an empty seat next to it so I had a place to put my legs. But if you are over 6 feet tall, I suggest avoiding Air Asia. The airline does has great food on their flight that you can order for a price, but unless you want to pick one of two default items, you should place your order online at least 24 hours before. Great food, actually, but that does not compensate for the other problems.

Chinese airlines such as China Eastern and China Southern are generally quite good, but calling service for help might be a bit frustrating at times. Make sure you know their policies on how to get seat assignments before you book with them. More details to follow.

By | 2017-05-28T18:30:49+00:00 May 28th, 2017|Categories: Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off on Airlines in Asia: Thoughts on Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, China Southern and China Eastern Airlines