DOCKING OFF TRAVEL TAX
When Malaysia Airlines (MAS) offered promo rates last November, I jumped at the chance of flying with Malaysia’s flag carrier for several reasons: discounted fares that forego payment of the stifling PhP1,620 travel tax, arriving at a decent hour in KL, it’s a non-budget service and has perks (food, good leg room, bigger plane, in-house movies). I also got MAS tickets for my onward journey - the Manila-KL flight, then the KL-Dhaka, then Chennai to KL. My KL-Manila was with Cebu Pacific because, after checking out the rates, Cebu Pac offered cheaper fare from KL to Manila. I was all set to experience MAS.
A few days before I was scheduled to leave, I got an email message from Malaysia Airlines’ Manila office.
Here’s the message:
“Please assist to advise if above passenger is definite to travel on the aforementioned date and ensure holding valid documents to travel using one way ticket only to avoid immigration problem. For verification purposes, may we request you to provide at least a copy of the credit card used in purchasing online ticket and any valid ID of the credit card holder.You may send it thru this email address or thru fax 02-8450600.
Please don’t hesitate to call us at our reservations number02-8873215 if you have any queries and concern.
EMILY Malaysia Airlines- Manila”
WHICH airline company in the Philippines asks for a copy of the credit card used as well as an ID, even prior to the scheduled date? I am aware that some airlines need them (credit card and ID/passport) but NEVER before even setting foot at the airport. And what immigration problem? Being Filipino, I don’t need a visa to visit KL. In all my travels – and I travelled heavily – no Asian immigration counter asked for any return tickets before. But I always have them anyway because what idiot wouldn’t prepare for such eventuality?
ARE YOU USING THE TICKET YOU PAID FOR?
aka ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS 101
As to their (MAS) message, they wanted me to advise them if “the above passenger is definite to travel”? Again, I would be an idiot to pay for my plane ticket and NOT use it, wouldn’t I? Provide them with a copy of my credit card and ID? Even before checking in? If you ask me, I am just annoyed with this so-called “firm check”. If I have to call their local office for EVERY flight that I am taking with Malaysia Airlines, I would schedule a half day just calling all their local offices (in KL, in Dhaka, in India) just to reconfirm my flight. It’s just a waste of time!
So I rang them.
Lady in waiting, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) pre-departure area.
RE-CONFIRMING AND WASTING MY TIME
It turns out that they wanted to ask me why I only got an outgoing flight from Manila with MAS. I wasn’t aware I had to inform them of my flight details that leave Malaysia - “Cebu Pac on this date” and so on. “OK, sir. We shall inform our office of such,” said Emily, the girl at the other end of the line. I have never been asked to call an airline office just to “confirm” an already confirmed flight. It was their responsibility to inform us if there are changes in the schedule, NOT when there’s status quo. It’s a LOT of trouble and wasted time trying to call them. Imagine if I have 5 flights in a long haul itinerary, I have to “re-confirm” and give all their offices a call? The thought really bothered me. It's hard enough calling home from an international destination. And now, I have to try calling airline companies to re-confirm all my onward flights? It annoyed me! If all they really wanted was to remind us, a mere email would suffice. People actually read emails and understand english in this part of the world, after all! BUT no! They want you to pick up the phone and ring them! And then they want you to fax them a copy of the credit card and an I.D. They want all of that! People at MAS should realize how inconvenient this system is. My travels with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, Vietnam Airlines, Pacific Air, Air India, Air Asia, British Airlines, and Cathay Pacific never had such time-wasting practice. Now, is this all the trouble they’ve caused me?
CHECK-IN TOUGHER THAN IMMIGRATION COUNTERS
Apparently not. Upon arrival at the NAIA on the date of my departure for KL, the people at the MAS counter were even more condescending! I gave them all my papers – onward etickets, visas (I had several), hotel accommodations, etc. AT A MERE CHECK-IN COUNTER! Jesus! You would expect this from an immigration counter at an airport, NOT a check-in counter!
MOROSE-LOOKING CHECK-IN STAFF
They checked every page of my passport including 3 visas for my onward journey and meticulously interrogated me on my itinerary. Even my European sojourns weren't this bad! Apparently, these MAS ground crew aren’t used to long-haul travelers from the Philippines and are suspicious of any Pinoys traveling abroad. Kumbaga, mga ignorante ang MAS-Manila. It’s not that I wanted red carpet rolled before me, but dealing with morose-looking, suspicion-laden people to start a long haul journey is just not very pleasant! It’s not very welcoming. I don’t want their plastered smile. Heck, what do I care if they look like “walking grief”. They had stricter demeanor than the immigration – by leaps and bounds. Mas matitigas pa ang mukha. Hey, people, this is an airline industry, and you somehow have to let your customers feel comfortable – instead of alienating them with your “very welcoming” demeanor. If these idiots can do this to a working professional who travels a LOT like me, do you expect them to behave better with the less fortunate? Nu-uh! Their paranoia towards locals is just grating! Don’t you just hate Pinoys who act as though they are better than the very same people who buy their services and ultimately pay for their employment?
Upon arrival , on the way to the immigration counters, at the slick Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
The 3 ½ hour flight to KL was a pleasant experience altogether. The attendants were friendly. The seats were comfortable – and there was a good leg room for me to stretch my legs. My aisle seat was beside a huge amorous woman who absolutely enjoyed her meal. During the flight, packets of peanuts were given before the main meal – so you could hear crackling at the deck at one time. Then, they started to play Meryl Streep’s “Mamma Mia”, before serving the sumptuous meal. This chronologic system would be duplicated at my onward flights into Dhaka and then Chennai (India) to KL. All showing “Mamma Mia”! Malaysia Airlines once on air has got it all right – everything well planned and meticulously thought. I got a chicken noodle with shreds of carrots, orange juice and 3 slices of fruits (watermelon, papaya and pineapple). The flight arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, taking 3 hours and 25 minutes to navigate the skies! Immigration was a breeze. Didn’t even take 10 seconds. No questions. I felt calm and relaxed. After all, this wasn’t my first time in KL. There were no unnecessary butterflies in my stomach. They didn’t even check my onward flights and etickets. I was already out of the beautiful Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) by 9:40 PM (I tried the bus this time so I waited for its departure schedule). I just wanted to experience taking the bus from KLIA to the city center (at just 10 Malaysian Ringgit or $2.70 or PhP131.50). I took the KLIA Express (state-of-the-art train) upon my departure from KL to Dhaka – at 35 ringgit or $9.46 or PhP460.70. And then I took the taxi from Bukit Bintang to LCCT upon my departure a month later from KL to Manila – at 100 ringgit – or $27.03 or PhP1,316.40. I wanted to experience all modes of transportation getting out and into KLIA or LCCT.
SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR PINOY CUSTOMERS
As it turns out, all my other check-ins with the Malaysia Airlines in Kuala Lumpur (for my trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh), and in Chennai, India back to KL were uneventful. Gone were the suspicious and askad-looking ground staff and check-in crew that we encountered in Manila. The MAS staff of those foreign airport check-in counters were swift and friendly. To the very least, I would accept a business-like, non-smiling demeanor from these people, but it’s always a welcome surprise to find friendly people in your travel-weary journeys. Kung sino pa ang Pinoy, sila pa ang matitigas ang mukha. It really all boils down to how much they look down on their countrymen, which is really sad and ignorant. And I may as well look down on the educational attainment and financial capabilities of these MAS-Manila people. After all, ano lang ba sila to treat their kababayans with disdain. They are hospitable to their Caucasians and foreign customers, but treat their Manila customers with disrespect and suspicion. You know exactly why they are mere ticket-punchers. Makikitid kasi ang utak! If they were geniuses, would they end up with a job that sees people off to see the world – instead of traveling themselves? I would travel with Malaysia Airlines anywhere, except those leaving Manila.
They may reason out with an inane excuse of “just doing our job”, but one may do so without annoying or insulting your paying customers! This is a relatively easy, albeit painless task unless your brain approximates the nervous system of a Hydra, which is pretty much nonexistent. One thing is sure, I will NOT step on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Manila. Not ever again. I have 4 scheduled trips this year and I am very pleased none of them with Malaysia Airlines.
HOW TO TREAT PAYING CUSTOMERS
To my fellow travelers, especially the Pinoys, you can do away with Malaysia Airlines (MAS) in Manila. Give them a miss and avoid like the plague! It’s a shame the way they treat THEIR Pinoy customers. Or don’t they just need some lessons in tact, diplomacy and plain courtesy? Or just a seminar on “how to treat your paying customers right”? It's so hard for some people to practice decency coz it is something that isn't taught in schools.
This is the Eye in the Sky.